A Plein-Air Affair
By Jenny B. Davis
Photography by Carmen Wilson
Garden parties are perfect for celebrating moms, grads and more this month
Garden roses in full bloom. Giant bunches of white hydrangeas. Blue skies and gentle breezes. Vintage china. Pink lemonade in crystal pitchers and pastel-iced petits fours on silver platters.
Can’t you just see it? The perfect garden party is easy to envision, as is the pure joy felt by the person at the center of such a celebration. Garden parties are a natural when it comes to honoring moms and grads this month, but they’re also ideal for birthdays, baby and bridal showers and any other kind of daytime gathering that invites elegance, beauty and romance.
“I love garden parties for the opportunity to bring people together and pay homage to what makes our local surroundings so special,” says Christen Westcott, founder of Southlake-based Look West Events. “Garden parties are a celebration of nature and community, and I especially love when the party is hosted to support a good cause.”
Garden party venues exist across the Metroplex and include Fort Worth’s Botanic Garden, Joe T. Garcia’s patios and the Hidden Gardens Venue in Lakeside. But Melanie Tatum of Fort Worth’s Melanie Tatum Events suggests that you also consider the potential of your own home.
“Embrace your garden and all it has to offer,” she says. “Focus on your patio, terrace, pool, a magnificent tree – find a focal point and let your party take direction from there.”
Another benefit of your backyard: stylish free seating. “It’s incredibly elegant to create a seating vignette with your living room furniture,” Tatum says. And don’t be shy about bringing out your crystal candelabras, tea services and even grandmother’s silver, she says. “The contrast of the outdoors with highly formal residential pieces is magical and unexpected!”
For Abbie Oswalt, founder of Abbie O Events in Fort Worth, garden parties go hand in hand with fresh, local food like farm-to-table fare and delightful sweet treats. It’s an approach she even recommends for beverages.
“You can extend the garden party theme to specialty cocktails and mocktails using fruits and flowers,” she says. Or go even further and turn a beverage station into an interactive experience. “Guests can mix their own cocktails using a variety of liquors and fresh-squeezed juices, then they can decorate them with the herbs and blooms of their choice.”
Because garden parties by definition take place among flowering plants, planners recommend adding even more botanicals to accent tables and buffets. “Hire a florist who can get you the best stems of the season, and ask their opinion about what is really going to pop on the table,” Westcott says. And don’t forget about greenery, Oswalt says. “You can make just as big a statement with greenery in excess as you can with big floral blooms,” she advises.
Of course, no planning would be complete without embracing the realities of summertime in Texas. There’s the heat, of course, but planners also point out that pollen counts, seasonal storms, high winds and mosquitos can quickly kibosh outdoor enjoyment.
“It’s always wise to have a Plan B that accounts for rain, wind, heat, cold and, in the daytime, that bright Texas sun,” Tatum says.
If that plan calls for a roof, it’s OK, says Westcott. An indoor garden party can be equally enchanting. “My first suggestion would be to consider using a space in your home or at a local venue that has great natural light and a neutral palette that you can build upon with decor, colors and textures that invoke the theme of nature,” she says. “I like to mix and match with decorative items and tableware that I already own, and then I visit local showrooms to rent specialty or vintage items that lend to the garden theme.”
Ultimately, it’s the special touches that make an event truly memorable. Tatum recently planned an ethereal garden soiree poolside at River Crest Country Club for a local debutante, and she lavished the event with luxe touches. When guests arrived, they were greeted with glasses of Champagne accented with swirls of drinkable gold glitter. (Tatum recommends Brew Glitter, which comes in several colors; she added it to Veuve Clicquot for this party, but she says it’s equally delightful with prosecco or cava.) Tatum arranged for garden fairies in custom-designed costumes to flit through the garden and interact with guests, and there was even a garden swing that guests could sit on and be photographed.
Oswalt loves offering lawn games like croquet, bocce ball or cornhole. “Guests love to have an activity beyond just talking, eating and drinking,” she says. Even better: any balls and boards can be customized with the theme of the event or the name of the guest of honor, she says.
Whatever the theme, Westcott recommends going all in. When one of her clients requested a garden party with an “Italian Summer” angle, she hired a professional opera singer to entertain guests with a short set and stationed charming pushcarts to serve gelato and lattes. “It turned out so beautifully,” she says. “All of these special touches really impressed the guests.”