Who doesn’t love a garden party? The Florida Keys are, of course, perfect. All that lush tropical greenery that flourishes here makes a wonderful backdrop to a good time. It takes either time or money, or some combination of the two, but with the right amount of planning it’s going to come out perfect.

First, although it would seem like any month is a good time for a garden party in the beautiful Florida Keys, that’s not the case; especially if it’s a party in the middle of the day. Choose your month wisely. Anytime between November and March is a safe bet — it’s not as scorching hot and it might not rain.  

Ah, rain, that could ruin things. Rent a tent. When you’re playing with Mother Nature hedge your bets. (There’s some type of Murphy’s Law that says if you don’t have tents, it will rain and if you do have tents, it won’t.) In this case, two 10×10’s and a couple of regular patio umbrellas did the trick. Mix and matching chairs can be tricky, so rent those as well. 

Borrow everything — but especially tables. Besides tables where guests can sit and eat, consider that you might also want a table for presents, a table for drinks, a table or two for food. Seriously, you can’t have enough tables. The mis-match won’t matter once you cover them with tablecloths.

When it comes to setting the table remember these three words, in this order: borrow, thrift, buy. 

Remember the tables you borrowed? Also ask your friends about plates, forks and real napkins. I bet they have something squirreled away. Add a dozen plates from Friend A to pair with your sister’s and your own and, voila, service for 36!

Please, no paper plates (or even the fancy disposable plastic plates) and plastic utensils. You’re better than that. There are two ways to provide real plates and utensils and drinking glasses without breaking the bank. One, hit the thrift stores. At the party pictured, there were a couple dozen glasses in various patterns that looked really nice set out on the drinks table. Keep in mind that plain glassware at the dollar store costs a buck; so to be truly thrifty, look for glasses that cost 50 cents each and fit your look. 

If you can thrift the tablecloths, perfect, but it can be hard to find the right number of matching or, at least, coordinating linens. Renting tablecloths is about the same cost as buying some nice ones online and themed colors are going to tie the whole look together. Just buy ’em. Blend borrowed napkins with your own, or just buy new.

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The decorations are going to separate the women from the girls, so put some thought into this. The party pictured on these pages was a simple and casual affair, with decorations to match. Inexpensive garlands of paper dots were paired with about a dozen floating “bees”  tied to the trees with transparent fishing line. The bee design was found online and cut from heavy stock paper using a Cricut machine. Bunting was added to the eaves of the tent made from grocery store paper bags and scrapbooking paper in coordinating colors. The bunting flags were finished with a stamped bee. 

Reduce, reuse and recycle by eschewing centerpieces from the florist and buy plants from the nursery that can later be transplanted into the garden. The ones pictured, from Home Depot, came in bright purple plastic pots. They were wiped clean, centered on a regular dinner plate label-side in, and heaped with paper grass in bright yellow. 

Especially when guests come bearing gifts, it’s nice to give out personalized swag. The tiny hexagon jars and honey spoons were ordered online, the honey was procured locally and the tags homemade. The display was achieved by setting up “bleachers” of stacked 2×4’s. Gifts can be something simple like a pretty paper fan or a tiny potted succulent.

One last thing: be brave. Show a little style with some unexpected choices like bringing a living room chair outside for the guest of honor or doll yourself up in some type of hostess getup that’s just a tiny outrageous. We never regret the parties we’ve thrown, only the ones we didn’t. So have fun, laugh, shower your guests with love and make it look easy.   

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