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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Dreamy Way to Entertain - Garden Parties

My aunt's garden in the spring...  Just before
garden party season.
Garden parties are a delightful way to entertain family and friends in the spring and summer.  In addition to allowing you to be as formal, or as casual, as you want to be, they offer an excellent reason to clean up your yard!  If you're like me, that kind of little push is very, very helpful.

When I think of garden parties, I think of the annual event hosted by my aunt and uncle in summer's past.  Every year my aunt, who still has a fabulous garden, would invite friends, relatives, colleagues and every neighbor on her tiny street to a party.  I don't remember much about the food or other arrangements, but I recall the friendly, casual atmosphere, little lights strung over the pergola and lots and lots of people.  It's not the details that come to mind, but the flavor of the late afternoon to late evening entertainment.

A birds-eye view of a Buckingham Palace
garden party.  The long marquee at the top
is the tea tent, where delicious foods and, of course,
tea are on offer.

The other garden parties that come to mind, of course, are those hosted at Buckingham Palace every year.  Eight thousand people attend each of these gigantic summertime rituals held on the vast chamomile lawns of the Queen's London residence.  Dressed in their best, it's not just the upper crust that are invited.  In fact, the huge majority of people are ordinary citizens who are there as a "thank you" for the contributions that have made in charities and community life throughout Britain.  Ironically, the garden parties were expanded in the late fifties after the presentations of debutantes were curbed.  What was once a staple of the London season, these presentations had become archaic in the modern world and, for the Queen, incredibly dull.  In large part due to the influence of Prince Philip, the Queen was eager to meet a far wider spectrum of people.  At each of the Palace garden parties she, and other members of the Royal Family, will meet several hundred people, carefully pulled from the crowds for presentation.  And what does "carefully" mean?  Not what you think!  Palace officials have found that the truly interesting are often the ones who hang back.  The less stylish, even somewhat scruffy, might receive special attention as the Queen couldn't care less about such appearances, longing to meet genuinely unique people and to learn more about what's really going on in her kingdom.

The Queen mingles with guests at one of her annual
garden parties at Buckingham Palace.  She also holds
a similar party at the Palace of Holyrood House
in Edinburgh.  Palace sources say that the Scots seem to
eat about twice as much as the London guests...
I wonder why?

You needn't be a Queen with a Palace, or a European lady with a flair for gardening to throw a garden party.  There's just something about being out of doors that makes people relax and enjoy themselves.  My grandmother's back yard was no garden, but sitting under the locust tree playing games was always a great treat.  And, even in her limited way, she had enough interesting things planted to make a stroll around the lawn worthwhile.  Irises and a lilac bush from her late mother's garden, daylilies that always brought out funny stories about my grandfather and his hatred of them, and whatever new little thing she'd planted that year.  In fact, strolls around the edge of someone's garden can provide a lot of insight into personalities and interests.

Two of my favorite parties in the garden took place on the Fourth of July.  The first was an impromptu barbecue for about a dozen friends, all of whom seemed to be planning to spend the day on their own.  After pooling our own food plans, we had quite a variety of fun things to eat and a lot of conversation and laughter, all seated on the ground in the garden.  Completely informal, quite spur-of-the-moment, and easy to set up and put away.

The second Independence Day in the garden was an evening affair.  A bring your own chair affair, we projected movies on a big screen under the stars and served boxes of movie candy, popcorn and S'mores.  The surprise hit of the evening was Gnomeo and Juliet which all ages seemed to love.  Our neighbors told us when it was time to move on to the fireworks by lighting Roman candles, the sparks of which kept landing in our rather dry fir tree...

Whether you decide on an elegant afternoon tea in the shade of a leafy tree, a late-night movie party or an impromptu holiday lunch, parties in the garden are a fun and easy way to entertain.

One of my favorite teas of all time...  absolutely
delicious and part of the proceeds go to the upkeep of
Britain's Historic Royal Palaces.

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