Summer is here and in full swing. It’s a time for warm sunny days and lush, bountiful gardens. It’s also a great time to gather with friends and family, and this makes a good old garden party absolutely perfect.
There is something quintessentially appealing about the prospect of a garden party. It conjures up feelings of nostalgia, elegance, and sophistication. But the trick to a great garden party is keeping it simple, casual and relaxed. And I’m not just talking about an approach for guests. In fact, in my opinion, the key to a successful garden party is keeping it sweet and simple with small touches that bring up the wow factor.
Here is my take on the perfect garden party. A no frills, no fuss soiree that will impress your guests and leave you with ample energy to kick back and enjoy the company that arrives. I specifically focused on garden inspired food that is both simple to make ahead and easy to pull together the day of the event. For beverages, I specifically sought to select unique options that were perfect for a garden theme, refreshing and thirst quenching. When it came to the decor, I hit my local flower market and purchased a few odds and ends that enhanced the table-scape and made the overall presentation that much more enticing.
It is my sincere hope that these ideas will inspire you to venture into that backyard garden, and throw a little gathering that will leave your guests eager for next year. After all, a good garden party should be an annual affair.
Food That Is No Fuss, Yet Elegant
Preparing food for a party tends to be the one element that creates the most stress. This is why I like to pick out a menu that is easy to assemble, doesn’t cost a fortune, and is a nice mix of make-ahead items and easy to assemble platters.
To start off the menu for my garden party, I turned to a couple snack platters I knew I could toss together the morning of the party and have plenty of time to just relax before guests arrived. This brings about the classic veggie spread and cheese platter.
The cheese platter is a classic staple for any party, and it is one of those elements that can either be fancy or casual. Of course, I chose casual and selected a mix of hard and soft cheese from the local market explicitly picking out cheeses that I knew were from local farmers. My cheese platter featured a sriracha cheddar, gouda, asiago and goat cheese. And of course, don’t forget to garnish with a little bit of green. I chose a sprig of rosemary for my platter. It goes a long way to making that platter look appetizing.
If you want to get a bit fancier, you can also venture into a more regal cheese platter and choose a selection of blue cheese, brie, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and robust aged cheddar. You can also garnish with fig leaves, grapes, and walnuts to add a bit more flare.
If you go to the store you’ll find premade veggie trays, and these are quite fine and something to grab if you are short on time. But I like to change things up from the traditional broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and celery. For my veggie tray, I do include carrots and celery presented in more rustic cuts (no mini carrots for this tray), but I like to toss in the mix of fresh bell pepper strips. These are easy to dip, and the crisp bite of the bell pepper is a nice change of pace for the typical veggie tray. I also love to sprinkle several heirloom cherry tomatoes around platter to add color and interest.
Depending on when you host your party, you may even be lucky enough to assemble a veggie tray from produce coming into season in your own garden. Nothing would be more perfect than claiming the food on the tray was grown right where your guests are walking.
To round out the tray, pick out a ready-made dip from your local market or create your own with fresh herbs cut from your garden. To assemble, I like placing vegetables in different ramekins and serving dishes to keep it elegant and avoid the mess when guests start digging in. If you are assembling earlier in the day, cover your tray with plastic wrap and keep chilled in the fridge until party time.
Aside from the veggie tray, I like to do a second veg option that is packed with a bit more flavor. This is where my parmesan roasted asparagus comes into play and its super simple to make. Just clip and clean your asparagus and spread them out on a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for about ten minutes and then sprinkle with grated parmesan as soon as they come out of the oven. Allow to cool and then place on a serving platter along with a few more of those heirloom tomatoes. These are delicious grab and munch spears that your guests will love.
Moving from the savory to the sweet, everyone loves berries when it comes time for a garden party. Following the no-fuss easy theme, I chose to do two dishes featuring fruit and of course the first one involves chocolate.
There is just nothing more straightforward and classic than chocolate covered strawberries, but for my party, I wanted to give it a twist to make it a bit more unique and special. Instead of the classic milk or dark chocolate, for a garden party I wanted to keep it a bit light and so chose to cover my strawberries with white chocolate (be sure to select quality chocolate, good chocolate should never be compromised).
However, I went a step beyond the classic strawberries and also created some chocolate covered blackberries and cherries to add interest. These were an absolute hit and an easy way to add interest to the food selection. Don’t forget to garnish with a sprig of mint to round out this plate.
Secondly for the fruit selection, again not wanting to be overly fussy; I created light and straightforward fruit tarts. Now, sure you can bake mini tart shells ahead of time, but this is a step I often skip when it comes to party prep. Nowadays you can find so many options for a tart shell in the frozen section of the store that it almost doesn’t make sense to make your own. For my tarts, I started with filo tart shells and then filled them with whipped cream that was made with lavender sugar. I then topped them with an assortment of berries — in my case two blueberries and raspberry — and then topped it off with a sprig of lemon thyme for extra garden interest and of course to provide that little bit of green for the eye.
Rounding out the food for your party, I always recommend several items you can bake ahead, in some cases the weekend before and store in the freezer until the night before. I selected three cookie recipes with my own twist on snickerdoodle cookies featuring my house blend of cinnamon and cloves, a blueberry oatmeal cookie, and a special treat from fellow cookbook author and entertainment guru Marc J. Sievers, the Lavender and Lemon Shortbread Cookie.
Finally, I used some fresh zucchini and baked up a childhood favorite, Zucchini Bread, a recipe from one of my mother’s dearest friends.
That is nine simple food items that will pack your table with delicious dishes, inspired by the garden, that your friends will instantly love.
Creative and Interesting Beverages
I always try to avoid being predictable, especially when it comes to entertaining. I’ve made it a mission in the last few years to seek out new ingredients, new foods, and new ways of combining flavors and beverage selections fit right into this mission.
For my garden party I like to delve into refreshing beverages that have a local touch and in this case, are distinctly garden inspired. Here is what I selected for the table and why I think they are unique.
Brooklyn Crafted Ginger Beer is locally made and so good. Personally, I love their flavor twists including mango, lemon and lime, and Earl Grey. It’s an excellent selection for a warm summer day and a garden party.
Another beverage that I have grown quite fond of recently is one with quite a sustainable story. Whenever you have the opportunity to mix entertainment with a significant environmental message, take it. That brings me to Asarasi sparkling waters. They come in refreshing flavors and are derived from the water of trees. Yes, it’s about as naturally filtered as it comes. Asarasi collects the water that is evaporated away in the process of making maple syrup, about 1 billion gallons each year. It’s nearly as smooth of a drink of water you’ll get, and I just love what it represents.
A third off the shelf option that I’ve been turning to lately is Sipp Sodas. With flavors such as Summer Pear, Ginger Blossom, Lemon Flower, and Ruby Rose, it’s a soda that was made for a summer garden party.
If you are feeling extra adventurous and enjoy making homemade lemonade, may I suggest a floral lavender lemonade or classic mint lemonade? Homemade lemonade is about as easy as it gets. Give it the extra flavor by making a simple syrup with your water and sweetener of choice and then steep with lavender buds or sprigs of mint along with the zest of the lemons you are juicing. This simple step dramatically elevates any lemonade.
Now on to the adult beverages, I mean it is a party, right? Summer inspired cocktails are a great way to liven up a beverage selection, and I like to provide refreshing options with a choice of juices, a refreshing gin, and of course a bit of bubbly.
Starting off with cocktails it all begins with really great ingredients. One brand that you should keep an eye on is Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company. They produce some immensely high-quality juices, and their flavor combinations are perfect for a summer cocktail. Another classic ingredient is soda or tonic. Recently I discovered Navy Hill who has created a Soda+Tonic blend that comes in classic, along with ginger and juniper flavors – great options for extra unique cocktails.
Great ingredients are naturally rounded out by a perfect spirit. Gin really is ideal for summer refreshments, and I chose a delicious gin that is distilled locally here in Brooklyn, New York – Greenhook Ginsmiths. Their gin is made from organic New York grain and is made with a custom vacuum still that allows them to distill at lower atmospheric pressure and temperature which enables them to capture delicate botanical aromas. You’ll catch tones of elderflower and chamomile along with the classic Tuscan juniper. It’s that floral tone that makes it a perfect gin for a garden party which is why I selected it.
The first cocktail that I created for my garden party used a mix of the ingredients above. The Pomegranate White Tea Fizz features Natalie’s Pomegranate and White Tea juice, Juniper Soda + Tonic from Navy Hill and a shot of Greenhook Ginsmiths gin. Garnished with a sprig of Thyme it’s absolutely delicious.
The second cocktail that I created for the party featured Natalie’s Matcha Lemonade, Ginger Soda + Tonic from Navy Hill and a shot of Greenhook Ginsmiths gin. For this cocktail, I garnished with a sprig of mint to finish it off.
These are just a couple suggestions, but definitely get creative with flavors and find something that is both refreshing and meant for the garden.
That brings us to the bubbly. Nothing is quite as refreshing as champagne, but why stick to the classic when there are so many different variations available today. I stopped in at my local spirits shop, Urban Uncorked here in Brooklyn, and they recommended a couple options that I definitely think are worth trying.
Movia’s Puro Rosé, which is distributed by Domaine Select Merchants, is a great option and comes from Slovenia. Another option that we selected was a Cava Brut Nature from German Gilabert. This cava heralds from Catalonia, Spain and spends about 18-20 months developing its delicious flavor. A great touch to keep your bubbly chill on a warm summer day is to freeze berries ahead of time. Raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries are perfect, and you can drop them into your glass instead of ice. The best part is the infused berry treat you get at the end of each glass.
Decorating For The Garden
A bountiful table of food and beverages for a garden party would not be complete without an array of flowers. But, before I start, I do want to create a base that is elegant yet ever so representative of the garden atmosphere. I always begin with a sturdy table and top it with a classic white linen tablecloth. To add interest, I purchased a burlap table runner that turned out to be a perfect backdrop for the flowers. If you are the type that has an unending collection of vases from flower arrangements past, by all means, bring them out! If not, may I suggest one of my favorite solutions? Grab a dozen canning jars and use those to create a flow of color down the center of your table.
If you are lucky enough to have a garden blooming to the hilt, you definitely want to venture in for your clippings, if not just hit up your local farmer’s market or discount store the morning of the party and go to town.
The key to a no-fuss tablescape is not getting too particular. I like the idea of keeping it casual. I tuck plates of food in and around the flowers and then further fill in with all those great beverages I selected. Of course, if you are hosting your event in the heat of the afternoon sun, this might not be the best choice for beverage display, but for a cool late afternoon party, it works pretty well.
Remember, the most important thing is for you to enjoy being the host. Don’t take on too much, plan ahead and keep things simple. Your friends and family will thoroughly enjoy the experience, and so will you.
Here’s to garden parties all summer long.