How to have a proper Victorian garden party (1899)

Country home - view into the garden

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Visiting toilettes - dresses in bright colors from 1898

The new fashionable fete: A Victorian garden party – Tips from 1899

Garden parties have hitherto never been popular in America in spite of their success in England, but the present season sees them launched as a fashionable form of entertainment.

People who have handsome lawns and gardens, of course, now and then have been in the habit of lending them to charitable societies for a day, and a lawn party for the benefit of some pet philanthropy has been given, but, as a social diversion pure and simple, even at those places where the fashionable most do congregate, the lawn party has never flourished.

A garden party may extend from afternoon into evening, or it may be entirely an evening affair, in which case the lawn and shrubberies are lighted by Japanese lanterns cleverly put about the place.

The lights should look like so many great colored will-o’-the-wisps or glowworms, and as they will scarcely ever sufficiently illuminate the grounds, the use of large lamps, such as are used in theaters to throw the lights upon the center of the stage, are usually added.

The light is cast on the revelers through red and green and blue glasses, and weird and pretty effects are always subjects for comment.

Fun and flowers decorate a Victorian garden party

A garden which is plentifully supplied with rose bowers and arbors, secluded corners, in which those who have a penchant for flirting may retire, always looks pretty and is popular. Very often the arbors, when covered with shrubberies, are brightened by real or artificial roses, attached in such a way as to make it appear that the flowers were parts of the vines.

1899 Victorian garden party

Sometimes in one of these little arbors, open on all sides, a small band of musicians is stationed.

A pretty idea is to have a pretty girl in Tyrolean or other peasant costume seated inside the arbor singing the songs of the country she represents and accompanied by a musician who plays on some stringed instrument peculiar to their nationality.

A quartet of mandolins, banjos or guitars make a good feature. If the party extends into the evening, the quartet can play serenades in the evening. If the musicians can be induced to array themselves in some quaint costume, gypsy for instance, their effectiveness is increased.

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Another clever idea for a garden party is fancy dancing. A group of children in white executing some pretty dance upon the grass always arouse interest. Little flower girls and pages, to wander about with baskets of flowers, which at a private garden party are always given away, but at one held to raise funds for some worthy charity are sold, make a picturesque addition to the scene.

On the lawn, especially if the grounds are large, there should be a number of rustic stands where lemonade and such liquid refreshments may be had. The more elaborate refreshments should be served in large tents or under handsomely striped awnings put up to protect the tables from sun or rain.

Hartsdale, Bronx, New York Garden party

Entertainment at a Victorian garden party

Besides the orchestra, singers may at intervals delight the guests and give their entertainment upon the balcony, where the accompaniment of the piano is heard from just inside the window at which the singer stands.

Juggling performances, trained animals, acrobats, recitations, bicycle polo, fancy drills in which children or pretty girls take part, all afford a great deal of amusement and are popular with English givers of lawn parties.

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A gypsy fortune teller in her little tent is an antiquated, but always popular diversion. An open-air dramatic performance by clever amateurs is always sure to please. The drama chosen must be such as adapts itself to outdoor representation and needs no scenery.

At a children’s lawn party, a bubble blowing contest, with a prize for the most successful blower,  is a good idea.

Prizes are sometimes awarded to the child who blows the most bubbles in a given time, the child who blows the largest bubble, the child who blows the most bubbles in a given direction, or the child whose bubble lasts longest.

Races or contests of any kind amuse the child. Even grown folks are amused by the Punch and Judy show.

More Victorian garden party ideas

Some of the most famous garden parties of the year have been those of Mme. Loubet at the Elysee Palace, Paris, one given by the Duchess of Devonshire to English high society, one of Lady de Rothschilds at her country home near London for the delegates to the International Council of Women.

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One, the most recent of all, was given by Princess Louise, Marchioness of Lorne, in the grounds of Kensington Palace. There was so much to see in the old palace, that beyond the refreshments and the music of the band, nothing was arranged to amuse the guests.

In England, every garden party is provided with a military band or string orchestra.

The garden party is less expensive than indoor amusements, which require elaborate refreshments, high-priced music and decorations and costly gowns. All garden parties do not have such diversions as are mentioned above.

There is no question, however, that since the social leaders have taken it up in America, it will be a recognized form of entertainment, and surely there could be no more charming and wholesome one. – Alice de Berdt

Country home - view into the garden

How to manage summer entertainment – Victorian garden parties (1898)

No entertainments are more popular in summer than “garden parties,” and consequently they are generally given whenever facilities offer themselves for so doing.

The garden party season actually commences toward the end of June — about the 21st — and even earlier, and many of these functions have already taken place. Not a few are annual affairs, and are anticipated with no little pleasure by the guests usually invited.

One distinct difference between afternoon at homes and garden parties is that husbands are invited with their wives to the latter, and seldom to the former, and also that they invariably go to the one when possible, and very rarely to the other.

Bachelors make a concession, however, and attend at homes given by their intimate friends, and here and there a man accompanies his wife to an at home, although it is almost a favor on his part when he does so; but he drives out of town to a garden party with his wife or daughters as a matter of course, as the fact of a party given outdoors instead of within doors commends itself to most men.

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1898 - Women at a Victorian garden party

The invitations

Invitations to garden parties are issued on at home cards, and the words, “At home,” the usual formula, save in the instances there given.

When two dates are put upon the invitation cards, as is often the case, a hesitation arises as to whether guests are expected to go to both or to one only, and many queries reach us with regard to this point. As a rule, guests are not expected to accept for both dates, but to choose the one most convenient.

There are exceptions, however, to this received rule, and guests not infrequently do attend two garden parties, when the dates are wide apart and when they are intimate friends of the giver, but on alternate dates — that is, when a week only elapses between the dates mentioned — the acceptance for one only is usually expected, unless something is said to the contrary by the hostess on the departure of her guests.

In the country, such intimation is often given to the principal neighbors, but seldom in town.

Again, in the country, the words, “and party,” are put upon the cards, meant to include the members of a family and any visitors who may be staying at the house.

Thus a home party brought to a country garden party is sometimes rather a large one, while in town, no latitude is given to bring friends, and permission has to be obtained before venturing to do so.

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Amusements & refreshments for a Victorian garden party 

In the country, tennis and croquet afford amusement sufficient for the guests at the generality of garden parties, although at very large gatherings, a band — usually a local one — is added to form an additional attraction, while in town, the most popular bands are engaged by the givers of these entertainments.

Guests usually remain a longer time at a garden party than at an afternoon at home, and for this reason, “Goodbye” is said to the hostess on departure when possible, although those who leave early omit this civility on account of her being still engaged in receiving arrivals.

At very large functions, cards are left in the hall on departure, and thus the obligation of doing so afterwards is obviated.

It is customary to serve refreshments in the house and out of doors, in the former case tea, coffee and all kinds of dainty cakes, sandwiches, sweets, hothouse fruits, etc., being given on long tables in the dining room or library, and without doors in some convenient spot, strawberries and cream. Ices and iced cups are provided.

Occasionally, refreshments are served in a large marquee or tent instead of in the house, when more convenient to do so, or the latter supplements the former when the number of guests is considerable.

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