‘Treat the outdoors as an extra room’: the simple ways to get your garden ready for summer parties

Here’s how to make most of your outdoor space, by bringing light and colour to your garden and cooking up a storm for guests

Whether it’s a Communion, Confirmation, birthday or simply an excuse to gather a few people together for a few drinks and a bite to eat, summer entertaining can be a joy.

Of course, many of our best-laid plans are thwarted at the last minute if the weather decides to take a wrong turn, but we’re nothing if not optimistic, and many of us will have already put dates in the diary and are keeping it all crossed for the sun to shine.

But, while we can’t do anything to influence the weather gods, we can make sure that our homes are looking our best and all efforts have been made to host a great party – so to help us achieve those goals, we have enlisted the help of some experts.

Clear and declutter

Barbara Phelan, director of Beo Interiors, says the first step in getting the house and garden ready for a summer party is to “concentrate on high traffic areas”.


“Focus your cleaning and decluttering efforts on the main areas of the home which will be used by party guests, including the entryway, livingroom, kitchen and bathroom,” she says. “Do a big clear-out of existing storage and make space for essential items which may not have a current home. Also, visualise the space which will be used during the party and arrange furniture to suit the flow of guests. Be sure to accommodate separate seating areas while also leaving enough room for people to stand around chatting – and ensure there are enough seating areas and tables for food and drink.

“Also, if the main living areas need a refresh or change of colour, now is the time to tackle them with a lick of paint. Make them feel fresh and welcoming by choosing warm fresh colours such as off-whites, pale blues, greens or pastel yellows and oranges. Don’t forget the exterior of your home either. First impressions count and having a new paint job on the house itself will make all the difference.”

The design expert says it is also important not to overlook your outdoor space and considering giving the decor an update.

“Break out the power washer and remove the grime which may have accumulated over the winter months,” she says. “Also, clean garden furniture and get rid of any cobwebs and dust from storage. Sweep up leaves, mow the lawn, prune bushes and give the garden a general tidy to have it looking good for guests.

“Treat the outdoors as an extra room, so make the most of the space and make it welcoming, by adding an outdoor rug for colour and to help zone the seating area. Create an atmosphere by using festoon lights or lanterns and have soft furnishings like cushions and throws available for guests to make themselves comfortable – also, consider investing in a fire pit or outdoor heater for lower night-time temperatures.

“And if you want an easy way to update the look of your home, choose a bright colour for your front door and further improve the kerb appeal by adding window boxes with colourful flowers or placing some potted shrubs or trees by the entrance. Also, you could repaint or restain garden fences to add to the overall look.”

Music sets the tone

Once you are happy with how your house will look for the upcoming gathering, party planner Kate Deegan of perfect-details.com says that with a little bit of forward planning, we can all achieve an event to remember.

“Having a party is a brilliant reason to finally get all those long-awaited jobs done – but any excuse to have a party is a good one,” she says.

“Music sets the tone and helps people to get into the celebratory mood. So start off with an upbeat but mellow vibe and later on, it’s always great to lift it up a notch so people can dance. Doing your own play lists is a great option for the different sections of the day – and of course nothing beats a live band, but it depends on budget.

“The right entertainment can really change the event and bring it to a different level. So, for kids, a bouncy castle is always a winner and there is also laser tag, which involves a lot of action. For the adults, a live illustrator or a caricature artist is very cool as guests get to take their picture home with them – also a magician or illusionist will have them talking for weeks afterwards.”

If you are really determined to start your party off with a bang, the seasoned expert says that sometimes it can help to “call in the professionals”.

“They can come into your home with fresh eyes and see different ways of utilising the space or knowing where something might work better,” she says. “This could include deciding whether it’s better to have car parking or drop-off, catered food or cooking on site, how much food and drink to order, how many guests the space can hold, whether extra toilets are needed and having bar staff to serve and clear up as they go along.”

But even if you go it alone, make sure to delegate.

“Having someone in charge to greet the guests and make them feel welcome is important – also to ensure they are offered a drink and have food and drink for the night,” she says. “As a host it can be tricky to give undivided attention to all your guests, so allocate the job to someone to make sure everything is going to plan – from taking coats on arrival, to making sure the toilet gets replenished [with loo roll] and having a pan and brush on hand if any breakages. You are already paying enough for the party that you should ensure that you enjoy it to the full also.

“The most important thing is to always, have a plan B in place – so you must have space for people if it’s raining. However, although we’ve seen so much rain this year, that shouldn’t stop us having a party.”

Show-stopping dishes

Music, entertainment and a fabulously styled setting are all staples of a good party, but delicious food is also a must and chef, Neven Maguire, of MacNean house in Co Cavan, has some great options for show-stopping dishes that are easy to make and won’t break the bank.

“First and foremost, I think outdoor eating is all about having a pleasant time with friends and family,” he says. “So, don’t give your guests too much choice because that means giving yourself too much work. Instead, I would suggest something like a sweet-and-sour steak sandwich, as this is next-level flavour and uses all the steak resting juices to soften the bread, making it so delicious.

“Alternatively, salmon with green couscous is a quick and easy recipe which looks super impressive and is as nice cold as it is hot – so it’s perfect for a summer evening to eat out in the garden. Soft red fruits are currently in season and I’m using a lot of raspberries and strawberries at the moment, so for dessert, I would suggest mini raspberry pavlovas.

“Always plan what you can make a day or more ahead – you can usually have dessert made the day before, so that will save you time on the night. But, always remember that you are dealing with Irish weather so it is never a bad idea to have a Plan B.”

Get decorating

Invest in soft furnishings like cushions and throws available for guests to make themselves comfortable:

  • Tropical print tassel cushion cover (€9), Penneys

Shelter from the sun (or rain): Coral parasol (£195), coral hammock (£145) Oliver Bonas

  • Consider investing in a fire pit or outdoor heater for lower night-time temperatures: La Hacienda Moresque firepit with BBQ grill, €294.99, very.ie
  • Choose a bright colour for your front door: Wild Raspberry, Repaint Your Door Kit, to include paint and everything else you might need (€89) Colourtrend.
  • Give your guests somewhere chic to sit: deckchair, €46.99, Homesense Ireland
  • Light up your space: breeze outdoor lantern, (small €110/large €198), Meadows & Byrne

Get cooking: Neven Maguire’s summertime recipes

Sweet and sour steak sandwich

Serves 2

  • 1 large onion
  • 2tbs rapeseed oil
  • knob of butter
  • 2tbs dark brown sugar
  • 4tbs red wine vinegar
  • 200–250g (7–9oz) sirloin steak
  • 1 garlic clove, unpeeled and cut in half
  • 1 small ciabatta loaf
  • 2tbs mayonnaise
  • 1tsp English mustard
  • 50g (2oz) watercress
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Cut the onion into 2cm rounds. Put a nonstick frying pan over a medium heat. Add half the oil and the butter, then add the onion. Season and toss into an even layer. Sprinkle over the sugar and sauté for five minutes, until lightly caramelised.
  2. Pour the vinegar into the onion, stirring to combine. Cover with a lid or baking sheet, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes, until well caramelised. Add a splash of water if you think it needs it.
  3. Heat a griddle pan over a high heat. Season the steak and rub with the garlic and the rest of the oil. Cook for two-three minutes on each side for medium (or a little longer if you like your meat well cooked). Transfer to a plate to rest.
  4. Cut the ciabatta in half, then in half again to open out. Toast on the griddle. Smear the bottoms with the mayonnaise and mustard, then add the watercress. Carve the steak and pile on top with the caramelised onion. Put on the tops to serve.
Mini raspberry pavlovas

Makes 18

  • 4 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 1tsp cornflour
  • 1tsp lemon juice
  • 100g white chocolate, broken into squares
  • 300ml cream
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 500g fresh raspberries
  • 2tbs toasted flaked almonds
  1. Preheat the oven to 140 degrees. Whisk the egg whites in a large clean, dry bowl until soft peaks have formed. Add a quarter of the caster sugar and whisk until stiff.
  2. Continue whisking and add the rest of the sugar in a thin steady steam until you have a nice shiny meringue. Using a spatula, fold in the cornflour and lemon juice.
  3. Dab blobs of the meringue under the corners of two baking sheets lined with nonstick baking paper. Put 18 even-sized meringues on top, then make an indentation in the centre of each one. Bake for 60-75 minutes, until firm. Cool.
  4. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, then cool. Whisk the cream and icing sugar to soft peaks. Use to fill the pavlovas and decorate with the raspberries, almonds and a drizzle of the chocolate to serve.