Preparing Your Backyard for a Festive Gathering

The sun is going down, and it casts a perfect glow across your backyard. Your closest family and friends from every corner of the state, every corner of the country, have gathered together to socialize, have fun, and—most importantly—sing your praises for pulling off a fantastic summer party. Even those who already loved you are reflecting quietly that perhaps, after this night, they love you just a smidge more.

But unless you already have given your outdoor space the Martha Stewart treatment, you might have to stop dreaming (or just cut back), and start figuring out how to prepare your backyard living space for a festive gathering.

A lush, green lawn is the centerpiece of your backyard. Maintaining it is easier said than done. The work that goes into lawn care is, arguably, not as sexy as picking music or buying libations, but it pays off. Friends will feel freer to move around, and make themselves at home.

With enough attention early in the season, grass can be thickened by regularly laying down a sprinkling of quality lawn seed. Repair bald spots by raking the area to loosen the soil, applying fertilizer and lawn seed, and covering with a layer of organic mulch. On the day—or even the hour—before guests arrive, pass over your lawn one last time to clear problematic debris.

Lighting options range from simple choices like candles and (easily enough) a floodlight to bolder choices such as tiki torches and paper lanterns. A green approach to lighting can be found in solar-powered appliances. Gandin Road’s path light sets use efficient LED bulbs. After a day of sun exposure, these lights can stay aglow for as long as 10 hours. Path lights are an understated solution that also can conserve energy. An added benefit: Tall people won’t have to duck them!

If you have the time, the money, and the space, you can construct a structure like a pergola or a gazebo. These outdoor spaces provide a scenic yet intimate party setting. Start building early in the season to take advantage of lower construction costs.

“So what if my backyard is perfect?” you may ask. Then, turn your attention to smaller details of decor, which not only can offer cheaper and faster results, but also allow much more personalization. What makes your party unique is how you infuse your own personality into choices that all your guests will enjoy.

Simple napkins can be dressed up with napkin rings, which can add sophistication with classic patterns or jewel-like decoration, or playful fun with ladybugs or seashells. You also could use leftover strands of gift-wrapping ribbon or lace to tie napkins together. Experiment with different napkin folds. Take whatever you know, or whatever you think you know, about the art of origami, and apply it to the napkin. Find a fold that both catches the eye and lends itself to quick replication.

Themes don’t have to be cheesy. Pick something simple, and stick to it. You can start with a theme in mind, or you can scope out what you already have, and develop a theme to fit, with the understanding that you might have to supplement the old with some new. The latter method is an easy way to cut costs (in case you go for broke on that new pergola), and decreases clutter.

Summertime inspires countless theme ideas. A Fourth of July theme would make use of a red, white, and blue color scheme, as well as stars and stripes. A Bollywood theme would call for bright bold colors, beading, and silk table dressings. A nautical theme would look a little like the Fourth of July theme, but with the color red replaced with anchor shapes and a splash of gold.

Aside from a traditional picnic table set, provide as much variety in seating as possible. Outdoor furniture is often hard metal or plastic, so offer cushions or towels to soften it.

You can go in any direction with the menu. To accommodate different tastes and possible allergies, put out ingredients, and give guests free rein over choosing specific combinations. Don’t forget to stock plenty of cool treats, such as popsicles (homemade or store-bought) and ice cream.

A summer party presents a good opportunity to introduce food that reflects your values. Like many restaurants in the Twin Cities, you can serve seasonal, locally produced food. Learn more about how to go organic at Web sites like Organic Consumers Association:

Spending time and money on your backyard is like investing in your favorite vacation spot. When entertaining at home, you bring people together in a spirit of intimate camaraderie you likely would not find elsewhere. Big or small, any budget and any space can be transformed into a perfect summer party setting.

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