With both Halloween and Bonfire night only just round the corner – this is the time of year to think about parties. There’s nothing like a house full of friends and kids, daft costumes, silly games with lovely smells wafting through the air.
Even though the summer has now long gone, if we are lucky, we can still use and enjoy our outside space. If you are going to be ready to use your garden to boost your entertainment capacity you need to do a bit of work on it and invest in the right kit. A bit of planning and spending on the right things will drastically increase the usability of your garden and reduce the time taken for you to get it ready for use.
Think about the area of the garden that has the potential to be used – where will people stand and where will they need to walk to access the house, seating and eating areas? These areas should not be surfaced with soil and grass – if the ground is damp it will quickly turn into mud and end up all over your lovely house. In addition your guests will not be encouraged to use the garden in case they make a mess of their shoes and clothes. If you don’t do something about that surface you will not use your garden for most of the year, so get it sorted.
Fast & Temporary Flooring
Quick solutions are old sheets, plastic or paper coverings. You can buy rolls of cheap wallpaper or decorator’s paper & plastic on 100m rolls. These solutions are cheap and disposable – so you can leave your lawn intact underneath. However they are not that hard wearing and need to be well pinned or weighted down along the edges to be safe. You can also search for ‘aisle runners’ which are pathwide strips of material used for wedding aisles – they work just as well for garden paths. Another temporary solution is rubber matting. You can buy this from specialist online suppliers and business wholesalers – it is heavy so it does not need securing and it provides a non slip surface. You can roll it out for your party and then roll it back up to reveal your lawn. As rubber matting is more expensive this would be a good option only for those who host a lot of parties – or have tonnes of money!
A semi-permanent solution is astro-turf. You can cover your whole garden, but a cheaper solution is to focus on walkways and eating areas. You can buy this off the roll and install quickly – just get advice from the seller on the best way to secure their brand. Alternatively, look for a hard wearing grass seed.
If you want a permanent solution then you should consider decking, paving, concrete or compacted gravel. You can install these yourself or you can use a contractor. These are not quick to install – but if you do it yourself and order your goods from a builder’s merchant they can be surprisingly cheap. Don’t go too cheap though – a bit of extra budget for machinery like gravel compactors or a cement mixer can drastically decrease the time taken and also greatly improve the quality of the finished result. Around the perimeter, ‘landscape sleepers‘ can give a much needed finishing touch as well as afford some protection to the area.
A Game Area
It is fun to have a game area in your garden for parties. The kids get out there, the adults follow (as they need to keep an eye on the kids) and before you know it the adults have taken over and the kids are relegated to watching them have all the fun. It’s a great ice breaker and a good way to keep everyone together. As we are outside and the light might not be the best, normal games are not the thing – what you need are massive giant games!
These used to be really expensive but now you can pick them up for buttons. You should choose something simple that does not take too long to play, so chess is not a good choice. Our personal favourites are giant dominos, giant plastic darts, giant snakes and ladders and giant connect four.
Every party needs music so you need a music system. These days there are some great portable blue tooth and wifi enabled speakers. You can play directly from your phone or your mates can take control and use their playlists. Although these systems are versatile they don’t have the power for large outdoor spaces. If you host parties regularly or you have a special occasion to cater for it will make sense to buy a professional standard PA system – but choose a portable one. Portable PA systems are compact and easy to store and move around. You can even buy ones that are specifically designed for outdoor use. You can pick up a good quality portable PA system in the range of £100 to £150 which is cheaper than hiring a DJ or sound system. A more permanent solution is fitting weather proof exterior speakers and some wiring so you can plug your indoor sound system into your exterior speakers.
Furniture & Heat
If you want people to congregate in your garden you are going to have to make it comfortable for them. Think about how to keep them warm and where they are going to either sit or rest glasses and plates. Standing around with a glass in one hand and a plate in the other is no fun and a recipe for lots of breakages.
You can bring your inside furniture out – but then if there is a rain shower you need to move everything back inside. It’s much better if you can create an attractive well thought out seating area. People will be drawn to it and as soon as you have a few gathered more always follow.
Pick the spot in the garden most shaded from cold winds and/or that gets late sun. You can plant cheap hedging or put up sections of trellis or fencing to provide a wind break. You need to create a focal point for people so they are facing one another, you don’t want lines. So a couple of round tables on a diagonal or benches opposite each other would be great. You can spend as little or as much on these items as you want.
Next think about heat. Gas powered patio heaters look great and keep the hot parts out of harm’s way. Chimenea’s and fire pits are more atmospheric but not as child and pet safe. The great thing about fire pits is they can second as a grill and or food warmer – how great would it be to sit round a fire pit while you all toast marshmallows or have a fondue? If these items are too pricey or you want a fast solution you can simply load up your BBQ with logs and create your own fire pit.
IMPORTANT: If you are going to use a fire pit or chimenea with lots of people, alcohol, pets or children thrown into the mix then please read these safety tips.
Picture this – all your guests have arrived and they are settled in your warm, bright kitchen. You have prepared your garden brilliantly but no one wants to go out there. What have you forgotten? Well just look out of the window – it’s dark so no one can see your wallpaper pathway or cosy seats. You forgot to light it up.
Lighting is essential for people to safely move around your garden and reduce spills. It is also vital to making the space look warm and inviting. Always spend a few minutes on lighting, it’s well worth the effort.
You can introduce lighting really cheaply – here is your chance to use up all those candles people keep buying you, even the ones that stink (no one will smell them outside). Cut the bottom off a plastic drinking bottle to use as a lantern cover. You need to do a few things to make sure air can circulate through the bottle otherwise the candle will not remain lit. Remove the cap and then make a small hole or two round the bottom. The air will be drawn in through the bottom holes and escape through the cap. To water proof it you can screw the cap on and cut a few narrow slits, or punch holes, at the top for air to escape. Just place the bottle over your lit candle and bury the bottle a few inches in the ground to secure it.
Another cheap and fast solution is to use torches. Waterproof them with plastic bags and sellotape. You can hide them in plants, suspend them from guttering and tape them so they point at any angle. Experiment with up-lighting as this looks most effective. Down lighting should be used with care as it is not flattering for your guests. Yellower bulbs are warmer than blue/white lights which can look clinical and cold.
I always use torches in this way before I put permanent garden lights in. You can try lots of different angles and positions until you find the ones that work best. At that point you can invest in solar lights or get an electrician to lay some cabling.
So what are you waiting for – get yourself a party organised and make sure you can use that outside space.
Thank you to Cupar Garden Center for allowing us to use some of their images.