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SHERIDAN — Summer is a terrific time for gardeners to show off their gardens whether vegetable, flower or a combination of both. With cooperative weather — and possibly shade trees — an outdoor party is a lovely way to mix, mingle and enjoy pleasant weather without the worry of wear and tear (and spilled food and drinks) on your carpet.
Per se, garden parties are formal affairs with prescribed attire and protocol. French and British sovereigns are noted for hosting elaborate outdoor parties in their gardens. England’s Queen Victoria hosted garden parties during her reign since 1860; she called these events “breakfasts” even though they were hosted in the afternoon.
According to an article published in the June 6, 1920, edition of The Sheridan Enterprise, England’s King George and Queen Mary hosted royal garden parties to honor British Victoria Cross recipients.
Today, Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh host formal garden parties between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. with a prescribed agenda of activities.
There are definite dos and don’ts for attire for these most formal gatherings. Some garden parties during the early part of the 20th century in Sheridan County may have been a formal affair as can be seen by examining advertisements in local Sheridan papers for garden party parasols and dresses of muslin and elaborate embroidery.
Americans, especially west of the Mississippi River, have a casual adaptation to the formal garden party. The events are relaxed in agenda and in attire and are not necessarily restricted to late afternoon hours.
Garden parties can range from being fully provided by the host or hostess to being an all-out potluck with attendees bringing a dish to share.
Entertainment, if any, can run the gamut from live musicians to recorded music. Or a garden party can provide the opportunity just for attendees to enjoy conversation with each other.
Garden parties were popular in some Sheridan County circles during a period of time. Today, many Sheridan residents remember garden parties with fondness.
“Our church ladies had garden parties for over 30 years,” Sheridan resident Colleen Ferries said. “We called them patio brunches. (Church member) Ruth Nelson would have them in her yard that had big weeping trees with plenty of shade. We typically had someone demonstrate a craft. Our parties were held on the Wednesday of Sheridan’s Rodeo Week.”
“We would set little card tables up all over Ruth’s backyard with flowers on each table, usually rose bowls,” Ferries’ fellow church member Karen Lidahl said.
Nelson was wife of two-term Sheridan mayor, N. A. Nelson, Sr. who served as mayor from 1961-1962 and again in 1965-1968. Ruth also hosted garden parties for Sheridan City Council members and sometimes just for the Council members’ wives, Ruth’s daughter-in-law, Ellen Nelson said.
“She had flowers and a backyard at 824 Delphi,” said Ellen. “She loved having her ladies from church come.”
Besides formal affairs, political gatherings and social events, garden parties have been used as fundraisers. French actresses hosted a garden party fundraiser for “the benefit of the old actors and actresses who have seen their day and are financially embarrassed” as reported in the July 14, 1921, edition of The Sheridan Post.
“Our patio brunches were a potluck,” Ferries said. “We had more food than you could imagine with homemade coffee cakes, breads and desserts that ladies made from scratch.”
The garden parties that Ferries and Lidahl attended ended after several decades. “Most likely due to women working,” Lidhal said.
Garden parties today could be a less formal affair and with many prepared foods available for pick-up, a garden party can be a casual, low-preparation affair.
Don’t have a garden or big back yard?
Explore some of the beautiful parks of Sheridan. Consider reserving one of the covered shelters at a Sheridan City park. There is no cost to reserve the shelter unless you plan to serve alcohol. Stop by the Sheridan City Hall at 55 E Grinnell Plaza in Sheridan. For information, call City Hall at (307) 674-6483 Monday through Friday. If the shelter is available, there is a simple application form that you will take with you to post at the shelter.
By Lois Bell, Sheridan Senior Center
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Kristen Czaban joined The Sheridan Press staff in 2008 and covered beats including local government, cops and courts and the energy industry. In 2012, she was promoted and now serves as the managing editor for The Press. Czaban has a journalism degree from Northwestern University.