Sweep off the patio, hang up the hammock and start flipping burgers there's still time left to barbecue. Holding an outdoor party is a good excuse to spruce up your backyard. While you're at it, why not decorate it as well?
To make your yard party-ready, set up a date a week or two in advance to work toward. If you're like me, you'll want a tidy, attractive yard for your guests, and you can use the motivation to get lots done.
Make a list of the maintenance and repair work you'll need to do to freshen up your yard. Do you need to trim any tree branches, fertilize or patch the lawn, repaint the garden furniture, weed your flowerbeds, or stash empty pots? Why not move your potting station to the side of the house and set up a plant hospital?
After you've done the grunt work, set up your yard for the activities your guests will be involved in. Define food preparation and serving areas by perhaps using a potting table, or a piece of furniture from inside your house. Determine where you will serve drinks and how you'll chill them. An ice-filled wheelbarrow or an antique laundry tub can work just as well as a cooler. Position trash and recycling containers near your beverage center (a lidded can will help keep insects away). Will your guests be eating family or buffet style?
Make sure you have enough seating and surfaces to place food. Arrange your garden furniture to encourage conversation and keep an open area for kids to play in.
Your guests will probably want to explore every corner of your garden, so why not decorate your yard with a few accessories? Arrange old rusted garden tools or a collection of miniature chairs and hang them on your fence or the side of your potting shed. Hang a dried flower wreath on your garden gate. Have your kids make a scarecrow and place it in your flower or vegetable garden. Tie raffia around the necks of several dried gourds and hang them from a fence post. Display an oil painting, ceramic plate or mirror on your garden wall. Hang tiles or old trivets on a fence post. Fill a bowl with beach stones and place it next to a grouping of flowerpots. Group all of your birdhouses in one tree or arrange them on your fence.
A garden can never have too many flowers. Add bursts of color throughout your yard. Select two or three predominant colors and repeat them in each of the beds. Group blossom-filled pots near your garden furniture or by your back door. Cover your planting beds with redwood compost or a layer of rich dark loam.
Once your yard is in tip-top shape and you've set up your activity zones, it's time to add the finishing touches:
• Keep your table cloth from flying away on a breezy afternoon by laying several lengths of twine across the table with fishing weights or holey rocks tied to each end.
• Bring out a few decorative pillows and a throw blanket or two, and place them on your garden chairs.
• Use a votive candleholder, shot glass or egg cup as a mini-vase, and place a bouquet at each table setting. For place cards, write the name of each guest on a smooth pebble or an apple.
• Move your tabletop fountain outdoors.
• Refill all your bird feeders and birdbaths.
• Roll up silverware in colorful napkins, tie the bundle with raffia or ribbon and add a flower, a sprig of lavender or rosemary to each.
• Use abalone or scallop shells as ashtrays or candleholders.
• Put clay pots over your sprinkler heads to protect them, or tie a red bow around each one.
• Arrange beach pebbles around a grouping of candles on a tray. Then, light the candles before your guests arrive.
• Keep insects at bay by using citronella candles, covering the food with a cake plate or frying pan lids, and positioning yellow jacket traps away from the food.