Even a tiny roof terrace or empty courtyard can be the setting for a glorious garden party. You just need some imagination and a bunch of your closest friends and ­family, says garden designer Charlotte Rowe, who regularly hosts parties in her small London garden.

“There is so much that fairy lights, floating candles and hurricane lanterns can do,” she says. “You need plenty for the eye to read: a Raj tent, a firepit and, of course, great food and drink.”

There doesn’t need to be an occasion as such; spending time together outdoors is a celebration in itself, adds designer and cook Sophie Conran. And you can invite guests at any time of day: for brunch, a long lunch, evening cocktails or a late-night film. ­“People tend to hang around for longer when you’re outside,” she says.

A distinct theme will help you with planning, according to Claire Behrens, who runs The Sanctuary at Wilderness Festival. “You can really go for it in the garden,” she says. “It’s so satisfying to transform an outdoor space into an amazing scene.”

If you’re really stylish, you’ll already have a set of Paola Lenti woven chairs and a water feature; if you don’t, there’s no point throwing money at cheap alternatives, Rowe warns. “You can’t do an Ikea garden,” she ­insists. “As soon as you add heat or water, cheap garden furniture will fall to bits.”

­“People tend to hang around for longer when you’re outside”, says Sophie Conran

Credit:
Jason Alden

Far better, she says, to move furniture from ­indoors and buy cheap accessories such as festoon lights that can be brought out again next time you have a party.

Even if friends turn up unannounced, you can still create a picturesque backdrop, adds chef Skye Gyngell. “Just focus on the table,” she suggests. “A beautifully laid table outside is one of life’s great pleasures.”

1. Brunch in the garden

Bill Granger

Credit:
EL VANG

Brunch for Aussie chef Bill Granger is a casual affair, with guests arriving for coffee or fresh juice in the garden around 11am – late enough that he doesn’t have to set up the day before. 

While Granger is known for his cooked breakfasts, he doesn’t always go in for bacon and eggs at brunch. “You can barbecue some sausages if you like, but in summer I find plates of cheese and cured meats and a tomato and mozzarella salad and a fresh loaf go down well.” Pretty trays help to corral different foods together.

It doesn’t matter if guests arrive at different times, he continues; set up a coffee machine on a side table so they can help themselves to refills and lay out a cake and some Greek yogurt and berries for dessert. “I like a moist German streusel cake, which seems less rich when you serve it with yogurt,” he adds.

2. A movie under 
the stars

Even more exclusive than Soho Farmhouse’s cinema barn is a private film screening in your own garden, with cushions, blankets, good wine and popcorn. Dominic Davies, founder of Backyard Cinema, suggests focusing on atmosphere rather than image quality. “You are not opening an IMAX; use anything you can get your hands on to keep the costs down,” he says. “I started out with a borrowed projector and a screen made of bedsheets.”

Create your own backyard cinema once the sun sets

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 svetikd/E+

William Brown of Projector Point, suggests screening films as late as possible, as too much ambient light ruins the picture. Best in class projectors for an outdoor movie night cost more than £1,600, although there are cheaper alternatives starting at around £600: the Epson EB-U42, for example. If you don’t have a matt white wall or bed sheet, cheap inflatable screens are available on Amazon. Once you’ve got the film playing, you can focus on thematic food and decorations. “When The Blues Brothers was the film, we served dry white toast and whole chickens,” Brown says.

Alternatively, simply wheel your TV into the garden. It’s not quite the Backyard Cinema experience, but if it starts to rain you can move indoors.

3. An early evening barbecue

A classic British barbecue as the sun sets is the ultimate garden party for Steve Horrell, head chef at Roth Bar and Grill at Hauser and Wirth in Bruton, Somerset. “Nothing beats the theatre and camaraderie of cooking over a huge fire,” he says. “While you prepare the food, you can interact with your guests and enjoy being outside at this beautiful time of day.” Horrell shuns sophisticated outdoor cookers such as the Big Green Egg in favour of rustic barbecues built for him by a local blacksmith. “There’s nothing wrong with a simple barbecue: often with food the more simply it is cooked, the more interesting it is,” he explains. Try not to stress too much about temperatures and charring, he adds; yes, you have less control than with a conventional cooker, but you gain that wonderful smoky taste.

Cooking up a storm at Roth Bar and Grill

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JAY WILLIAMS

Given the fire is the main event, Horrell doesn’t go in for much “prep”: his wife, Jules, decorates the table with juniper branches or scattered broad beans and herbs, he’ll knock up an Argentine chimichurri sauce and a simple salad. “If I’m doing pork I might marinate it in something easy like Somerset cider and fennel seeds,” he says.

Beef and lamb are the easiest meats to barbecue, he says, and grilled vegetables such as whole cauliflower and onions are also delicious over coals. For pudding he serves peaches – grilled on the barbecue – with whipped cream and meringue.

4. An impromptu garden supper

“I love cooking in the summer. It’s so much easier than at any other time of year because actually you hardly need to cook at all,” explains designer Rita Konig. This makes her much more likely to host an impromptu gathering in her garden after work. “I had some girlfriends to dinner a few days ago and was woefully unprepared after a busy day at work,” she explains.

Rita Konig

Credit:
 Paul Grover

“I threw together a salad, bought some prosciutto, cheese and crackers, baking potatoes and cherries and made sure I had lots of cold rosé. It was low stress and really delicious.”

Chef Skye Gyngell, meanwhile, recommends having one star of the show – salmon or fillet of beef – plus some simple salads and delicious bread and fruit and whipped cream for pudding. “When the weather is warm, food is best served at room temperature,” she explains. “This means you can prepare ahead of time so that you can relax and enjoy your guests.”

The benefit of this low-cook approach is that you can spend more time making the table look attractive – which is Konig’s favourite aspect of entertaining. “For suppers in the garden I love slipware dishes, relaxed linens, lots of candles and strings of outdoor light bulbs,” she says. 

Drinking wine out of fine stemmed glasses in the garden feels all wrong, she continues. “Go for something heavier – I’m obsessed with the seagrass wrapped tumblers by Amanda Lindroth that remind me so much of lunches in the Bahamas.” (£55 for a set of four at ritakonig.com.)

5. A multi-generational shindig

 Sophie Conran thinks nothing of hosting 20 for lunch in her garden in Wiltshire

Credit:
John Lawrence

Such is the enormity of the Conran clan that designer and cook Sophie Conran thinks nothing of hosting 20 for lunch in her garden in Wiltshire. “We love hanging out together in the garden – there’ll be Granny and my children and their friends and my siblings and my younger nieces,” she says.

The key to a successful multi-generational party is to give everyone a job, she explains. “If people help pick sweet peas for the table or chop vegetables for the salad, they will relax,” she says. “And when the party is in honour of a particular person, I’ll make them devise the placement. The children always love being in charge of decorating the place cards.”

Drinks will be her home-made raspberry lemonade and she’ll always hand around some bruschetta to keep people from starvation while they help make a lunch of roast chicken, mayonnaise, summery salads such as beans with sage, lemon juice and parsley, and a pavlova for pudding. Afterwards the games will begin: badminton, football, Frisbee, while Conran’s lurcher, Mouse, tries to steal food from the table.

‘The key to a successful multi-generational party is to give everyone a job’, explains Conran

Credit:
John Lawrence

“The little ones want to run around and let off steam and everyone ends up joining in with the games,” she says. Parties like this tend to run on over teatime – Conran will produce a cake – and into the late evening.

“If people are still around when it gets dark I’ll set off a box of fireworks,” she says.

6. A DIY festival

You don’t need to own a country estate to host a mini-Glastonbury; a large lawn, some hay bales and a guy on the guitar will do, says Claire Behrens, who runs The Sanctuary at Wilderness Festival, although the further away from light pollution and neighbours the better. “It should feel like an escape from everyday life,” she says. The back of a canvas-sided lorry makes a great makeshift stage for live music, and refreshments don’t need to be any more elaborate than a hog roast, local cider and attractive-looking sundowners. “A fancy dress theme helps everyone get in the mood,” Behrens continues. 

No need to head to a festival with your children when you can create a mini festival at home

Hang bunting, flags and fairy lights for a festival ambience and position firepits surrounded by bales to provide warmth and glow. “If you have space, try to divide the area into zones. You’ll need somewhere for dancing, a bar and food area, a chill-out zone for stargazing and plenty of shelter in case of bad weather,” Behrens says. She recommends LPM Bohemia for yurt-like marquees, and event-in-a-tent.co.uk for glamping tents and tepees. “Enlist a couple of babysitters to read children stories or host a movie tent when it gets dark, so their parents can have some time to themselves,” she continues. “And make sure there is coffee with bacon butties the following morning – and some yoga can be good, to stretch everyone out after a night under canvas.”

7. A pool party

You can’t do much better for your children than a paddling pool and pizza party on a hot Saturday afternoon. The trick is to acquire the right paddling pool: it must be enormous – as large as your garden can take – and blue: ours is 9ft by Chad Valley (£34.99, argos.co.uk); a slightly smaller 6½ft version is available for £25 at thetoyshop.com.

Anna Tyzack’s family pool party

Credit:
Jeff Gilbert

Rid your garden of all other toys to ensure the pool is the focus and position chairs and beach towels around it – regimental blue and white striped towels, such as those from Dock & Bay (£15, dockandbay.com), look the most chic (the company also makes stylish towel ponchos for children).

Shade is essential – a children’s tepee, and a handmade Balinese parasol (from £299, eastlondonparasols.com) for your sunlounger – as is music; Bang & Olufsen splash-resistant speakers are currently in the sale at johnlewis.com from £99.97. To avoid endless trips into the house, keep food and drink as simple and fuss-free as possible: Pimms and cordial for the adults and organic juice cartons for kids, with bowls of crunchy carrots and grapes and delivery pizzas.

Draw the festivities to a close with retro rocket lollies or Greek yogurt ice creams from Claudi and Fin and a water fight. 

8. A tea party in the trees

Lindsay Radcliffe hosts a Summer Garden Party

Credit:
Jason Alden

What could be more lovely than tea under the trees with friends, asks food blogger Lindsay Radcliffe. Any type of garden suits a tea party, she says – if you don’t have outside space you can always commandeer a shady corner in a park or, as she did last weekend, a local orchard. “Shade is an essential part of a great garden party,” she says.

While hosts can be relaxed about numbers, the tea preparations should be meticulous, Radcliffe warns. “Tea time is a British institution – you have to make an effort to make it special,” she says. Trestle tables covered in white linen and decorated with jugs of cut flowers will provide the backdrop, which must have as its centrepiece a Victoria sponge. “You don’t have to be traditional with the flavours – why not try geranium, hibiscus or rose water?” she suggests. Accompanying the cake should be dainty sandwiches – chicken and tarragon is the new coronation chicken – and scones; a savoury flavour such as cheese and chilli will keep it modern, Radcliffe says. She likes to add colour to the table with fruit tarts and also serve some madeleines.

The centrepiece should always be a Victoria sponge

Credit:
Jason Alden

“There’s something so off-putting about buttercream cupcakes in hot weather,” she explains. “Madeleines are lighter and children love them.”

She offers guests a choice of Earl Grey, Yorkshire tea and a herbal (you might need to invest in a car kettle), along with cordial – rhubarb, not elderflower – and bubbles to get the party started.

9. A rustic banquet

“Being on my lawn, surrounded by friends and family, the sound of the bees buzzing, dogs and children playing, and the scent of summer foliage is my idea of the perfect summer’s day,” says Carole Bamford of Daylesford organic farm, who has perfected the art of the rustic yet sophisticated summer banquet. “I use flowers, foliage and colours from the surroundings to set the scene, picked on my morning walk with the dogs,” she says. Guests will be served prosecco with berries or rosé with sliced white peaches and a crudité of radishes with a dip, before taking up their places on hay bales at a long table dressed with hand-blocked tablecloths and coloured glass tableware.

Organic eating: Carole Bamford recommends summer dishes and berries

On the menu will be Bamford’s favourite summer dishes: a rocket, burrata and tomato salad and wild salmon with potato salad dressed with chives from the garden. “Also, there’s nothing better than a good old-fashioned prawn cocktail,” she says. “I’ll serve a selection of cheese and for pudding, lots of fresh summer berries, cream, and a jelly. I cannot resist a good jelly.”

There will be music – an Ibiza mix or hazy summer tunes such as Matt Monro’s On Days Like These – and after lunch guests will wander off on a walk, returning to the table later in the afternoon. “People will stay to watch the sun set; lanterns will be lit, and if they want to dance I’ll put on some rock or soul,” she says.

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