Don’t Be a Garden Mooch

Dear Helena,
A friend and I want to throw an outdoor theme party, but neither of us has backyard space. Another friend of mine happens to have a great garden, and I’d love to ask her if we could have the party there. But would that be wrong? She doesn’t know my cohost, and although she would of course be encouraged to invite her friends too, would it be weird that she wouldn’t know a lot of our friends?
—Seeking Foliage

Dear Seeking Foliage,
Your friend may well be flattered by your request, says gardening expert Melinda Myers. Those with green thumbs like an appreciative audience: “A lot of people who have gardens may not entertain much, and it’s a great way to show off their garden.”

But be careful to present the idea as a joint venture; otherwise your friend will feel like you’re just using her for her yard. Explain that you would do all the work, since she would be providing the venue, but include her in the planning process if she agrees to the party. Tell her your ideas and solicit hers. If, like me, you’re the anal type who uses Google Docs to make to-do lists and keep track of invites, be sure to share these docs with her.

Also, since having a party wasn’t her idea, don’t expect her to chip in for food and drinks—if she’d like to, great, but if not, so be it. And don’t push it if she doesn’t go for the party idea at all—better to keep a friend than to acquire a garden.

You don’t need to plan out every detail before you suggest your scheme, but you should have some concrete ideas prepared, says Myers. If you just say you want to throw a theme party but neglect to provide details, your friend may have visions of drunken yahoos trampling through her prize gladioli and leaving cigarette butts in her Zen water garden. So before you propose the party, consider the following:

1. How will you protect the garden? Most gardens can accommodate a party and not be any worse for wear. But you may need to protect fragile plants by roping them off or by placing plants in containers in front of them. Annuals, like poppies, are particularly sensitive, says Pete Veilleux, owner of East Bay Wilds. “One step and they’re dead.”

2. How will you set up the party? For instance, you’ll need to consider how guests will enter the garden, whether through the house or via a side alley. If it’s the latter, you can mark the path using lights. Myers recommends solar lights or tea candles in jars. Like the ideal indoor party, the ideal outdoor party has different spaces. “You shouldn’t be able to see the whole party at any one time,” says Michael Petrie, owner of Handmade Gardens. This encourages guests to explore and circulate.

3. What’s your wet-weather plan? In the event of a thunderstorm, will you cancel the party? Is the host willing to open up her house if the forecast is poor, or will you need to relocate the entire party to your place?

4. How will you promote mingling? To successfully cohost a party, it’s important to integrate the two—or in this case three—sets of friends. Games always break the ice. Alex Bernardin, a digital content manager in San Francisco, recommends a scavenger hunt, perhaps with clues appropriate to your theme.

5. What is your cleanup strategy? Ask guests to bring their own cups to minimize cleanup. Promise to stay behind and clean up that night and come back the next day (in the dark, you might miss something)—and follow through. Treat your cohost’s garden the same way you would a campsite in a pristine national forest: Don’t leave behind so much as a bottle cap in the shrubbery.

CHOW’s Table Manners column appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena. You can also follow her on Twitter and fan her Table Manners column on Facebook.