Photos by James Patterson | Event photos & story by Laurel Donahoo
As much as Charlotte loves to give a party, she said it was difficult to get this particular party underway because she was not sure if anyone would even want to come. “I wasn’t sure how I was going to get the courage up to invite people to see my garden,” Charlotte laughed as she reminisced on mustering up the bravery to send out the invites to this soiree.
But she found the courage, sent out invitations and people came.
Although the McNeel’s garden, which is neatly divided up into “rooms,” is a spring spectacle today, gardening hasn’t always been something Charlotte found to be easy. “I started gardening eight or ten years ago and I was not very successful,” she said. “Then came Geneva! I call her my angel.”
Geneva is a self-taught gardener who began working with Charlotte in making their garden the beautiful place of serenity that it is today. Together, she and Geneva plan what to plant each season, changing it up from year to year. “We love foxglove, delphinium, pansies, viola and larkspur in the spring. We start planting, or Geneva starts planting, in October for spring, and in March we begin to see things pop up. It is so exciting,” Charlotte says. “Around the end of March or first of April, we really see things begin to start growing, and by the middle of April things are up and blooming. This is when I usually plan for the party!”
As far as getting the party to come together, Charlotte begins with picking a date and starts praying for no rain. (Last year was the only year that it did rain on the party date, “and boy did it rain,” she said!) Then she orders her invitations and begins planning the menu. She does much of the food herself, and enlists the help of friends and restaurants to help fill in the gaps. For example, “Don Primos’s shrimp and artichoke is a favorite of mine and others,” she shares. She also does her own flowers for the dining room centerpiece and for other parts of the house.
Thankfully, there was no rain for their fifth annual garden party. “This year the sun was shining and it was a perfect night with temperatures in the 70s. Even though the garden had taken a beating from all the rain, it was still beautiful!”
Seeing her friends enjoying themselves in the garden the night of the party is when Charlotte breathes a big sigh of contentment. “That is always my favorite aspect of the party,” she says.