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Autumn offers the best weather in some respects. Very little rain falls over the whole country, and it is warm but not too hot, getting colder as the season progresses. This makes it the ideal time to entertain outdoors — most of the “mozzies” 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 tasty things to serve for an outdoor meal.

Because the days are slightly shorter in the autumn, outdoor entertaining in this season calls for special attention to lighting and temperature.

Lighting

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.

Heating

The method you’ll use to chase the chill from the night will vary depending on your climate and your outdoor space. Of course a good old South African Braai is hard to beat if you want to create an 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.
Color

Autumn’s colors are deep and rich — russet, crimson, burnt orange, gold, dark green, and the colour 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.

Texture

The textures of fall are earthy and rustic. Especially play these up if your gathering is informal — a “mealie braai”, a bonfire or a jeans and jersey 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 coloured 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 host a laid back gathering or a stylish sit-down dinner party for eight, entertain outside this autumn and make the most of the temperate, albeit cooler weather.

And of course visit www.homeds.co.za if you need some expert help or advice.