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Southern California Gardening: Inexpensive Garden Party Decorating Ideas

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Decorations and accessories help an outdoor living room come alive for a garden party.

 A dining table under a garden structure promises a festive occasion!
 Before the redo my outdoor dining room had a bad case of the blahs.

Okay, no excuses. The weather is warm, the barbecue is ready, and our gardens are waiting. Time for an easygoing and creative garden party under the stars.

Our backyard terrace is a joy. A big arbor covered with a scramble of Concord grapes provides shelter. Orange trees, guavas, figs and a Fuji apple tree nuzzle into the edges of the stone pavers. Cascades of fragrant, star-flowered jasmine climb above us. Who could ask for more? I could.

My outdoor dining room is lackluster and boring, and my husband, Jeff, and I decided to jazz it up with a $100 gift card from Lowe's, courtesy of the annual Lowe's Garden Challenge for its regional garden experts. We were asked to come up with garden improvements for $100 or less.

My old farm table is 9 ft long and about 4 ft wide. When I checked on tablecloths big enough to cover it, they were too expensive. I could blow my entire challenge money on some simple linens, and then I'd worry about staining them. I considered using place mats, but they would look like tiny islands on the big table.

 Open-top glass globes trap rain and catch debris.

Our outdoor lighting needed help. I tried tea candlelights, tall candles and fat pillars, but they guttered and smoked, flickered out, and left us in the dark. Onward and upward to Lowe's with a nebulous idea of what I wanted to do to jazz up the party.

 Masking paper entices a child to draw.

I am crazy about canvas and denim, so when I spied the 9x12-ft canvas drop cloths, I knew one would be the ideal tablecloth for outdoors.

Next I needed some contrasting place mats or runners. Again cost got in the way. So near the drop cloths in the paint department, we found some wonderful green masking paper -- the stuff painters lay around the edges of a room. We bought one 180-ft roll. When we laid it around the tabletop, we realized how much our grandkids will love drawing on the paper. No mess, no fuss, no problem.

 Solar lights fit inside the glass globes and match the iron chandelier.

What I needed were lights for the iron chandelier over the table and two lights for the hazardous step-up onto the terrace. I spent an hour cruising the lighting section and stumbled upon some large, handsome solar lights. I found a set of six that fit our glass globes perfectly. We just took the lights off their posts and set them inside each globe. Even if it rains, the broad, bronze-tone tops cover the opening. No more flooded candles!

 Solar lights illuminate the path and table and set a romantic mood.

An extra light source is the old-fashioned-looking battery powered lantern, which we set on the table or on the side serving table. It works beautifully and even flickers, like a candle.

 Who could resist these bird pillows?

By the end of the afternoon, I'd spent about $96, but I still wanted one last touch for the garden party. I found two bright-blue pillows with the silhouettes of birds. Perfect.

So although I blew my $100 budget -- just a little! -- I think I stretched those dollars till they squeaked.

Am I happy with my new garden party terrace? Yes! Now we'll fire up the barbecue, pull out the Crayolas and pencils so our grandkids can doodle on the runner, and watch as the solar-powered chandelier casts its soft glow.