Summer is finally here, and restrictions in the UK are slowly but surely lifting for social gatherings. To celebrate, how about a traditional English garden party?
You’re invited! Come join the party in my garden…
For me, a garden party needs a string or two of bunting, a couple of lawn games, and flowers, lots of them. A floral garden is a great start: climbing roses, leafy trees and a (slightly patchy) lawn are what you’ll find in mine. But don’t rely completely on your garden; flowers on the tables are absolutely essential.
For a bounty of bunches, you needn’t spend a fortune ordering from a florist. My trick is to buy bunches of inexpensive flowers from the grocery store. Choose casual blooms in a simple colour palate, strip away almost all the greenery and then cut them down really short. (Short flowers are much easier to arrange.) Create little posies, then tie them with an elastic band. Pop into short vases or opaque plastic cups and dot around anywhere you can find. Don’t worry if they don’t look perfect. My wedding florist taught me that flowers can really affect the tone of the day (whether for a wedding or otherwise). Tightly wound, perfect bouquets are beautiful, of course, but a slightly looser, imperfect bunch helps to encourage a feeling of relaxation. All the better if you, like me, are not a natural with flower arranging.
I go for a deliberately rustic vibe, helped considerably by a slightly creased tablecloth and a pile of concrete slabs – completely superfluous until it became the Pimm’s pedestal.
Setting up the bar is my favourite part of party preparation. I believe a bar is the difference between a gathering and a party, not to mention offering the host a break from being on constant drink duty: “Help yourself!”
I never offer a full bar; red, white, beer and non-alcoholic options are all that’s required. A signature cocktail, in this case a giant vat of Pimm’s, and a few bottles of bubbly are festive additions.
I start by pouring everyone their first drink, then directing them to the bar thereafter. I will also whip ’round with a bottle now and again to top people up, but beyond that it’s up to people to be a bit self-sufficient.
An English garden party is no time for experimental cooking. Standing in a floaty dress, glass of Pimm’s in hand, I want nothing other than traditional garden fare, done really well.
An English Garden Party Menu
Prosciutto Wrapped Salad Bundles
Asparagus and Goat’s Cheese Quiche
Ham and Cheddar Quiche
Spiced Cheddar Cheesecake and Stilton Cheese
Baguette and Crackers
A Selection of Crisps
Miniature Scones with Jam and Clotted Cream
With hindsight, this menu looks ambitious. In truth, it was actually really straightforward. I plan a menu I can make almost completely ahead of time, and for a party I relax my standards about what can be served hot or cold (room temperature works for almost everything).
I wouldn’t always go for more than one sweet thing, but my circle contains an ever-expanding list of gluten-free individuals, and Eton mess is an incredibly simple and on-theme solution. The brownies were a very welcome contribution from a party guest.
The sweet trifecta worked beautifully together. Light and creamy Eton mess, jam-laden lemony scones and deep dark chocolatey brownies. I can safely say those of us without gluten intolerances more than made up for those avoiding the baked goods.
The best part of being significantly over-catered for a party is undoubtedly the hoard of incredible food lying around afterwards.
The Garden Party Revival (or any party revival) is a tradition my mum and I love to do after a party. We beautifully arrange a representative sample of the edible offerings from the event, pour a glass of something and toast to a job well done. In some ways, it’s even more fun than the party – you can actually sit down for an extended period and enjoy all the food!