Summertime Sussex (Part 2) – Pre-birthday Garden Party
For me, the highlights of my childhood were the times spent outside in the spring and summer; my sister and I playing endless games such as flower fairies and thundercats in the daffodils, or picnicking under our lilac tree on a Sunday evening; sleeping in my tent on a damp dewy midsummer’s night; the smell of Avon suntan cream and the texture of my mother’s toweling dress; dragon flies hoping over the surface of our still reflective pond water, and the sound of their wings getting stuck underneath the netting which kept cats away from the fish. More recently, I’ve loved to indulge amongst privilege few in the elegant gardens of Glyndebourne opera, dressed up to the nines, a picnic basket in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other; and to this day my favourite thing in all the world is to dine al fresco.
So being that it is approaching my birthday, and that this build up has fallen, fortuitously, within a period of unseasonably fine weather, I decided that when a visit to my family home in Sussex fell due, there could be no better way to celebrate my birthday that with an elegant garden party for all the family. This had parallels to a lavish do that I put on for my 12th birthday, when I transformed the garden into an Alice’s wonderland, painting a Cheshire cat to sit up in the tree, and bedecking the garden with playing card garlands. 18 years later, I got out that same, slightly tatty Cheshire cat that I painted as a boy, and sitting him in the very same, now slightly more slumped iris tree he sat in all those years ago, I went about decorating the rest of the garden for the occasion.
The result was a slightly more elegant affair than the wonderland spectacular I conjured up all those years ago, and perhaps more suitable for the grand old 30 years I will reach on my birthday in two days time. Pearlescent balloons and large oversized paper chains that I made in the car journeying down from London (I wasn’t driving, I should note) were an easy but effective decorative option. But the real heart of the party of course was the table, where I wanted to build a focus while making the table cosy and intimate – something not easily achievable when dining out in the open air. This I did through the use of a large umbrella, from which I dangled single flower stems of every conceivable kind gathered from around the garden (much to my father’s horror). The result was an impromptu chandelier of flowers, forming an elegant canopy over the table and later reflecting the candlelight from the tealights set out in odd glasses on the table below.
As for the dinner, well a barbeque made posh with all manner of Mediterranean salads and salsas and marinades delighted all family members present, but not nearly as much as the cake – something of a last minute gathering of a Marks and Spencer Percy Pig cake, surrounded by a mud bath of chocolate additions. Most importantly of all were every one of the required 30 candles, the heat from which made for our very own outside patio heater, at least for the short duration before my birthday wish extinguished them forever.
So the moral of the post, apart from to show off my photos of course, is that with a few single flower stems, an umbrella and a bit of ribbon or string, you can make a table centrepiece that will wow your guests before the food even hits the table.
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