The late days of summer and early days of fall are perfect for entertaining in the garden. Whether you’re returning hospitality or simply looking for an excuse to spend the last of the long, lazy days enjoying the weather, entertaining alfresco is a must. One of the key factors in hosting a successful outdoor gathering is creating a comfortable seating area. Make sure your patio furniture can accommodate the number of guests you’re planning to invite.
If it seems like it may be a tight squeeze, place an additional outdoor table and chairs nearby to create a cozy enclave. Cushions for patio furniture come in many colors and patterns to complement any type of outdoor style scheme, so don’t be afraid to mix and match to add a festive, summery touch.
You may also want to have several folding chairs on hand for unexpected additional guests who join the party. To maximize everyone’s comfort, consider using an umbrella, which not only provides shade during a bright summer afternoon but also helps define your alfresco dining area.
Serving food and beverages should be casual and easy: Set up a buffet-style assortment on a picnic table so guests can help themselves. Keep the menu simple and elegant with salads, fresh fruit and various easy-to-assemble side dishes.
Place colorful napkins in small stacks at each corner of the table, and large plastic mugs or glasses containing inexpensive silverware near the center. If your backyard allows, you can also arrange smaller tables and chairs in separate areas for drinks or dessert.
For your table centerpiece(s), arrange fresh flowers or the blooms from ornamental grasses from your garden in small decorative pots or even in a serving pitcher. If you decide to cook outdoors, position the grill so smoke blows away from where your guests are congregating. Bring your everyday kitchen cart outside for easy access to cooking utensils, serving dishes, etc.
Minimize the threat of foraging yellowjackets and other flying insects with a few simple tricks:
- Immediately wipe up any spills
- Serve sweet drinks with straws, preferably in covered drink containers (yellowjackets are highly attracted to sugars from late summer on)
- Use electric fans to create air turbulence that will blow them away from your serving and dining areas
- Manipulate them by placing traps to draw them away from the areas you want to protect. Traps placed around the perimeter of dining areas will draw yellowjackets away from the food. Traps hung low in trees or in bushes will be more effective than traps in the open. If traps are not pre-baited, use a sweet bait such as fruit juice, fruit jelly, melted ice cream or grenadine liqueur. You can even use standard rodent glue boards as yellow jacket traps by hanging them, baited with a dab of jelly (if you happen to get your hand stuck on a glue board, regular cooking oil poured on the glue will dissolve it).
If the day’s festivities last into the evening, having the proper outdoor lighting will help set an inviting, intimate mood. Try threading strands of small, clear lights through trees, shrubs and fences for a festive look. Tiki torches and deck lights are a great addition to your patio area, while overhead floodlights provide safety for guests as they head out to their vehicles.
Enjoy the last fun-filled days of summer and celebrate the beginning of a beautiful autumn!
Adapted from HomeDepot and Maryland Department of Agriculture Integrated Pest Management Training Manual: http://schoolipm.ifas.ufl.edu/doc/MD_yelljack.pdf