Last summer, after too much sun and possibly a number of pina coladas, I decided to host a garden party for my mother’s birthday. Full of enthusiasm (me more so than Mr B), we carried the kitchen table and chairs onto the patio and set the fridge up on an extension cord. We swathed every bush and shrub in bunting and tied balloons to the garden gate. The finishing touch was a beautiful vintage tea set with hand painted cups and saucers borrowed from my fabulous friend Sarah.
Oh, the naivety! As the oldies arrived, not a single one of them wanted a cup of tea. All they wanted to drink was Pimms and prosecco. A lot of prosecco. In fact, they drank so much prosecco that it’s a wonder they all got home safely.
So I was a bit surprised in January when my eldest daughter asked for a garden party to celebrate her ninth birthday.
‘Hmmm,’ I said, ‘February is a bit cold for garden parties.’
‘How about March?’ she said.
‘Still too cold.’
We eventually settled on July.
Based on the theory that the more children there were, the better they would entertain each other, I let my daughter invite as many as she wanted. This was a tourist mistake. All parents know that more children is not better. More children is just, well, more. More fussy eaters to feed, more hysteria to control, more danger of harm to life and limb. And I don’t always mean their life and limb.
Once everyone had arrived, expectations of the entertainment to come were riding high. The party guests powered through my carefully crafted treasure hunt faster than Usain Bolt runs the 100 metres. The butterfly cakes that took me hours to create disappeared quicker than Mr B when the dishwasher needs loading. The ‘pin the cherry on the cupcake’ lasted longer but was much less popular. And then we were pretty much out of things to do.
The crowd became restless. Mr B began to panic. ‘What’s the plan? What’s the plan?’ he asked in a shrill voice as he eyed the mutinous mob. And then he had a brilliant idea. He organised the kids into groups of 4 and told them to prepare for a talent show. Suddenly the party was running itself. Children were huddled in groups around the garden planning what they would do. For the first time since 9am that morning (the party started at 2), Mr B and I were able to sit down with a cup of tea. Happy days.
The talent show took us all the way through to the party food. The candles were lit and blown out, the cake was cut, party bags were distributed and the children were sent home on a sugar-high. Through sheer cunning we had snatched triumph from the jaws of disaster.
So these are my hard-learnt tips for hosting a stress-free garden party:
1) Stock up on alcohol. Older people are basically like students – they will drink until they fall over. Or until you run out of booze. Whichever happens first. Of course, you shouldn’t serve alcohol to party guests under 10, but you will definitely want to drink it when they leave.
2) Always keep an extra party game up your sleeve. A spontaneous talent show is like a get-out-of-jail-free card for under-prepared parents. For older party goers a competition for who remembers the most from the 1960s will work just as well.
3) Quit while you’re ahead. There is only so much prosecco and cake even the most hardened garden party enthusiast can consume, and at some point everyone will have had enough of a good thing. The trick is to send all the party-goers home while their dignity and your sanity are still in tact.
Thanks to canvasevents for the gorgeous photo at the top of the blog. Those guys are reaching garden party heights I can only dream of! And to designorbreakfast for the photo of the lovely table setting.