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Summer Garden Parties Made Easy

How to keep bugs at bay — and other tips for outdoor entertaining

Backyard garden party

Colorful summer fruits are beautiful to look at and delicious to eat. — Photo by Juniper Images/Getty Images

En español | These practical, inexpensive, easy-to-do tips can turn any outdoor area into a party space for you and your guests.

Decorate the table

Lightweight fabric tablecloths and napkins are much nicer than paper and plastic. Or substitute traditional tablecloths for individual placemats, like those used on a kitchen table.

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Fresh flowers, seasonal fruits and different-sized candles are perfect for creating small tabletop arrangements. (A fun way to protect candle flames from the wind is to place them in small glass vases or Mason jars, like those used for jams and jellies.)

If your guests will be seated at one long table, space the arrangements four place-settings apart, making sure the decorations aren't so tall that they interfere with conversation.

Set up the buffet

Have the food and drinks you'll be serving also serve as table décor.

You can display food on a pair of cake stands that are stacked one on top of the other, decorated with fresh flowers.

Another fun idea is to put corn chips in tall vases and serve them with guacamole or salsa in martini or margarita glasses.

Next: 3 ways to keep bugs at bay. >>

For drinks, fill several glass carafes with different colored fruit juices and place them all in a large bowl filled with ice. (Besides adding color to the table, the beverages won't become watered down with ice.)

Another option is to place a bunch of drink bottles and cans in a large aluminum container filled with water and ice. For a decorative touch, add some flowers to the water, or floating candles if the party is at night.

Accessorize the outdoors

Plan and accessorize your outdoor entertaining space just as you would an indoor room.

For instance, you can use an indoor-outdoor rug to help define your buffet or dining area. Add color and comfort to patio chairs by turning brightly colored, vinyl tablecloths into covers for outdoor cushions. (If you can't sew, use adhesive Velcro tape.)

In addition to candlelight at night, wrap string lights around tree trunks or planters you may have in your yard.

Another option is to use garden torches. You can stake the torches directly into the ground or, if there's no soil in the area, fill four large buckets with sand and place each one in a corner with the torch secured in the sand. Another plus to using torches: If you fill them with citronella, you'll both light your party and drive insects away.

Next: Fun for the kids on your guest list. >>

Creating a Kid Zone

If there are children on your guest list, set-up a pair of folding tables and place a plain wooden plank on top. Buy a roll of oversized paper and staple it to the plank. Fill a couple of beach pails with crayons or colored pencils, place the pails on the table and let the kids decorate their table while they eat.

For the place settings, use unbreakable melamine or hard plastic plates. (They come in a variety of colors and styles and are very affordable.)

For added kid fun, set-up a small lemonade stand and let the kids be in charge of the (non-alcoholic) drinks. You can also surprise your young guests with a piñata full of sweets hung from a tree.

Cristina Mella is a lifestyle and home decorating expert who writes about home decor on her website,

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