A garden party is a blank canvas, an occasion that can be as fancy or simple as you like. From a decadent Gatsby-esque soiree, to a doona on the grass, the options are endless.

“A garden party can suit so many styles of outdoor spaces and budgets,” says Olivia Morgan. An events expert of 15 years, Morgan is the founder of Olivia Morgan Production & Management. “You can cut budgets in lots of ways, and creatively use elements of your garden and outdoor space,” she says. “Plus, garden parties suit guests of all ages.”

Morgan, who splits her time between Sydney and Mudgee in central NSW, has organised garden parties the world over, helping throw bridal showers, christenings, property launches and Fashion Week events. “Last summer we took over the garden space in Moby’s restaurant in East Hampton, New York,” she says. “It’s owned by a few boys from Sydney. We held a large summer cocktail hour with an amazing grazing table.”

With all this experience to draw on, we asked Morgan to share her top tips for hosting a successful garden party.

Prep and plan ahead

Aim to have all the hard work done by the day of the party. “I like to make events welcoming,” says Morgan. “The more prep you do in advance, the more time you can put into being a gracious host.” Morgan suggests having a menu with simple recipes featuring fresh ingredients that people can pick at. “Garden parties lend themselves to picnic-style menus, a lot of which can be made in advance,” she says.

Set the scene with basics

One or two long outdoor tables make an ideal focal point. Morgan uses custom-made timber trestles that can be raised or lowered with a leg switch. Hay bales work well for kids’ events or picnics, and sheet-covered hay bales also make an excellent seating option.You can also use large cushions or milk crates with pillows. “Old linen bedsheets are perfect ground covers and tablecloths,” says Morgan.

You can make do without access to electricity if needed – just make sure you have a fully charged device with a suitable playlist and a portable speaker on hand. Some sort of shelter or shade – a gazebo, tent or tree – is helpful, as is easy access to amenities.

Garden parties are traditionally held in the morning or early afternoon, but an after-dark affair can work just as well. “There’s nothing to stop you from stringing up some festoon lighting, or gathering candles and lanterns in glass vessels,” says Morgan.

Choose the right food and drink

“We like large grazing boards, share plates, mini-food stations and lots of, seasonal ingredients,” says Morgan, whose Instagram feed is full of cheese spreads, cornichons, cured meats, dips, fresh fruit and olives. Avoid food that won’t transport well or can’t handle an hour or two in the sun. Forget time-consuming recipes and use share plates or self-serve food and drink stations.

For drinks, a good idea is to fill water dispensers with fruit and ice. Forget about paper cups, serve them in mismatched glasses and jars for added personality. When it comes to keeping drinks crisp, “an Esky or ice-filled tub are your friend”, says Morgan. “They let you off the leash in terms of where your garden party can take place.” Attach a bottle-opener to your tub so people can easily open beers without it going walkabout.

Consider the unexpected

Depending on the weather, you may have to combat flies or mosquitoes. Morgan has a tip for making your own anti-bug lanterns. Mix one tablespoon of citronella oil, mint leaves and lemon with water in a mason jar, then add a lit tea-light candle. “It smells good, too,” she says.

Another tip is to prepare for a few extra guests. “You can never have too much ice,” says Morgan. And if the weather turns bad? “Pack everything up as fast as you can and head to the pub. It’s a risk, but some of those afternoons are the best.”

Morgan’s final piece of advice? Be present. “[Don’t] concentrate too much on the little details and forget you’re there to have fun,” she says.

Checklist to remember:

Prep and plan ahead
Set the scene with basics
Choose the right food and drink
Consider the unexpected
Don’t forget to enjoy yourself

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Stella Artois.