Summer may be coming to an end, but September and October just so happen to be my favorite months for outdoor gatherings. 2014 has been all about theme parties, and there is no better time to introduce a fantastic theme than late summer and early fall, as the weather is seasonally more pleasant. Plus, who doesn’t love entertaining around a fire pit, a chiminea, or tiki torches while wrapped in a cozy blanket? That said, I’ve created some sMARt tips and tricks to spruce up your next fall al fresco soiree all inspired by a fall hoedown.

Invite all guests to wear denim to create a cohesive, country theme. Not to mention, the fact that most everyone already owns a pair of jeans encourages all to participate. Offer bandanas in various colors as guests arrive and voila, a theme party is born!

Surprise your guests with an inventive table topper. Use old blankets as tablecloths to give your party a charming picnic ambiance. For a splash of color, use a roll of bold wrapping paper as the perfect table runner alternative.If you’re going for a more organic and natural look, turn to a burlap roll from your home garden center for an inexpensive, creative choice.

Top off your unique tabletop with a one-of-a-kind tablescape. Mix and match different stemware and glasses, but make sure to keep the color tones harmonious. Or, if you really want your table runner, tablecloth, and/or any floral arrangement to pop, use clear plastic dishware (rather than color). If you opt for plastic wear, provide colorful sharpies at the drink table to allow guests to personalize their cup. This “÷personalization station’ is great for kids’ parties, too.

An old laundry line or rope from the hardware store is a fun and playful twist on the traditional napkin ring. Cut pieces to one yard, tie knots at either end, let ends fray, and wrap each piece around a napkin for a creative, country look.

Speaking of napkins, consider using inexpensive dishcloths in lieu of paper napkins. Dishcloths can easily upgrade any tablescape in an unexpected way. With so many options, your napkins are sure to make a statement while still being durable, absorbent and stylish. Truth be told, your new rope napkin rings will compliment this look perfectly. Your dollar store can become a fantastic resource. The best part is that you can use them again and again for any large gathering.

Don’t forget the centerpiece! Discover the many free resources in your own backyard. With the gardening season coming to an end, this is a great time to enjoy the fruits of your labor by migrating blooms and greenery to the table, such as hydrangeas, mums, sedum, astilbes, solidago, and grass cattails. Also consider adding interesting branches that are both resourceful and abundant in Mother Nature, allowing you to capture their sculptural beauty while enhancing the setting for enjoying a fabulous meal. So, grab a light sweater and wander around your outdoor space and discover the many cool, autumn gatherings that are awaiting your invitation.

So, let’s celebrate the season! You provide the gathering, and no doubt Mother Nature will provide the MARvelous backdrop.

And there you have it!