This is the week of my much-delayed Gardening Party shoot. I’ve only wanted to stage this party for a year. Then we were going to shoot in May and got rained out. So we’re bracing ourselves for the the June heat! I thought I’d share how I pre-stage my dessert tables. I do this for every party, as early as possible, and it helps me know if I have ordered the right desserts and how it’s all going to fit on my table. Here’s how you can test your dessert table plan so there are no surprises on party day.

1 – Set up your serving pieces in the size of your dessert table.

This arrangement is set up in the buffet area of my basement playroom/party studio. It’s a good size match for my dessert table. If you can’t test your set-up on the actual dessert table, then measure it and approximate the size in another space. You may even want to use painter’s tape to help you visualize the area.

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2 -Try this never-fail dessert table layout.

The never-fail arrangement is to put your tall items in the back, and to create a symmetrical arrangement, centered by your cake. Here, the cake will be on the pedestal I’ve created from the upside-down planter.

Now, here comes the symmetry: On the left, I have the yellow watering can. On the right, I’ve stacked two planter boxes and topped them with a small pot. The watering can will hold a flower arrangement and the small pot will house candy “grass.”

In front of my tall items, I’ve added two “platters” — one for cookies and the other for cupcakes. In between, I’ve got mini pots (three for $1 at Dollar Tree) that will house my cake pops. Since the cake stand is so tall, the cake pops won’t block the view of the cake. (Just add floral foam to the little pots, then cover the top of the foam with paper or graham cracker crumb “dirt.” The cake pops will stand up nicely in the foam.)

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3 -Fill in the gaps.

In between these serving pieces, I’ve filled in with some garden friends: two ladybugs, a frog and a gnome. I don’t usually mix so many colors and elements (frogs! gnomes! bugs! flowers!), but I’m picturing a raucous, colorful garden.

IMG_20764 -Take photos of your test layout to your party.

I’ll take a print out of these photos with me, so my assistant and I can remember my set-up intentions. Yes, without the photo to jog my memory, I would pull out a ladybug and think, “What in the world was I going to do with this?”IMG_2077

5 -Don’t overbuy for your party: have a plan.

When I’m party shopping, I’m always nervous about hitting the balance between finding inspiration and buying without a plan. I always hesitate to buy if I don’t know how I’ll use something. I don’t want to wind up not using it, and having to make a second trip to return the item — or worse, forgetting to return it until after the cut-off date and then being stuck with it.

Part of the problem is that I have so little time to get out of the house and shop in person, that I know I can’t go home and think about an item. I only have time to buy it right then. The little red ladybugs really gave me pause: was my party about flowers? or all things gardening? was red part of my scheme? I didn’t know in the moment. That’s why you still see the tags on the buggies. After testing this layout, I decided to ask Creating Awesomenessity to create ladybug cookies for me. Problem solved.

The frog and gnome will still be one-off items, but you’ll see a lot of yellow and green in the party, so I think they’ll blend right in. Now that I’ll have multiple red items, the ladybugs will work, too. Repetition is the key to making something look purposeful.

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6 – Add details (or just relax!)

Doing this layout also made me think about painting the rims of the pots and drip trays yellow. What often makes a party really pop are those small touches. I think I’ve decided against the painting so the focus will be on the food. I think. Maybe. Or maybe I’ll be painting the rims at 11 p.m. the night before the party – ha! Just remember: there is no right answer to those types of questions. Your party will be great without or without an extra touch.

And I think I’ve figured out how to display my food tags — which I hadn’t thought about until I looked at these photos and realized they were missing. Nothing like practice to show you where the holes are in your plan. 🙂

Remember, if you’re not sure that a surface is food safe, cover it with scrapbooking paper or, in my case, chocolate graham cracker crumbs.

So that’s the plan. Cross your fingers that the sun will shine, the rain will hold off, and the wind won’t blow too hard!

Update: Check out the party dessert table!

Just hop over to this post to see how my gardening party turned out. You can also pick up the party plan here to create your very own gardening party.

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