What does it take to throw a successful outdoor gathering? According to leading landscape designers, the recipe for a memorable fête is a combination of preparedness, comfort and considerate ways to treat the senses. Whether you’re hosting a casual affair around the fire pit or a full-course meal among the fireflies, these outdoor entertaining tips will ensure your space is always guest-ready.
Set the scene.
Gretchen Whittier, Arterra Landscape Architects
Our clients tend to lean toward a subdued hardscape color palette that can serve as the backdrop for furniture with pops of color and personality. Shade is another frequent request, and a bosque of trees or a vine-laden arbor can provide needed break from the sun while also creating a cozy setting.
PHOTO: PAUL DYER
Douglas Hoerr, Hoerr Schaudt | Landscape Architects
Begin by setting up your point of service—your bar, for example—to allow for ease of circulation, since that’s where most guests tend to gather. Always be prepared for capricious weather: have a tent set up for rain, shaded areas for hot sun, fans for air movement and so on. And since most entertaining continues into the evening, you’ll want to extend the party by incorporating fire features, blankets and warm lighting that will encourage your guests to linger.
PHOTO: SCOTT SHIGLEY
Make room for surfaces.
Anne Daigh, Daigh Rick Landscape Architects
We try to find space for a table in every garden we design. These are the staples of entertaining: used for seated meals, catered food, potting or displaying plants, even fun activities such as crafts and games. These pieces can also be multipurpose; a game of table tennis can quickly transform into dinner under the stars.
PHOTO: CAROLINE ALLISON PHOTOGRAPHY
Maintain the mood.
Craig Bergmann, Craig Bergmann Landscape Design, Inc.
For daytime entertaining, provide no more than dappled sunlight unless party attendees are in swimwear; all too often, people overheat at outdoor events. If hosting during the evening, your party itinerary should include a planned moment inside at twilight to avoid the major mosquito invasion that often happens at dusk. After about 45 minutes, head back outdoors for more cocktails and a candlelit dinner.
PHOTO: SCOTT SHIGLEY
Let form meet function.
Renée Byers, Renée Byers Landscape Architect
Remember the functional details, but make them beautiful. When planning spaces for entertaining, include a small sink nearby if feasible. A cabana with a mirrored backsplash can reflect the garden and is convenient when located right near a fire feature, which can double as a cocktail table and is often large enough to serve hors d’oeuvres.
PHOTO: GEORGE BYERS
Go for the glow.
Richard Hartlage, Land Morphology
Outdoor lighting is a must, whether it is overhead strings, hanging lanterns or a fully integrated lighting plan. There is nothing more wonderful than a summer evening spent catching up with friends running long after the sun has set before everyone realizes the late hour.
PHOTO: COURTESY LAND MORPHOLOGY
Get fragrant with florals.
Janice Parker, Janice Parker Landscape Architects
I like to plant white flowers around outdoor entertaining spaces. As the day turns into the evening, many of these iridescent blossoms will literally glow. And if they are highly scented—like nicotiana alata—all the better. There is nothing like the perfumed scent of a garden space. Pots of herbs work, as well.
PHOTO: DURSTON SAYLOR
Toast to thinking ahead.
Dan Scotti, Dan Scotti Design
Create a signature cocktail for your event, preferably one that’s tequila-based. Mixing up your own recipe is fun and will allow you to get away with offering fewer options. Cheers!