A Gardener's Gathering

Celebrate the joys of gardening at an outdoor party with activities, food, and decorations inspired by your favorite hobby.


Follow these tips for a festive celebration, or use it as a springboard for your own ideas.

+ enlarge image Bring together fellow gardeners to share secrets and savor a delicious meal.

1. Make things easy for yourself: Ask a friend to cohost or ask everyone to bring a favorite dish or beverage to share.

2. Make the event enjoyable for your guests by using a gardening theme: Greet guests with iced tea served from a sparkling new watering can. Offer them mouthwatering appetizers such as fruit topiaries assembled on the spot from chilled bowls of fresh fruit.

3. Ask everyone to bring a garden goodie such as begonia cuttings, South African bulbs, gardening books, and decorative branches from a corkscrew willow. Raffle the items collected and donate the proceeds to a local non-profit public garden or park.

4. Pump up the party's atmosphere by setting your picnic table for a casual dinner based on the garden theme. Combine colorful linens with terra-cotta dishes, potted-herb place cards that double as party favors, and hollowed-out vegetable centerpieces filled with fresh flowers. Delight your guests by serving salad using garden trowels.

Handmade invitations set just the right tone for a homegrown garden party -- and they're inexpensive too. You don't need to be an artist to create a festive design. You'll find folded card stock and matching envelopes at a stationer's or art supply store.

Try using one of these decorative devices:

+ enlarge image Give your invitations a personal touch by adding a packet of seeds.
  • Pretty photos from old seed catalogs or gardening magazines.
  • Dried leaves and petals from your garden. Press them between the pages of a heavy phone book for several weeks until brittle.
  • Botanical illustrations and floral borders. Pages of copyright-free books can be duplicated at the library.

Enhance the party's theme by using handcrafted place settings featuring botanical motifs. Personalize salad plates and place-card holders, then give them to your guests as party favors.

Suggestions:

+ enlarge image Making these painted plates is a fun way to add another personal detail to the party.
  • Select inexpensive bisqueware or greenware (unfinished ceramic cups, bowls, or plates) from a ceramics supplier or crafts store, where you can also purchase food-safe glazes. Decorate the pieces and have them fired in a kiln to make them food-safe. Prices vary. Find ceramics suppliers in the Yellow Pages.
  • Use food-safe terra-cotta (which has been fired or glazed to make it less porous) saucers or pots without holes in their bottoms for beverages. Use ordinary (not fired or glazed) terra-cotta saucers as plates for serving bread or other dry food.
  • Write guests' names on metal plant markers and stick them in potted herbs (any 3-inch potted seedling or bedding plant will do).
  • Make a tablecloth from an appropriate length of inexpensive fabric, such as gingham or burlap.
  • Make napkins by cutting 18-inch squares of cotton. Stitch around the squares 1/2 inch from the edges, and gently pull out loose threads to fringe edges.

Summer Squash Vases

It's simple to create an instant centerpiece that's unique and colorful.

Turn gourds and large summer squash into natural vases for floral arrangements. (This may be the best idea yet for making use of overgrown zucchini.)

What You Need:

  • Gourd, squash, or watermelon
  • Sharp knife
  • Floral foam
  • Cut flowers

Instructions:

+ enlarge image Fresh-cut flowers and gourds from your garden are all it takes to make this centerpiece.

1. Thinly slice off the vegetables' bottoms to make them flat and stand without rolling.

2. Carefully hollow out the vessels, tuck in bricks of water-saturated floral foam to secure flowers, and arrange a bouquet in each.

3. You can also use half a watermelon as a vase, but don't bother to hollow it out; just insert flower stems. The water in the melon will sustain the flowers.

Fresh-Fruit Topiaries

+ enlarge image These fruit topiaries double as beautiful centerpieces and appetizers.

Make luscious fresh-fruit topiaries a few hours before the party, and keep them refrigerated until serving time. Or encourage guests to assemble them as they arrive, using prepared fruit that has been cut and kept fresh in bowls over ice. Each topiary provides one large serving or two smaller ones. Quantities of materials vary depending on the number of guests.

What You Need:

  • Lemon leaves, grape leaves, or an edible substitute
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Red and green grapes
  • Cantaloupe
  • Honeydew melon
  • Melon-ball utensil
  • Polystyrene block (at least 2 inches thick)
  • 4-inch terra-cotta pot
  • 6-inch cinnamon stick (or chopstick)
  • Small orange
  • Toothpicks

Instructions:

+ enlarge image Invite guests to help create the topiaries.

1. Wash fruit and leaves. Scoop cantaloupe and honeydew melon into balls.

2. Cut a 4-inch circle of polystyrene; push it firmly into terra-cotta pot.

3. Make a stem for the topiary by spearing one end of a cinnamon stick (or substitute a chopstick) into an orange.

4. Cover orange with leaves to make a green background; secure leaves with toothpicks.

5. Slide fruit pieces onto the toothpicks, alternating fruit as you work around the orange. Add more toothpicks and fruit to fill gaps, until orange is covered with fruit.

6. Slide the bottom end of the cinnamon stick into the polystyrene inside the terra-cotta pot. Camouflage the top of the foam with leaves or fruit.

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