Last summer, I had the pleasure of meeting gardening and entertaining expert Carmen Johnston at the Southern Living Idea House at Fontanel for the post we ran in June. This Macon, GA, native has two green thumbs, and then some, and we are thrilled to have her back as our guest today to show us some easy ideas for hosting an outdoor dinner party at home. 

Carmen:

The clear blue sky and sunshine-filled days can only mean one thing—sweet summer time is upon us! When the weather starts working its magic this season, I just can’t get enough of the great outdoors. One of the best ways to take advantage of this time of year is by hosting an alfresco dinner party for some of your closest companions. How does one go about making this open-air experience a success? Here are five simple steps to take you there.

Step One: Take It Outside

In order to make an outdoor dining experience as comfortable as any other, the right furniture is key! There is no need to invest in a new patio set, though. Simply take your indoor dining table and chairs out into the yard, and just like that—you’ve got yourself an ideal setting for any outdoor meal amongst friends.

Alfresco Dining

This is a perfect spot in the garden to set up for the party.

Step Two: Layer Your Table

For instant visual interest, add a pop of color to your table with a brightly colored tablecloth. I chose this salmon colored cloth that looks especially stunning against the copper finish of the container garden, which I found at Williams-Sonoma.

Alfresco Dining

Using your indoor furniture outdoors is a fun way to entertain in the summer months!

Anthropologie also has a stunning array of tablecloths, including this Botanical Garden Table Linen, as well as this Awning Stripe Tablecloth in green, both shown below:

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Tablecloth options from Anthropologie.

Shop terrain silver bowl

A different metallic finish, such as this brushed silver bowl from Shop Terrain, would also make a great container for your centerpiece.

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Use a variety of silverware, mix and match your glassware.

Alfresco Dining

Natural elements, like this leaf, add visual interest, as well.

Step Three: Keep It Cool

While the open-air experience is a great way to bask in the summer sun, make sure your guests can keep cool with an ice-cold beverage. I went with infused lemonade, complete with fresh mint, cucumbers and lemons. You can also try dried lavender or rose petals, which offer two very different, yet equally refreshing alternatives for infusing lemonade with great tastes! Although staying hydrated is the goal, feel free to add a little bit of vodka to your lemonade because having fun should be on the agenda as well.

Alfresco Dining

Infused Lemonade

Alfresco Dining

Step Four: Gather Your Garden

This is where the copper container comes in handy. Even though you are already amidst the great outdoors, gather a few things from your garden and fill that container up to create a display of nature’s beauty right at your fingertips. Make sure you have a base of foliage first, but you can also add some fresh herbs and vines. I went a step further and incorporated some kale into mine. Peaches and apricots also add additional pops of color. Don’t be afraid to peel back the layers and expose a little more of the fruit as well. Last, but most definitely not least, hydrangeas help tie the whole centerpiece together with soothing shades of purples and some cool blue hues.

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Elements for the centerpiece.

Alfresco Dining

Alfresco Dining

Fresh summer fruit adds a pop of color and a different text

Fresh summer fruit adds a pop of color and a different texture to a centerpiece.

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Step Five: Favor Your Guests

For a fun, take-home reminder of their alfresco experience, give your guests a little garden of their own. Be creative! I used these mini colanders from Dean & Deluca (shown below) as a container and could not be more pleased with the result.

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Simple, usable favors for guests made with small colanders and plants.

 

Alfresco Dining

Alfresco Dining

Alfresco Dining

These favors can also be incorporated with the table decor before they are sent home with guests.

That’s it! You’re done setting the stage for an amazing alfresco experience, but don’t forget the most crucial component—food, of course! If your guests are anything like mine, what they will savor most in the moment and remember long after the sun has set will most definitely be the food. Keep it simple and light!  One of my favorite go-to websites for an abundance of recipes is Southern Living. They have a fantastic selection of easy outdoor appetizers with twenty-two crowd-pleasing starters, such as Pimiento-Stuffed Summer Squash, Feta Spread, and Buttery Garlic Shrimp. Yum!

One last thing to remember—Relax! Time with loved ones is so few and far between in this crazy, busy world we call home. And summer—well, it only comes around once a year. Make the most of this time together by savoring every sip, every laugh, and every warm ray of sun. Then, next weekend, do it all over again.

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The party-ready table. All that’s needed now are guests!

Thanks so much, Carmen, for showing us these easy-to-replicate steps to host a summer party of our own — we are inspired! Learn more about Carmen and Nectar and Company here: www.nectarandcompany.com. And, be sure to visit her blog, where you’ll discover lots of ideas for DIY projects, party ideas, recipes and gardening tips: carmenjohnstongardens.com .

Photo Credit: Sara Monty Photography: saramontydesign.com

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When it comes to gardening, Carmen Johnson is a design enthusiast. Having acquired her love for gardening from her dad, she was practically born with two green thumbs. In designing gardens for events, as well as commercial and residential properties, her goal has always been one thing: to showcase the natural beauty of plants while also inspiring others to take part in the art of gardening.