How to Throw a Garden Party

Pick up some outdoor party tips on food and decor from the entertaining experts at Atlanta's Four Seasons hotel.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Photo By: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Photo By: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Photo By: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Photo By: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Photo By: Image Courtesy of M2 PR

Photo By: Image Courtesy of M2 PR

Photo By: Image Courtesy of M2 PR

Photo By: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Photo By: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Photo By: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Photo By: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Photo By: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Photo By: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Photo By: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Photo By: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Photo By: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Photo By: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Photo By: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Photo By: Image courtesy of Heidi Geldhauser

Photo By: Image Courtesy of M2 PR

Photo By: Image Courtesy of M2 PR

Photo By: Image Courtesy of M2 PR

Petal Pusher

Four Seasons hotel designer James Hurley used light-pink ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peonies at each place setting as well as in the centerpiece for this Atlanta garden party. 

Eclectic Mix

Designer James Hurley used metallic cake stands, wooden boxes with moss topiaries and vintage glass bottles of varying heights to create visual interest with this centerpiece. 

Edible Garden

Many of the ingredients on this garden party menu come from the vegetables and herbs growing in the Four Season’s fifth-floor terrace garden, also the setting for this al fresco dinner. 

French Cafe

“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. 

Bottoms Up

The signature Purple Rain cocktail incorporates Don Julio Blanco tequila, fresh lemon and lime juices, cranberry syrup and a lavender flower from the rooftop garden. “There’s nothing sexier than making a drink and just reaching over and grabbing a handful of lavender or basil and muddling it then giving it to the guest,” says Robert Gerstenecker, executive chef of the Four Seasons Atlanta.

Mood Rings

Mood moss, shown here, is great for sculpting. “It’s moundy and fat,” says Hurley. “You wet it and wring it out like you would a washcloth, you squeeze it and that causes it to be really soft and then you can place it.”

Seeing Green

Hurley used artificial moss “topiary balls” in boxes fashioned from reclaimed wood. 

Supporting Role

Cymbidium orchids like this one accent the pink ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peonies on the table.

Getting' Sippy With It

Pre-dinner cocktails kick off the Garden Table experience. Mint Juleps—made with honey from a rooftop on-site beehive and mint freshly plucked from the garden—are a favorite summertime menu item. 

Switch It Up

Hurley used two different types of chairs, French café and Victorian, to add to the visual interest of this outdoor party. 

Starters

Trays of light, summery ceviche enticed guests’ palates before the main course.

Whiter Shade of Pale

The ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peony can go from a darker pink to a cream color as it blooms, says Hurley. “Even at a summer party, it can change colors while you’re sitting at the table,” he adds. 

Mismatch Made in Heaven

Alternating shades of napkins and chargers, plus mismatched silverware, give an eclectic look to this table, while green drinking glasses play off of the moss. 

Finishing Touches

Chefs at the Four Seasons Atlanta prepare a first course of market fish crudo in a garden blossom vinaigrette with watermelon and pear.

Tucking In

Fish crudo in a garden blossom vinaigrette makes a light, seasonal starter. 

Light Bites

Planning an outdoor party? Take a tip from the pros: In developing the Garden Table menu, “we kind of positioned the first couple of courses as light, summery,” says Chef Gerstenecker, with a focus on “tomatoes, burrata and ceviche.”

Second Course

This refreshing salad features heirloom, cherry and Campari tomatoes, burrata and basil leaves from the garden, drizzled with balsamic reduction and olive oil. 

A Touch of Drama

Cracking open the salt-crusted snapper is a “dramatic kind of experience,” says Chef Gerstenecker. “It’s a very light, refreshing dish and a very different flavor profile from what you would expect coming from a grill.” 

All About Presentation

Try this idea for your next garden party: terrarium vessels for place settings and serving food. The salt-crusted snapper is served here in a terrarium bowl, a far cry from its more rustic preparation.

Grand Finale

The fourth course is a coal roasted, 40-oz. T-bone with crushed sun chokes and grilled artichoke with crab remoulade. Four Seasons chef Gerstenecker likes using an all-in-one grill/smoker (he prefers the Big Green Egg) for outdoor cooking “because it’s so versatile,” he says. “You can do things on the hard grill, like a steak, but then you can also do really nuanced food because it’s a closed cooking dome system that keeps all of the moisture in.”

Bottled Up

Vintage and reproduction vintage glass bottles are a staple of Four Seasons designer James Hurley’s designs.

Bold Flavors

“We want to have a very bold, distinct barbecue-style flavor, that’s why we do bigger cuts of meat,” says Chef Gerstenecker. “You can leave them on the grill longer…they get a good crust on the outside and that nice, juicy steak on the inside.” 

What's In a Name?

Hurley opted to name the tables, handwriting their designations on small chalkboard signs. Numbered tables make him think of “cattle herding, like you’re trying to get everybody through,” Hurley says.