Local Event Planning Professionals Share Their Tips For Hosting The Perfect Backyard Party
The grass is always greener at a garden party. Glorious weather, gourmet food and guests gathering to socialize as they soak up the South Florida sun make such alfresco affairs appealing. Sandals and sundresses for the women. Slip-ons and slacks for the men. Sparkling seasonal beverages. What’s not to like? From ours to yours, here’s how to put together a garden party in your own backyard.
HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW?
Deciding on a theme for a garden party can be as easy as taking note of the colors, styles and textures that fill and surround your home. Are blues predominant? What about creams? Or are you a green-and-pink, Lilly Pulitzer-loving type? Then forget the silver bells and cockleshells and go with what you know.
“We’re definitely blue-and-white addicts ourselves,” says event stylist and Luxe Report designer Lauren Kukkamaa.
“We use it in a lot of our interior designs,” adds Christin Carron, Kukkamaa’s partner.
Ideas and inspiration can come from Pinterest—a quick Google search reveals “1000+ ideas about Garden Party Decorations on Pinterest”—and vendors specializing in outdoor occasions.
“By visiting these vendors and seeing what is available to us, we are able to pick and choose,” Kukkamaa explains.
“We choose items that pop out, and they are able to help us create even more of the concept,” Carron notes.
Setting the table sounds simple enough. Most of us learned how to do so as youths tasked with folding napkins and arranging silverware for nightly family dinners. Turns out, the childhood chore also is an art form.
“We approach styling a table the way we approach styling an interior,” Kukkamaa says. “One mirrors the other.”
Combining new with old, modern with vintage and time-honored with trendy can add depth and interest to the project.
“We definitely have a style in terms of an eclectic mix of time periods,” Kukkamaa says. “We really love Florida living, tropical living, so you see a lot of those elements mixed in with our design.”
Carron points out that layering the table and focusing on the details—from the placement of the ginger jars to the fabric for the linens to the type of toothpicks used to spear the martini olives—can bring a dash of drama to the décor.
“We love a layered look,” she says. “Tablecloths, table runners, chargers, placemats and favors—more is more. We just kind of add to it, and it’s an evolving story.”
“To second what Christin said, more is more,” Kukkamaa laughs. “A running joke of ours is, ‘Will we have enough stuff?’”
CRAFTING THE COCKTAIL
" It’s so much more fun and playful than going up to a bar and getting your own drink. "
A designer drink can define your garden party. And there are plenty from which to choose. Lilly Catering & Events in Jupiter decided on the lychee martini for this sun-drenched soiree. The twist on the traditional gin-and-vermouth recipe set the mood for an afternoon in the tropics.
“It’s amazing how far you can take a cocktail,” Kukkamaa says. “We just continue to see more and more ways to do this.”
The shell toothpicks from Pioneer Linens make a subtle statement and, while they’re typically meant to spear martini olives, they were used instead to hold the small, sweet fruit suspended in a shapely martini glass garnished with an edible orchid flower.
“Who doesn’t love to be served a cocktail?” Carron asks. “It’s so much more fun and playful than going up to a bar and getting your own drink.”
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Deciding what to serve will be determined by the time of day when the garden party will take place and who is on the guest list. With knowledge of both, the perfect menu can be made to fit the theme.
Chef Orlin McLendon invented the Floridian cocktail for this special occasion. The ceviche appetizer consisted of Gulf shrimp, local lobster and cubed mango and papaya topped with finely chopped vegetables and cilantro-lime vinaigrette—all presented in a coconut shell. For the second course, he wrapped pieces of poached salmon in Swiss chard and accompanied them with carrot puree. A trio of refreshing sorbet was offered for dessert, again, served in a coconut to continue the coastal theme.
“I’m in Florida, but I’m on my way to the islands,” McLendon says, describing the vibe he wanted his cuisine to evoke, based on the lush, tropical backdrop of the garden party.
For an elegant touch, pass hors d’oeuvres prior to a luncheon to allow guests time to arrive and mingle before sitting. At this affair, Lilly’s Catering & Events provided a Caprese salad (mozzarella and tomatoes with basil) on a skewer, baked Brie and fig jam in a phyllo cup, and chocolate mousse shooters.
Decorative pillows, fragrant florals, low-hung lighting and a red-carpet entrance will have every garden-party guest feeling like a VIP.
“As Christin and I approach each event, we tend to change it up a little bit,” Kukkamaa says. “We like unique dishes to showcase food. We love palm fronds. You can have elements floating in a pool. You can have balloons. We’re always taking a look at the space and seeing what kind of extras can be brought in.”
Big centerpieces are wonderful wow-factors, as well. And if they get in the way of seated conversations, they can be removed.
“We’re not afraid of a big centerpiece,” Kukkamaa says.
Carron’s goal in planning a garden party—or any party, for that matter—entails envisioning an environment that is current and fresh.
“It’s always a constant challenge for us to pull something off that people haven’t seen again and again,” she says.
GARDEN PARTY GUIDELINES
CHRISTIN CARRON (L)
Layering creates depth, interest and uniqueness. It’s all in the details. When creating a tablescape, use collections. Blue-and-white pottery, coral/seashells and lanterns/hurricanes are a few of our favorite items to incorporate. Don’t shy away from a bold, dramatic centerpiece. Be creative with the food presentation. Have fun with the favors. Make choices that create a visual impact.
LAUREN KUKKAMAA (R)
Pick a theme and carry it throughout with every detail—invitation, cocktails, food, decor and favors. Everything can reflect the theme in some way. Use natural elements whenever possible—fresh-cut palm leaves, coconuts and seashells—or simply entertain alfresco. Setting a beautiful table doesn’t require a four-course meal. Simple brunches, desserts-only parties or Champagne-and-cupcakes happy hours deserve the same attention to detail.
AL FRESCO INSPIRATION
(1) WILLIAM YEOWARD Acrylic goblet; $12; hivepalmbeach.com
(2) OSCAR DE LA RENTA Kent teak cheese set; $85; Available at oscardelarenta.com/home
(3) MAURICE’S FURNISHINGS Wood beaded chandelier; $629; Available at Maurice’s Furnishings in Jupiter
(4) PIONEER LINENS Calasio rattan ice bucket; $99; Available at Pioneer Linens in West Palm Beach or pioneerlinens.com
(5) OSCAR DE LA RENTA New York botanical garden small trellis tray; $595; Available at oscardelarenta.com/home
(6) PINEAPPLES, PALMS, ETC. Dockside outdoor nickel lantern with teak handle; $278; pineapplespalms.com
(7) BROWN JORDAN Calcutta arm chair; $1,482; Available at Island Living Patio
(8) SHELBY DILLON STUDIO Brown taupe bamboo pillow; 16-inch by 16-inch, $95; 20-inch by 20-inch; $125; Available at shelbydillonstudio.com
( 9) TWO’S COMPANY Banana leaf appetizer dish; $40; Available at Pioneer Linens in West Palm Beach or pioneerlinens.com
(10) TWO’S COMPANY Clamshell compote dish; $44; Available at Pioneer Linens in West Palm Beach or pioneerlinens.co