a patio set up for a small outdoor gathering with lights, a grill, and patio furniture

Summer is beckoning you to come outdoors, to congregate with your friends over drinks and good food. We’ve waited indoors long enough. Let’s get outside and enjoy it. No, we won’t be traveling as much; we might scrap plans to fly and many popular vacation spots won’t yet be operational, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to soak up every minute of this summer.

Joe Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health tells The Harvard Gazette that our summer plans don’t have to be totally restrictive. It may mean that a family visit takes place on a spacious deck instead of in a living room, and with everyone an adequate distance apart.

This summer will be filled with small gatherings of close friends and family in yards and patios. Just like the ‘good old days’ we’ve heard about, when lazy, under-scheduled summer days eased into evenings where we sat on porch swings and stoops and visited with friends and neighbors.

Create the space

We can make our own wistful summer memories by creating the right entertaining space for you and your guests.

You’ve got some time on your hands, so you might as well put it to good use by creating the perfect entertaining space in your yard. It may mean hardscaping and other labor-intensive projects, but it doesn’t have to.

Define the space with candles, string lights, or tiki torches around a patio table with plenty of seating. Create multiple conversation spaces with groups of chairs, comfy cushions, or bistro sets for small gatherings. The important thing to remember is that you provide a space that accommodates your guests’ comfort level. Offering an opportunity to separate a bit from the group while still enjoying the party will put many of them at ease.

Make it special with lighted topiaries or large containers overflowing with gorgeous blooms - which can also be used as a way to guide foot traffic or block the entrances of more enclosed spaces that you want your guests to avoid. Try placing a beautiful arrangement at your front door to draw attention to a sign directing guests to come around back.

Create some privacy with form and function using Sky Pencil Holly

Hurdles to Hosting Outdoors

Creating a space starts with beautiful patio furniture out on the deck, but it doesn't end there. You’ll want to create a setting so inviting, it will be impossible for your guests to tear themselves away.

Now that the weather is beautiful and you find yourself looking for every opportunity to hang out outside, have you noticed how very close those neighbors are? Maybe a little extra privacy is needed in this situation. Add another layer between you and your neighbor by planting Arborvitae, Sky Pencil Holly, Euonymus, Mountain laurel, Windmill Palm, Italian Cypress or Wax Leaf Privet. They create a nice barrier to your uninvited guests and they serve as decorative greenery for the invited ones to enjoy.

Nothing ends an evening sooner than a visit from those other uninvited guests: mosquitos. Especially vicious if you live near water, mosquitos will send guests running inside, or home if the entrance is blocked! Combat those pests with mosquito-repelling plants like lavender, marigolds, citronella grass, catmint, rosemary, basil, scented geraniums, bee balm, mint, sage, or allium.

A daytime gathering can be more trouble than fun if bees or wasps decide to drop in. A few wasp traps placed around the perimeter of your gathering will act the part of a nightclub bouncer and keep your party hassle-free.

Finally, it’s always a good idea to set some house rules for the event to put your guests at ease.

Keith Grant, APRN, head of infectious disease for Hartford HealthCare lists some entertaining tips that will ensure your quarantine party is a successful one:

  1. Keep it small
  2. Stay outdoors
  3. Keep your distance
  4. Use disposable flatware
  5. Keep the garbage accessible
  6. Provide hand washing stations
  7. Stay masked

And my favorite tip: Grant says brief close-range contact is OK, but sustained contact, including with loud people who are more likely to spray viral droplets into the air, is risky. I feel like this applies to pre-Covid parties as well!