A Spur-of-the-Moment Garden Cocktail Party

~Nantucket Island~

The most fun moments are those that just happen at the last-minute.  I decided I wanted to have a party. So I texted invitees a simple “hey come over for sundowners tomorrow night before you go to dinner!”  On Nantucket, dining out is the quintessential end to everyone’s day, as the restaurant excursion sends you into culinary frenzy with one dining experience more fabulous than the next.  Just ask the world.  Because the world vacations there and thinks so, too!  Hence, cocktail parties are very popular, as they are an opportunity to grab your friends, family and acquaintances at the very last minute to come on over for a “sundowner”!

Having a party doesn’t mean you have to break the bank. You can do two parties that look and feel the same, for hundreds of dollars difference in cost.  It’s up to you. Be comfortable. Don’t let the worry of cost stop you from having your friends in. I will show you how…Guests are just so happy you invited them!

I set up two 6 ft folding tables to have 12 ft of space to put out food and drinks. A long table makes for a more dramatic presentation. I used two white queen-sized matelasse' coverlets to cloth the tables to the grass, then placed a 60 inch square overlay in blue paisley on a diagonal to add interest and color. I often purchase bed linens specifically for tablescaping. Sheets and coverlets  provide large pieces of fabrics finished all around, sometimes with a scallop, in a huge assortment of colors and prints!  I love to use pure white matelasse' right up against the natural green of the privet, for its texture-to-texture interest. The chinoiserie ginger jars and vases, pulled it all together, as everything in our garden is blue and white, including  pillows, cushions, umbrellas and hammock!  #blueandwhiteforever

The saturated blue hydrangeas and the 10’ tall privets act as the natural host at all times to the simplicity of the blue and white color scheme. I brought out my blue porcelain ginger jars (as I always do!) to add a bit of garden elegance and height and to further enhance the color scheme.  And of course, you can’t have “sundowners” without having candlelight! I love tall-stemmed globe candleholders, perfect for outside, as the candles don’t blow out.  Another thing I like to do, and something I learned from Martha Stewart’s first book, ENTERTAINING, is to put all the glasses out on the buffet table.  It looks festive and welcoming.  Monogrammed cocktail napkins are always a special and affordable touch.  Here I used blue with the name of our house printed in white ink.  

Grab tall-stemmed globed candlesticks in your travels, when you see them. You can purchase them very inexpensively and you can never have too many. Have you ever been to a party and said, “oh, they have too many candles” ?

I have a collection of chrome ice buckets in all sizes that look nice and “make the ordinary extraordinary”! I used one for the beer and wine, one for champagne and one for carafes of juices for the signature drink of the evening, Sea Breeze.

I only use coolers for the beach or a large tailgate. 

Bar Offerings

  • Wine (Rose’, Pinot Grigio & Chardonnay) Choose your own price range
  • Beer (Cisco Brewers’ Whale’s Tale Pale Ale (The blue can fit into my design scheme!)
  • Champagne (Veuve Clicquot) You can choose to omit the champagne
  • Sea Breezes (I love the color!) I love to serve trays of a signature drink.

Your bar can be anything you want it to be. You can just have beer & wine, or just beer, or just wine. Or, you can go all out and have a full bar. For this kind of a gathering, I prefer beer, wine, champagne and a “signature” drink, passed on trays, which makes it special and says, “I’ve put thought into this”...

Finger Foods

Cheese & Cracker selection with Green and Red Grapes and Red Pepper Jelly
This is easy and affordable. There are a variety of cheeses at a variety of price points to choose from. Offer two choices, different in flavor and texture, if you can afford it. If not, one is perfect. Cube the cheese yourself or leave it whole with a cheese knife in it. Presentation is everything. Serve it on a lovely wooden board with your favorite crackers.  I like the look and taste of grapes, but often serve sliced peaches or plums.

No pre-cut cheese, please!

Watermelon rounds with a blueberry picks
I cut the watermelon into rounds the size of a 50 cent piece, then simply skewered them with a tooth pick and 2 blueberries. They went fast!  Refreshing!

Invest in a set of circle cutters.You will use them forever! You can buy the set for $15 at Williams Sonoma. Mine are 20 years old! I used them for kiddie sandwiches for many years!

Skewers with Salami and marinated Mozzarella Balls & Green Olives
I ordered  thick slices of salami from the deli, approximately1/8 “ and cut them into 25 cent size circles. I threaded a marinated mozzarella ball and a marinated green olive on decorative toothpick to create an attractive and tasty little skewer!  This is labor intensive only, inexpensive to buy and delicious to eat! VOILA!

When you make cut-outs of meat, save the scraps and toss them in an omelette the next day, or cut up into chunks and make a Mediterranean salad!

Shrimp Cocktail
A family must-have in our house!  I usually make my own cocktail sauce with ketchup, lemon and Gold’s horseradish sauce.  But I’ve recently come to love Gold’s Cocktail Sauce, which I used here.

Cucumber Cups with Goat Cheese and Smoked Salmon with Dill
I cut cucumber slices thick enough to carve out with a melon ball scoop being careful not to break through to the bottom ( ¼”).  I mixed softened goat cheese with dill, capers and salt & pepper, then filled each cup and topped with a piece of folded over salmon and a sprig of dill.

Egg Salad in Hot Dog Rolls
In anticipation of children and nannies coming, I made egg salad at the last minute and served it in split hot dog rolls cut into thirds and stuffed with a spinach leaf for color.  I sprinkled them with paprika and stood them up like little soldiers on a cake stand to add a little flair, and to help “make the ordinary extraordinary”. And guess what?  They were the first to go!  The adults were grabbing them up! Lots of replenishing that dish!


  • 6ft Folding Tables: Costco $59 each
  • Matelasse' coverlets: Ralph Lauren from my linen collection. You can buy at Bed Bath and Beyond for a great price. I love the texture
  • Blue & White porcelain: Private collection. Again, Google to find some that fit your budget to get the “look”.  
  • Tall Candle Holders:  Home Goods $19.99 each
  • Chrome Ice Buckets:  Home Goods $19.99, $29.99, depending on size
  • Dark Wooden Board: Home Goods $29.99
  • Monogrammed Cocktail Napkins: $29 for 100 www.thestationerystudio.com
  • Blue Paisley Cloth: IKEA close-out sale $14.99