There was a time, before The Partner became a serious landscaper, when our garden looked pristine. Of course, it wasn’t finished – no garden ever is – but it was certainly smart enough to host celebrations.
At the moment, sadly, it’s suffering from lack of time and attention. Not only will we not be asked to take part in the local garden safari for the umpteenth time in a row, we won’t be getting married this year either.
The grass needs to be shorter than knee length, there should be a paved walkway across the low, wet patch on the lawn, the majority of the weeds should be eradicated, the stream bank should be cleared, and the pergola should be finished and planted with something fabulously fragrant. In the meantime, I’m preparing a to-do list before my “I do’s”.
Choose an area with good drainage and some hard surfaces. If you have to, lay paving stones as pathways or areas where people can stand – and dance. Or buy temporary decking you can move later. This will protect your guests and your lawn.
Consider hiring a marquee. It provides shelter from both rain and sun, and gives the festivities a focal point.
If you live in a cool climate, patio heaters and fire pits are useful. If it’s hot, go for big, shady umbrellas. Stick a few smaller ones in a pot, so guests can shade or shelter themselves wherever they are in the garden. If it’s windy, you can create shelter with trellis, shade cloth, or rows of hedge plants in containers.
Hire or borrow tables and chairs. Or drag out your own tired collection and give them a quick stain or paint. Make sure they’re totally dry before the event, and don’t use oil, or you may ruin a few frocks. Aim to have seating for about half the crowd – if they’re all sitting, it’ll make for a rather staid gathering. And arrange tables and chairs in different areas, with food and drink at each station. This will encourage people to mingle.
If you’re expecting a large crowd, have signs to show them where to park, and how to find their way to the right area. Old-fashioned blackboards look especially good in a country setting. Or have signs printed on A3 paper, laminated and put in inexpensive frames. Hang them from trees or fences, or stand them on easels.
• The really fun part of a garden event is set dressing, especially for those of us who like to potter. A garden party, whether for children or adults, is a great excuse to scour junkyards and $2 shops, dreaming up clever ways to use items to which you’d not normally give a second glance.
But first up, find a supply of inexpensive, tea light candles. Even if your event is during daylight hours, these will add a romantic touch. Drop them into glass jars or tumblers (not so deep you can’t light them) and place them atop walls, alongside paths and through planted areas. You can cluster a dozen or two together for more impact, or float them in ponds or water features. Add faux water lilies or float real blooms if you have them. Passionfruit flowers work well in water.
• Mirrors are a great addition to a garden area, and when there’s an event on, they serve two purposes. Carefully placed, they create an illusion of extra space and double the impact of a particular plant or piece of garden art or sculpture. And if it’s a dressy occasion, who doesn’t appreciate the chance to have a quick check that their headgear and lippy are on straight.
• If there’s going to be some kind of ceremony, you may want an arch or an arbour where it can take place. Party hire companies have a wide range to choose from, but you could make your own. In a casual setting, an arch or pergola of driftwood or old boughs could work; in a formal garden, a permanent structure of solid timber.
• Start collecting up glass jars or big glasses. They make great, inexpensive vases, and once they’re filled with flowers, they have their own style.
About Lee Ann McKenzie
Lee Ann wasn’t always a gardener - she lead what she terms ‘a normal life’ as a newspaper journalist and then television producer in Dunedin until the nineties, when she started moving north. Working on various lifestyle magazines in Auckland, Lee Ann eventually published her own garden design magazine, Alfresco, for 10 years.more of this author