Curious how a stylist creates a theme party in her own home? Union Hill stylist Zoe K. gives us a peek into the world of fellow stylist Betsy G., who blew us all away with the most enchanting fairy garden party you ever did see!
Late one balmy summer night, I got a text from my friend and fellow stylist, Betsy G. Betsy is one of those people so obsessively creative that it pains her to shut down to sleep. If Betsy were asked to have a dachshund gussied up by tomorrow morning in the spitting image of Martha Washington, it wouldn’t phase her one bit. I wondered what on earth she might be conjuring up now. “Oh, you just won’t believe the beautiful pictures Jake took tonight,” she gushed. “I had this little movie in my head, and I couldn’t really describe it, yet somehow Jake just captured it perfectly. The kids were all running around with their flickering lights searching for fairy houses and woodland creatures. It was magical!”
Huh? Fairies? Woodland creatures? Not that I was the least bit alarmed. After all, this was Betsy talking. Turns out she had just hosted a fairy-themed gathering to celebrate a few friends’ birthdays. The seeds for such a party had been planted in her head for a while, so when her friends started wondering how they were going to carve out the time to celebrate the summer birthdays, Betsy pounced. She offered a suggestion to simplify things in her characteristically elaborate way: Why not host a night of fairies and midsummer night’s dreams? All because she “wanted to see the little ones run around in their gossamer wings with flashlights looking for fairy houses as the dusk settled into misty blue and the moon started peeking through the trees.”
Once Betsy gets an idea in her head, she can’t let it go. And so. . .she made it happen, together with her friend, Hallmark photographer and devoted daddy, Jake Johnson. Jake brought his three birthday girls: wife Tza and their two little sprites, Halili, 4, and Bea, 2. Hallmark stylist and birthday girl, Erin M., brought her mom and eight-year-old son Max. Betsy asked another stylist friend, Lori, to come with her eight-year-old daughter Cate, a veteran of the Betsy-Party Finishing School, who by now knew enough to show up adorned with tutu and pompom slippers. “I was so tickled that she was even wearing antennae,” said a pleased Betsy.
Some stylists, like the ever-sensible Erin mentioned above, begin a project with a sensible list, follow a sensible schedule, keep a sensible emotional distance from the work, then at the end turn out consistently amazing work. But others, like Betsy, start with some kernel of a vision—in this case, the fairy scenario—and then tumble into the deep end backwards until the dream bubbles up to the surface.
Here are some of Betsy’s tips for creating an enchanting fairy garden soiree:
- Consider location. After living with a peewee city-house backyard for years, I am really enjoying my big yard with its towering pines, Norway spruce, ornamental plums, and feathery clumps of elderberry. You want lots of space for kids to run around! I thought I could hide the fairy houses under the hostas, coral bells, and peonies. My husband Randy and I have been working on two small ponds that I thought would be perfect to drop in little fairy lights (with apologies to our resident frogs trying to sleep).
- Collect your inspiration. I had homemade fairy houses in mind and wanted to put little lights in them. I wanted to hide them and then send the kids with their fairy wings and flashlights off to find them. Once I had that image in my head, I saw everything through fairy-colored glasses. Even the cicadas with their fairy wings flapping inspired me. We live in a neighborhood with lots of trees, so my dog-walking ritual evolved into a treasure hunt for tiny house-building materials. I became so aware of sticks and mossy pieces of bark, pinecones, and intriguing leaves. I picked up little branches that had fallen from trees after rainstorms (including the most beautiful ones with pretty aqua colored lichen!). Looking at everything I had gathered, it became clear I was drawn to a palette of heathery plums and sprucey aqua-greens. I was imagining the fairy lights against the lavender blue light of dusk. I started thinking about our fairy buffet…I wanted the food table to be a collection of bountiful little nibbles entwined with leaves and moss, nuts and berries, and leafy, secret-garden-like offerings. I specifically pictured tiny champagne grapes. . .they are so delicate and pixie-sized for little hands and they taste so sweet and juicy. I didn’t want the recipes to be complicated, just fresh and tasty and evocative of nature.
- Build your fairy houses. Soon I had squirreled away piles of twigs and pieces of bark in my fairy lumberyard. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make the houses, but I knew I didn’t want to use a glue gun. I was certain that fairies don’t shop at big box craft stores and use glue guns! I wanted everything to be cobbled together, to feel fairy-authentic and natural. I cut a bunch of sticks to a similar size (about 5”), and then tied them together with hemp so they looked like miniature rafts. I thought they could be rooftops or even walls, but I soon learned that I could just push the sticks in the ground side-by-side for the walls and use the raft-like pieces or pieces of bark for rooftops. Two skinny pinecones became stately entry columns, two sticks with a bend would serve as a cottage doorway arch, and pebbles could be pathway stepping-stones. I made six houses with different personalities and tucked them in flowerbeds, under a hosta, and in a peony bush.
- Forage for props. From the hardware store, I bought elf-sized flashlights for the kids to use in the fairy hunt as the sun was going down. At the same place, I picked up an assortment of L.E.D. tea lights. I planned to put flickering ones behind the fairy houses and drop a submersible one into each pond to turn it into a mesmerizing pool of light. I already had bamboo torches I could use to light the way a bit. I rounded up fairy wings from various places and was lucky enough to find some great foam antlers for the gentlemen. All I had left to do was pick up a few groceries to complete the feast and some bags of moss to decorate the fairy houses and the food table.
- Keep the theme with food. I found my champagne grapes! Yay! I placed generous mounds of them on the table and tried to keep my own naughty fairy fingers off of them until the guests arrived. So delectable! I made some roasted veggies and a salad of blackberries and blueberries tossed with peaches and mango. A wisp of wild mint made it forest-y and refreshing. I made little cucumber sandwich bites because they are crisp and cooling, easy to make, and the pretty green fit into my color palette. I nestled little bowls of nuts here and there. I had my heart set on “mushroom” cupcakes for a sweet finish. Not only are mushrooms the quintessential woodland forager’s treat, but they sometimes appear in mysterious circle formations called “fairy rings” that are a part of storytelling folklore in many cultures. I actually collect Victorian spun-cotton mushroom Christmas ornaments, the rosy-red European kind with white speckles, and that’s what I was going for with my cupcakes. I made simple white cupcakes and added a bit of red gel coloring to vanilla icing and was horrified at the garish hot pink! I knew the fairies would agree, so I found a tip online: Take the red gel coloring and mix it with milk chocolate frosting. This method results in a deep, earthy, red color, a rich glistening magenta that fit in with my palette. For the white dots, I gently pressed in white chocolate chips upside down. I put the plate of cupcakes on a bed of moss for a lush and natural look.
- Let your guests play a part! Guests trickled in and busied themselves trying on wings and sneaking bites from the food table set up on my screen porch. Erin showed up with a luscious salad of teeny tomatoes, mini mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, and roasted eggplant chunks. The salad was based on a recipe from one of her favorite vegetarian cookbooks called, of all things, The Forest Feast. Tza brought her trademark banana bread. When I noticed the light starting to change, and while the kiddos were focused on cupcakes, I slipped outside like a stealthy little fairy myself to switch on the tea lights and pluck a few fresh adornments for the fairy houses…white Rose of Sharon blooms to wind along a roof, some violet coral-bell leaves to doll up another, two or three raspberry-hued hydrangea blooms for another. I ran back in and sent my winged pixies off into the wilds of the backyard. Tiny, adorable, curious Bea ran around carrying her flashlight like a candle, exploring nooks and crannies, sometimes following her tiptoe-quiet big sister, Halili, sometimes fluttering off to music only she could hear. Max was not having any of this fairy stuff, but he was all over wearing the manly antlers and being the first one to race across the lawn to gaze into the glassy pond. As I had hoped, Cate turned out to be the perfect fairy queen, gently shepherding the younger ones. As the cicadas chimed in with their intoxicating hum, fairy wings began to glow and flashlights twinkled like fairy lights, warm in the dusk blue light of evening settling in.
It was perfect.
What are some of your favorite themed parties? Share your ideas and inspiration with us in the comments or on Instagram @think.make.share!
Photographer: Jake Johnson | Stylist: Betsy Gantt