Plant a Garden Party

With a tabletop landscaping project and recipes for herb-inspired sweets, cultivate a springtime party of your own.

| April/May 2006

  • Photography by Clay Crain
  • Simple terra cotta pots undergo a transformation from plain to pleasing. From left to right: unfinished; painted; painted and glazed; and the last — poised for plants — painted, glazed and sanded for well-worn charm.
  • Cardstock, a touch of tea and some bark-covered wire are all you need to fashion a menu into a set of garden stakes. Floral frogs also fit the pastoral mood and can be used to hold small recipe tags that look especially good next to more diminutive desserts.
  • From left to right: lichen-covered rocks, sheet moss, purple hyacinth, miniature tête-à-tête daffodils, variegated ivy and wheat grass decorate the table.
  • Dimension is added to the tabletop design by upending terra cotta pots and stacking them to form a striking dessert stand that fills the party’s leading role as centerpiece.
  • These buttery shortbread cookies, loaded with aromatic rosemary and ground pine nuts, deliver flavor with every bite.
  • In this garden, herb-inspired sweets, such as these Chocolate-Basil Truffles, make an unexpected appearance in pots and planters. A marker tucked in an antique frog identifies the dessert.

When winter’s chill recedes and the first spring blossoms appear, our thoughts naturally turn to the outdoors — and perhaps outdoor entertaining. The allure of an al fresco party may be hard to resist, but pulling one off can be tricky this time of year, when Mother Nature’s moods are whimsical. But the focal point of the garden party described here is an unusual tabletop arrangement, which helps make your gala seem spingtime fresh, even if it’s forced indoors by rain.

A plain pine tabletop is where the celebration begins. Covered with velvety moss, wheat grass and spring flowers, it provides a garden landscape beneath an array of desserts. Everyday clay pots, painted and weathered to a pleasing patina, are carefully sized and stacked to form the centerpiece for these treats. Garden-themed plant stakes announce the dessert menu. Rooted near potted desserts, these markers add ambience and direct guests to the sweets. The recipes are infused with fresh herbs, which add to the feeling of celebrating the season.

Tips for Tablescapes


ASSEMBLE SEVERAL GARDEN POTS and liners (the trays that go under the pots), new or old, allotting five to eight for a centerpiece stand or two to four for a smaller, footed stand for an individual dessert. Make sure at least half the pieces are liners, as they will be needed to create broad serving surfaces. To add interest to plain pots, paint and texture them: First, apply a coat of flat white paint, and then dab on moss green or brown glaze with a rag. Allow the pots to dry completely. For a weathered appeal, sand the pot edges to expose some of the underlying terra cotta. Use a damp cloth to clean off any excess sanding dust.

Experiment with various centerpiece configurations. Stack your pots in different combinations until you come up with a design that feels stable, and has the desired height, width and serving area (see examples on Page 34). Use a level, as needed, to be certain your final set-up is straight.


START BY MAKING TAGS out of “aged” paper: Use a sponge to dab brewed tea onto a few sheets of off-white cardstock. Dry cardstock until just slightly damp, then weight it with books so it dries flat. When the paper is completely dry, print recipe names onto it by hand or with a computer printer. Be sure to leave enough room between the names so you can later cut around each to form a 2- by 3-inch tag. To soften the tag edges, try deckling (tearing the edges using a ruler as your guide).

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