9 Easy Tips for Hosting a Garden Party

Designer James Hurley gives the 411 on wowing guests with superb centerpieces, artful arrangements and playful place settings.

French Café

French Café

"My look is very Parisian," says designer James Hurley, who incorporated a zinc-top table, vintage bottles, boxes crafted of reclaimed wood, and aluminum canisters in the tablescape. "I wanted it to look effortless but also look like it took a while," he jokes.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

"My look is very Parisian," says designer James Hurley, who incorporated a zinc-top table, vintage bottles, boxes crafted of reclaimed wood, and aluminum canisters in the tablescape. "I wanted it to look effortless but also look like it took a while," he jokes.

When the Four Seasons Atlanta’s Park 75 restaurant decided to invite guests up to their fifth-floor terrace garden for a new dining experience, they called on designer James Hurley to create a stunning tablescape that would complement the surrounding plant life and bold cuisine. The result? A vintage Parisian look encompassing a zinc-top table, Victorian and French-café-style chairs, and a centerpiece of metallic cake platters, vintage bottles and aluminum canisters filled with topiaries, mood moss and creamy pink 'Sarah Bernhardt' peonies. Hurley’s style is enviable; naturally, we called on him to give us some pointers on how to host a chic garden soiree.


The flowers: You’ll want to know at least two months beforehand what kind of flowers will be in season at the time of the party, says Hurley. Peonies, for example, are only available up until June, and then again in fall from New Zealand when “they’re a lot more expensive,” he adds. 

The linens: An easy DIY tablecloth from your local home-improvement store? Drop cloths, says Hurley, who washes them in Meyers lavender laundry detergent and softener. “They drape great and they look amazing; they look like really expensive linen.”

The tableware: No two adjacent place settings should be alike, says Hurley. At the Four Seasons, he used two different shades of chargers and napkins, as well as mismatched silverware, for an alternating even/odd look. Louis XVI, XV and XVI silverware can be “stunning” when combined, he adds.


Setup: If using a table with a metal or zinc top, don’t leave it basking in the sun during setup. You don’t want your guests sitting down to a scalding-hot surface, warns Hurley. Instead, cover tables with drop cloths until you’re ready to set them.

Centerpiece: Hurley used cake stands, topiaries, wooden boxes and vintage bottles of varying heights to create a centerpiece for the garden table. Not so much that it interfered with guests’ line of sight, though: “I still like for people to be able to see over to each other.”

Flatware: This is one of the biggest differences between a cookout and a garden party. “I love to use real silver when I can get my hands on it,” says Hurley. Don’t have a silverware set big enough to accommodate all guests? Borrow from the neighbors and to mix-and-match with your own.

Floral arrangements: Hurley went with light-pink 'Sarah Bernhardt' peonies and different types of mosses for the Four Seasons tablescape. Peonies were arranged in vintage glass bottles and aluminum canisters, while mood moss was clustered on cake platters and the tabletop. “It’s moundy and fat,” Hurley says of the mood moss. “You wet it and wring it out like a washcloth, then you can place it.” Artificial moss topiary balls in narrow wooden planters added more dimension.

Seating: Instead of numbering tables, give them memorable names, such as types of flowers. “It’s so much more fun,” says Hurley. “To me numbers are like a cattle herding, like you’re trying to get everybody through.” Handwrite table names on small chalkboard signs and place on each table to designate.

Conversation starters: Oddities and eclectic centerpiece elements are natural icebreakers — a must-have when you’ve got unacquainted guests sitting next to each other. “It will start an entire conversation about the table,” says Hurley. “That and a bottle of wine will always loosen them up.”

Keep Reading

Next Up

Outdoor Entertaining Tips: Get Out and Stay Out!

Lifestyle expert James Farmer helps you maximize your outdoor quality of life.

Outdoor Entertaining Tips for Summer

Designer Chris Casson Madden shares tips for creating a sophisticated outdoor space perfect for summer entertaining.

Host a Summer Harvest Garden Party

Throw an end-of-summer backyard bash and share your harvest with friends.

4 Flavorful Recipes for a Garden Party

Atlanta chef Robert Gerstenecker showcases homegrown ingredients in dishes your dinner guests will love.

Tips for Hosting Fun Parties

Here are 9 tips for hosting a party both you and your guests will enjoy.

Brighten Parties With Cupcake Candles

These birthday candles are a tasty sight, but try not to eat them.

Garden Mazes Create a Sense of Wonder

Explore the art of maze and labyrinth makers.

Top 20 Party Songs: Jazz

If feel-good music sounds good for your next gathering, we have your playlist.

Tips for Raised Beds

Raised beds can be as simple as mounding up soil into a deep, wide planting area. Here are a few tips on how to garden with them.

6 Steps to Throw the Best-Ever Breakup Party

Mac and cheese, chocolate and cocktails included.


Texas Flip and Move

6:30am | 5:30c

Rehab Addict

7:30am | 6:30c

Rehab Addict

8:30am | 7:30c

Rehab Addict

9:30am | 8:30c

Rehab Addict

10am | 9c

Rehab Addict

10:30am | 9:30c

Rehab Addict

11am | 10c

Rehab Addict

11:30am | 10:30c

House Hunters

12pm | 11c

Fixer Upper

1pm | 12c

Fixer Upper

2pm | 1c

Fixer Upper

3pm | 2c

Fixer Upper

4pm | 3c

Fixer Upper

5pm | 4c

Fixer Upper

6pm | 5c

Home Town

7pm | 6c
On Tonight
On Tonight

Fixer Upper

8pm | 7c

Fixer Upper

9pm | 8c

Home Town

10pm | 9c

House Hunters

11:30pm | 10:30c

Fixer Upper

12am | 11c

Home Town

1am | 12c

House Hunters

2:30am | 1:30c

Fixer Upper

3am | 2c

Shop This Look

Found a living space you love in HGTV's Photo Library? Get the look in your own home with products from Wayfair.

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.