By Michael Leach
For the privileged few, prepping for a backyard party simply means giving instructions to the gardener, chatting about menus with the cook and planning a sweeping entrance at party time worthy of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie.
The rest us simply assume all duties of the ever-toiling staff at Downton Abbey. While I can’t advise on canapés and cocktails, you can make it seem as if a gardener (or at least landscape service) keeps up appearances.
Before acting upon a single item on the following to-do list, however, make a rain plan. Midwest weather is notoriously changeable.
And never forget the most important thing — people are coming to have a good time, not judge a landscape contest. Granted the guest list may include a persnickety relative or in-law, whose sole purpose is to find fault. They will succeed no matter what. Don’t sweat details.
Now for those promised suggestions.
- Limit the party area and focus efforts there. No sense grooming each inch if only a 20-foot perimeter around patio or deck will be used.
- Rent or borrow a power edger a few days ahead to create an unmistakable boundary between lawn and beds. Even if weeds abound in borders and flower beds, a mown lawn and crisp edge suggest impeccable maintenance standards. (In an edging post, I enthuse about the virtues of edging.)
- Fluff up mulch to revive color. Apply fresh mulch only if you have a week or two to allow the odor to dissipate. Never have more than 2 inches on the ground.
- Remove yellow leaves unless the plant is supposed to have yellow/golden leaves, such as some hostas and heucheras. Eyes are immediately drawn to yellow and jaundice quickly comes to mind.
- Keep insect repellents handy. Whiners dodging and swatting bugs are as odious as buzzing gnats or mosquitoes.
- Use fresh flowers in simple centerpieces. A single rose blossom floating in a clear glass cup, better yet several in a bowl, suffice. Accompany the blooms with a few floating candles if you like. Florist flowers are OK, particularly if garden blooms are sparse.
- Add some festive, flowery containers at your entry area, party scene and other strategic points if budget allows.
- Say “thank you” to any kind remark about the landscape. Never point out flaws to beg a compliment. (If that fussbudget guest exclaims about the poison ivy amongst the daisies, praise those keen observation skills and change the subject.)
- Create a party atmosphere by stringing white or colored Christmas lights under the patio umbrella, along the porch rafters, around the deck railing, upon shrub branches and other places time and plugs allow. Keep cords from becoming tripping hazards.
Be warned: You may like the lights so much, they become permanent fixtures. Nothing wrong with having romantic ambience on a week night and pretending you’re sipping a sophisticated something in a Fred and Ginger flick.