Set your next party among the greenery of your yard, with tips from a practiced hostess
When planning one of the many parties she hosts in her flower-filled garden, La Jolla artist Pati Sofia enjoys a rush of recollections. Among the most vivid is one of an alfresco tea party when she was 5 years old.
Her family had befriended Alma Junghans, an English-born fiber artist and one-time nanny for Winnie-the-Pooh author A.A. Milne and his son, Christopher Robin.
“Alma arrived with two baskets. One held her tea set and the other was filled with little puzzles and gifts,” Pati recalls. “It’s such a sweet memory, because she taught me my love of sewing, gardening and entertaining.”
Pati and her husband, Joe, view the storybook California English garden around their 1923 home as an ideal party setting. Since secluding the back yard behind a tall ficus hedge and adding a long brick patio more than a decade ago, they have hosted elegant dinners with Joe’s business colleagues, baby showers, an engagement party, holiday bashes and neighborhood get-togethers. “Everyone looks forward to a garden party,” Pati says. “Everything is so fresh and inviting outside. And I think people mingle more.”
The garden’s riot of pink flowers, lime green patio umbrellas and denim blue accessories colored this summer’s girlfriends-themed gathering (“Bubbles, Blooms and Blue Jeans”).
“If I were doing this for couples, I’d probably tone down the pink on the tabletops and emphasize the blue,” Pati says. She applies her artistry with needles and thread and paints and brushes to create napkins, floral arrangements, party favors and more.
“Not everyone wants to do or needs this much detail,” she acknowledges. “Do what you can do and let go of the rest to focus on enjoying your friends.”
An inveterate list-maker, Pati organizes all party tasks, setting deadlines for ordering essen-tials, finalizing décor and menus, and scheduling house cleaning and garden grooming. “I get great satisfaction checking things off my list,” she says, flipping through a dog-eared notebook. “Plus, it keeps me on track.”
Invitations illustrated with a sequin-edged jeans’ pocket were in the mail 30 days in advance, along with a request for RSVPs by 10 days before the party. “You want to get on your guests’ calendars and have time to fill any empty seats,” Pati says.
Meanwhile, she evaluates her garden setting, filling in bare spots and refreshing containers. “I often use silk plants covered in flowers. Today’s [silk plants] look almost real,” she says.
Table settings are mined from her collections, ranging from melamine to her grandmother’s Limoges china and an array of Mackenzie-Childs’ hand-painted floral designs. “I like the mix of high and low,” Pati says. “My grandmother is an inspiration; she never set a table the same way twice.”
For the “Bubbles” party, mixed and matched Mackenzie-Childs plates and bowls were paired with the line’s new flatware in classic black and white. Echoing Mackenzie-Childs birdhouses and cache-pots throughout the garden, other pieces held fresh flowers and menu items. Because two guests were bringing granddaughters, Pati arranged a Mackenzie-Childs tea party set on a child-sized table covered with pink satin. A plush rabbit in sparkly party clothes garnered a place at the table.
On Etsy, she found denim placemats; hand-decorated place cards; flower napkin rings; and even a flounced floral dress for Emma, her Shih Tzu. “Wedding websites are good sources too,” she notes. She also shops local stationers, silk floral stores and outlets like Tuesday Morning.
She always offers arriving guests a cocktail, in this case rosé sparkling wine flavored with minty strawberry purée and a dash of Chambord liqueur. “It gets the party started,” she says. “Add some music and you can see the mood change.”
This summer’s garden-floral theme drove the seasonal menu executed by La Jolla’s Sugar and Scribe Bakery, except for the tangerine cucumber salad that Pati made.
“Whether I’m cooking or buying entrées and desserts, I aim for dishes that can be prepared in advance,” she says. “My goal is to have good food, but not over the top.”
A vegetable pie, assorted sandwiches and fruit were arranged buffet-style under protective net domes near the dining table and beverage cart. “If I had my way, we’d serve dessert first,” Pati says. In this case, the party’s sweet finale was a floral-topped, tiered cake; cupcakes; and iced sugar cookies in flower shapes.
Guests departed with party favors chosen as reminders of the garden soirée — a silk pink peony in a small glass vase and Hello Kitty charm bracelets for the youngsters.
When parties are over, after dishes are done and leftovers stored, Pati often heads back to the garden to relax on a chaise with Joe and Emma.
“One rule I have is no cook-ing or leftovers the day after a party,” she says. “We go out for Mexican food.”