I was recently asked to write a feature for Local Secrets, a fantastic online guide to what’s going on in and around Cambridge, the topic being how to host the perfect garden party.
Naturally, I was in my element jotting down my tips and advice on how to enjoy a stress-free event in your own garden or al fresco venue and here on the blog I am also sharing these notes with you, my tea and cake-loving readers.
Hosting the perfect British garden party complete with dainty finger sandwiches, teas and scintillating conversation requires thoughtful finishing touches, meticulous planning and not least exceptional manners.
Before the crusts are cut off the sandwiches or the cream added to the trifle think about whether afternoon tea will be served on vintage china or paper plates, if bunting will be decorating the trees and if you have a wet weather contingency plan. Get it right, and if you invite your nearest and dearest who you can rope in to help with the preparation on the day, you can enjoy yourself too.
Being outdoors there are always two things to think about.
Firstly a garden party is obviously weather dependent, however, throw in a gazebo for good measure and you will never have to cancel and will instead be frightfully ‘British’ as you troop on through the showers.
Secondly, consider dressing your garden for the occasion. Any garden can be dramatically transformed with some bunting or paper chains, candlelight and flowers picked freshly from the rose garden. Place flowers in milk jugs or small teapots for a nice little touch to the table.
On the day it’s best to get washed, dressed and made up ready for your party before you start anything to reduce a lot of stress. This means that you are ready and just need to brush the flour from your face or comb your hair beforehand and you aren’t jumping out of the shower just before the doorbell rings.
Bring and share parties work really well, but ensure you discuss what you need guests to bring, otherwise you may end up with a dozen trifles and more cocktail sausages than you can shake a stick at.
When it comes to serving guests start with a chilled elderflower cordial and sparkling water drink served in jam jars for a refreshing option – it’s the perfect non-alcoholic beverage to kick off a civilised affair. You could also add some fresh raspberries to the drink for some added flavour.
Don’t forget the finger sandwiches. Dainty, crustless and perfectly filled sandwiches are the most important savoury addition to your afternoon tea. If you want great suggestions, go for a traditional cucumber, cheddar cheese and tomato or even a good quality ham and garlic jam sandwich for all those looking for something a little more unusual.
Cake, of course, is the ultimate afternoon tea treat. Fruit scones with lashings of strawberry jam and a big dollop of clotted cream, followed by some delicate tartlets filled with crème pâtissière and freshly picked strawberries always go down a treat. No garden party is complete without a Victoria Sponge, but to put a modern spin on proceedings, decorate the top like a Union Jack made with fresh fruit and whipped cream for the wow factor.
Mis-matching china is the only way to whole-heartedly enjoy your well-deserved sit down after all that baking. You can collect it from charity shops and car boot sales, although everybody in Cambridge has the same idea lately. So try further afield, or hire from one of a handful of vintage china hire companies so you aren’t left with a room full of china afterwards.
Fresh linen, colourful tablecloths and napkins are also a must. You can opt for paper napkins and plates for ease, just think of the washing up you will save yourself. There are party shops in town that provide some gorgeous patterned paper party plates and you don’t need to spend a fortune on them, also making them great for a picnic if you are taking your party further away from the house.
Introduce guests to new and interesting teas. It doesn’t matter which teas you serve, so long as it’s good quality, loose leaf, poured from an easy pouring teapot. There are some inspiring options out there, including blends such as a whisky and ginger and even rhubarb and custard, so it really doesn’t have to be boring. And remember, never buy your teapot from a charity shop… there is a reason they are there and it’s not because they are superb pourers, trust me!
Most importantly, remember your manners. Don’t interrupt a flowing conversation, no elbows on the table and ensure that you pour your neighbour a cup of tea before yourself. Make an effort with the people around you, this is a fun and social event and will naturally encourage good behaviour.
Finally, friends and family may help you with the clearing up afterwards, but if they don’t then simply leave it until the next day – you must enjoy the party too!
Now, let’s just pray for that sunshine to stick around…
To read the feature and other superb features by many local (and very talented writers) then visit the Local Secrets website here.
And to read more about becoming a well behaved guest or host/ess at your own tea party, visit my etiquette workshops page here.
NB – Professional Photos by Debbie Wallwork Photography