Summertime is prime time for garden parties, nature helps with the decorating, and all you have to do is throw open the garden gate and fire up the grill.
A garden party often offers an excuse to do things around the garden that you needed to do anyway, but just haven't found time for. It's an incentive to trim the shrubs, refresh the mulch, and replace a hodgepodge collection of too-small flowerpots with large pots that have dramatic presence and will look pretty all summer long.
"You want everything to look great," says Melanie Cavender, a garden designer in Kansas City. "It's just like if it were a party in your house, the garden should be spiffed up. Everything should be manicured."
Annual flowers are especially festive: petunias, pansies, marigolds, and geraniums will look bright and welcoming in pots around the patio. They're pretty in planters on the front porch, and in hanging baskets. Tall annual zinnias, cosmos, and cleome planted in flower beds across the yard will draw your guests further into the garden.
Kansas City garden designer Helen Thompson works to get her flower beds pretty enough for parties in May. "We plant, mulch the beds, trim the edges, and I'm not going to do a lot more of that kind of thing," she says. "Mother nature takes its course, and we concentrate on having a relaxed, fun atmosphere."
Plant long-blooming perennials, such as daylilies, phlox, black-eyed Susans, coreopsis, coneflowers, and Shasta daisies, and there will always be something blooming. If a flower bed seems to need more color, Thompson fills in with annuals, or puts flower pots right in the bare spots. She recommends moonvine and four o'clocks, which come into bloom at the end of the day, and white flowers, which sparkle in the evening glow.
Let the colors in your garden inspire your palette, and choose linens, dishes, and cushions to play off the colors of the flowers. Keep the menu simple, with fresh vegetables from the garden or the farmer's market. Summertime garden parties are more casual than dinner parties indoors in the wintertime, and if the corn gets a little too roasted on the grill, that's all right: all food tastes better when you eat it outside.