Summertime calls for a distinctly unfussy approach to entertaining, and thankfully so— because who wants to sweat over planning a summer soiree? Make things easier on yourself by hosting outdoors instead of in, getting guests to pitch in and embracing low-key, budget-friendly decor. From DIY flowers and quick extra tables to a beachy outdoor bar, these 20 ideas will make your party planning easier.
1. Whip up an extra table with sawhorses. Short on outdoor dining space? Hunt down a few sawhorses and top them with a length of board as big as you want your table to be. You can paint the board, cover it with a cloth or butcher paper, or leave it as is.
2. Fashion a wooden crate into a drinks container. If you line it with plastic, any old crate can be a rustic-chic open-top cooler for keeping soda and beer on ice. It won’t keep it cold as long as a real cooler, but it should do the trick at a party.
3. No crate? Use whatever you’ve got. An old wheelbarrow, a garden cart, an enamel bucket or even a toy dump truck can be lined with trash bags and filled with ice to make an impromptu drinks cooler.
4. Give your outdoor bar a tiki makeover with a palapa roof. Search for “palm leaf thatch panels” to find a source and tack a few lengths of the grassy stuff to the roof of your outdoor bar or shed to give it some tiki bar style.
5. Dress up candles with woodsy details. Curl a wide green leaf and drop it into a glass jar — then fill the jar with water and float a tea light on top. Or use lengths of birch bark (available at craft stores) to wrap the outside of a jar or candleholder, and fasten them with twine.
6. Make beachy candles with mason jars and sand. Filled partway with sand, a mason jar of any size can easily become a chic candleholder. To make hanging lanterns, wrap the mouth of the jar with flexible wire and hang the jar from the branches of a tree. For safety, use battery-operated candles for hanging.
7. Use soda bottles as vases. A row of tall, slender soda bottles lined up in the middle of a table makes a pretty (and supereasy) centerpiece. Just plunk one bloom in each vase, and you’re done! Try gerbera daisies, cosmos or sunflowers.
8. Involve your guests. Have them help squeeze lemons for fresh lemonade, let them take a turn cranking an old-fashioned ice cream maker or send them into your garden with clippers to pick a bouquet for the table.
10. Use old crates as trays and servers. Vintage wooden soda crates make the perfect receptacle for toting glasses, vases, napkins and other essentials out to the garden. Or use one to dole out flatware, standing utensils upright in simple mason jars.
12. Greet visitors with a pretty porch for the Fourth. A great big galvanized tub of red geraniums and a waving flag make a cheerful entrance to this home. Keep the patriotic spirit going with Americana-style cushions on a classic porch swing.
13. Give guests a healthy option with fresh flavored waters. Fill a big drink dispenser with ice water, flavored with fresh ingredients for a healthy thirst quencher on hot days. Try lemon, lime or orange slices; fresh mint leaves; cucumber rounds; or berries.
14. Place your table in the shade. There’s nothing worse than trying to enjoy a lovely meal al fresco when the sun is beating down on you! Keep your guests comfortable by pulling the tables under the shade of a tree or awning, or invest in some umbrellas.
15. Make a plan to keep bugs at bay. If you have a water feature, make sure you regularly treat it or skim it to keep mosquitoes from breeding there. If the bugs are bad in your area, plan your event for a less buggy time of day or hold it on a screened-in porch, where your guests can enjoy a fresh breeze without getting bitten.
16. Create activity zones to keep large parties moving. Setting up several distinct areas can help a large gathering feel more manageable, as your guests will naturally be drawn into smaller groups. For instance, you could set up a dining table, a fire pit circle, a porch lounge and an outdoor bar.
17. Collect thrifty party supplies. Avoid last-minute stress by keeping an entertaining cupboard well stocked with mason jars, florist’s buckets, table linens, candles and serving containers. Many times you don’t even need to buy these things — save pretty old jars to use as glasses, washed-out tin cans to use as flower containers and even old bedsheets to use as outdoor tablecloths.
18. Go wild with your arrangements. Plucking flowers and foliage from your own backyard is cheaper than buying them, and it can be more fun, too! Push yourself to look at your garden anew and clip a little something unexpected to tuck into your bouquet. Dandelions look charming in mason jars, flowering chives are utterly romantic, and an artichoke would make a dramatic centerpiece in a mixed floral bouquet.
19. Hang flowers from a tree. Use a drill to punch two holes in a washed-out tin can and thread wire through the holes to make a hanger. Fill your cans with cut flowers and hang them from a tree around your outdoor dining table. Leave the cans plain or dress them up by tying on strips of pretty fabric.
20. Consider the arc of your evening. Moving your guests from place to place is a great way to keep the evening moving along — and keep folks talking. Start with appetizers and drinks on the porch, move into the backyard for dinner, gather around the fire pit for dessert, and carry mugs of coffee on a post dessert walk to the water or somewhere equally pretty.