Denver, Colorado—In cold climates, many of us rely on seed catalogs and gardening magazines to keep us going through the snowy months. Planning a garden party fits right in, too.
Visualize a perfect day with the scent of roses and lavender on a light, warm breeze. Every plant is at its best. There are no aphids, grasshoppers, slugs, dandelions, or thistles. Every person we love is there; no one has called to cancel at the last minute. Every hors d’oeuvre is perfect: no soggy sandwiches or jam tarts with burnt crusts. Nasturtiums, pinks, and violets grace every platter. The tablecloth and napkins are freshly pressed. No one spills anything, and no children fall in the goldfish pond. It’s a perfect party on a perfect day.
Let’s get real. I’ve thrown garden parties throughout the season, and I no longer worry about perfection. I now settle for anything less than disaster. A garden party—like gardening itself—is about perseverance. Nothing ever goes according to plans. When the thermometer climbed way above 90°F for the party we gave to celebrate the tulips’ blooming, we covered them with card tables or sawhorses and plywood until the guests arrived. Nevertheless, soon after, the flowers (and a few of my friends) looked as though they’d been blowtorched. During a Memorial Day fete, a neighbor decided to do some very noisy home improvement. Teeth chattered when an unexpected cold front moved in for a Labor Day picnic.
Expectations may be dashed, but gardeners know how to cope. And giving a party gives the host a goal to put the garden into the best possible shape—to make new beds, resolve a problem area, build a new deck, or try out a new recipe.
My friend Eileen knows how to cook for a garden party. She makes the kinds of things that people like to eat. There’s plenty of dill and basil and other herbal flavors, but there’s nothing too weird that gets little bites taken out of it and then is hidden in a napkin. Some herb gardeners go overboard trying to make every dish herbal; I don’t want rosemary in my brownie, and not every bowl of punch has to have little green things in it—I’d really prefer vodka.
Every year, Eileen and her brother Patrick celebrate the summer solstice with friends in their amazing garden. This year’s party was marred by a violent storm complete with thunder, lightning, blustering winds, and hail. But the sun came back out and so did the food. Hail damage was minimal, but Eileen felt a bit frazzled, having endured too many such insults during her garden parties. She’s thinking about throwing a Christmas party this year. “Look out, Denver!” she says. “With my luck, we’ll get a blizzard bigger than the famous one of ’82.”
I’m stocking up on canned goods just in case.
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