Aaaah, autumn! It's the perfect time to entertain outdoors -- most of the bugs are gone, the sun isn't scorching even though it's warm enough to enjoy an afternoon or evening al fresco, and there's a bounty of good things to serve for an outdoor meal.
The earlier sunset will afford you an ideal opportunity to bathe your outdoor space in evening lights. Use soft light, but use plenty of it. Try dozens of votive candles in jars and glasses to protect the flame from the wind, hurricane lamps, or kerosene lanterns set on low. Create cozy seating areas and equip each with a glowing light source.
The method you'll use to chase the chill from the night will vary depending on your climate and your outdoor space. If you have a yard (and community by-laws allow), a campfire is a wonderful informal party setting. In smaller gardens, consider self-contained fire pits or a chimenea.
For a more formal affair, you can install a propane-powered heater. These units are available in a range of heating powers and prices. Or, drape attractive throws or quilts on each chair for your guests to wrap around their shoulders to ward off the night air.Of course, you'll want to take advantage of the wonderful colors and textures of autumn in your decorating scheme and table settings.
Autumn's colors are deep and rich -- russet, crimson, burnt orange, gold, dark green, and the color of hay. Use these hues repeatedly in tablecloths and settings, flowers, centerpieces, and even the food. Scoop out pumpkins and other squash and fit them with containers of water to make vases. Mass potted mums in vivid colors. Use orange Chinese lanterns, bright rosehips, stems of red or orange berries, or chilies. Wrap vibrant maple or sumac leaves around votive candleholders or napkin rings. Sunflower heads can be strewn on the tabletop, or left on the flower stalks in a container.
The textures of fall are earthy and rustic. Especially play these up if your gathering is informal -- a corn roast, a bonfire, a jeans and sweater evening. Use burlap or rough cotton to cover your buffet table, and dish towels as napkins. Weigh down your tablecloth with apples or pears hung on rough twine. Or use rattan placemats and wicker baskets. Terracotta pot saucers make great paper plate holders.
If you're hosting a fancy sit-down outdoor dinner, use the subtler textures of hydrangea blossoms and colored leaves on a linen tablecloth. Try bringing your indoor dining table outdoors for the evening-it will add unexpected elegance to your setting. Paint gold lettering on small gourds to use as place cards. Grace your table with late-blooming roses in crystal vases.
Whether you hold a harvest hoedown or a stylish sit-down dinner party for eight, fall for outside entertaining this autumn!Debbie Rodgers, the haven maven, owns and operates Paradise Porch, and is dedicated to helping people create outdoor living spaces that nurture and enrich them. Her latest how-to guide "Attracting Butterflies to Your Home and Garden" is now available on her web site. Visit her at http://www.paradiseporch.com and get a free report on "Eight easy ways to create privacy in your outdoor space".