Down to Earth: A Holiday Fantasy

It’s easy to create the party of your dreams with a modern castle and an unlimited budget. But all it really takes is a wild imagination, a bit of courage, and plenty of herbs.

| December/January 1999

  • Rosmarinus officinalis
    illustration by michael eagleton

My client said that his party was the apogee of the holiday season. The period costumes set the mood while the fragrances and flavors of the herbs provided sweet memories of a festive evening. 

I'll never forget the Christmas twenty-five years ago when I had the ­opportunity to play out a dream. A landscaping client called me in late November. “Jim,” he said, “I want to throw a big Christmas party for about 400 guests, and I’d like you to plan it.”

I gulped, not sure what I was getting myself into. I was a landscape architect, not a party planner, but I’d always wanted to create a “dream-come-true” holiday party so I agreed. After some preliminary instructions, my client turned me loose, and I set about producing my fantasy Christmas party.

The party took place at his substantial new house on a timbered hillside beside a large bluff with waterfalls and pools. I had been working on its landscaping for a couple of years so I knew the property well. I also knew that the host wanted something splashy.

Because the guests would have to park some distance below the house and walk up seventy-nine steps to the entry, I hired six attendants to provide valet parking and dressed them in Old English garb. Pairs of ladies in eighteenth-century costumes carrying antique candle lanterns would escort the guests up the stairs. About halfway up the incline, a back-flipping, somersaulting Santa would tumble across the lawn, land on one knee, and call out, “Merry Christmas to all!”

On the evening of the party, costumed carolers stood at the edge of the lawn, quietly tra-la-la-ing by candlelight. A period “butler” greeted guests, and the lady of the house ushered them into one of the spacious rooms with ceilings of antique beams and massive fireplaces.

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