A few smart strategies from resident experts Marcella Kragel and Ina Miller help you upgrade your basic backyard cookout without breaking a sweat.

The backyard party is one of the most enjoyable rituals of the summer season.  There’s no better way to celebrate the longer days and warm evenings than by inviting friends and neighbors over for the kind of relaxed, free-style entertaining that happens when you host a gathering with no walls.
The good news is that the perfect backyard party isn’t actually perfect. Outdoor events work best when they’re a little more relaxed than their indoor counterparts. However, it’s the planning and prep-work you do beforehand that makes everything look effortless and lets you relax and enjoy yourself once the guests arrive.
Here, a short list of favorite backyard party essentials and trusted local resources that will guarantee a good time for all, including you.

Having the elements of a few simple, unstructured games or activities on hand can help people mix and mingle. Here are some
summery possibilities:
Invest in Polaroid Snap and set up a photo-op area in an especially green spot. You can even create an outdoor photo booth with a table of accessories and a garden bench.
Nostalgia is always popular. Hang a projector screen, or even just a white sheet, from the side of your garage and rent a projector for an instant drive-through. Or place classic games like horseshoes, badminton,
bocci, cornhole around the yard.
Do you have a fire pit? S’mores are a no-brainer and a make your own
s’mores buffet bar with toppings and different chocolate bars can be a big crowd-pleaser for adults and kids. Just make sure you have plenty of napkins.

We like to shop
local whenever possible, and when it comes to planning the a summer party menu, this means shopping seasonal too. Load up on fresh fruit, colorful salads, grilled vegetables and local meats. Keep it simple, and ditch things that are temperature specific. These local farmer’s markets and shops offer fresh produce, farm-raised meats, flowers and baked goods that can go right from the market to your soiree with very little fuss.
Douglas Loop Farmer’s Market (2005 Douglass Blvd, Saturdays from 10am-2pm)
Rainbow Blossom Natural Food Market (3738 Lexington Rd)
Red Hog Artisan Meat (2622 Frankfort Ave)
Foxhollow Farm (8905 Kentucky 329, Crestwood, KY 40014)
Kingsley Meat (2701 Taylorsville Rd)

One perk of outdoor parties is that you can let nature do much of the work for you. Here’s how to add touches to what’s already there to amp up the ambiance.
Scatter blankets or quilts around the yard instead of bringing in too many chairs.
Drape outdoor market lights over everything. Porch railings, low tree
branches and fences are all fair game, and will keep your party going long after the sun goes down.
Who needs fancy centerpieces when peonies are in season? Cut your own or do what we do: But them at The Blossom Shop (2218 Bardstown Rd).
Scatter potted herbs around for decorations and let friends take them home. Lavender adds soft color, infuses the air with a lovely aroma and will naturally help repel mosquitos.
Add a touch of luxe with personalized letterpress coasters. Get yours at Hound Dog Press (1000 Barret Ave).
Add splashes of color with fun napkins, decorative
paper and straws. We always check out Paper Source (3727 Lexington Rd) for these festive extras.
Don’t forget music. A wireless speaker and Spotify is all you need.