A Garden Party to Mark the Start of Summer

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Lizzie: Nathan has recently discovered his green thumb. If you read our last newsletter, you’ll remember that I had the responsibility of spritzing Nathan’s living-room seeds so that they could continue sprouting while he and Kaitlyn were away for a weekend. Well, through this process, in which I would say I played a major role, the seeds are now thriving—so much so that some of those seeds have taken up residence in Nathan and Kaitlyn’s backyard, where Nathan has built a raised wooden garden bed with his own two hands.

I’m not officially a farmer, but having been to a farmers’ market or two, I know that the beginning of summer signals an impending bounty of produce. To mark the occasion, and bring good health to Nathan’s fledgling seeds, Kait decided to host a garden party. I think the idea was that we’d nondenominationally bless the crops by eating tiny sandwiches and drinking pre-batched cocktails near them, and simultaneously honor the work of indie agriculturalists like Nathan. Whereas Claire’s Queen’s Jubilee last year was an explicitly British take on the garden party, this one was much more vegetal.

Kaitlyn: I like that Lizzie says Nathan has “discovered” his green thumb, suggesting that it’s been there all along. And maybe it has! His relationship with his first-ever set of baby plants does seem fairly instinctive and affectionate. He supplements their innate bond with hours and hours of garden YouTube. Average night in the past month: We’re watching sports or Bravo or whatever on TV; I get up from the couch to get a seltzer; then I come back and we’re watching a guy speaking very rapidly and enthusiastically about soil.

I don’t like to help in the garden. It reminds me of my first “job,” which was to move carts of potted mums from one greenhouse to another for no apparent reason. (The job title was literally “moving mums.”) But I want to be supportive, and of course I want to someday enjoy bundles of delicious, fresh vegetables. I’ve learned enough about the concept of intention-setting from Instagram to feel that it would help Nathan’s efforts if all of our friends came over and stood near the garden bed and thought, Green.

The party prep, then, was easy. All I did was think green. I made green sandwiches with tarragon mayonnaise, cucumbers, sprouts, etc. I looked up “green punch” and Martha Stewart suggested a chartreuse base—unfortunately that stuff is made by monks and they don’t make a whole lot of it, so we went to plan B, which was limoncello and basil. I texted my mom, a renowned theme-party planner and former Sunday-school teacher, and asked for some ideas. “See who can string beans the fastest,” she said. I didn’t know what this meant. She explained: “Embroidery needle, heavy thread, and a bunch of beans to stab into a string. Onto the thread.” We didn’t do that, but we did take her suggestion to make a huge dirt cake (pounds of pudding, two family-size packages of Oreos, gummy worms, you get it).

A seed tray filled with soil. Packets of different vegetables seeds lying on the table. One soil compartment has a label saying
Lizzie’s Leek. (Courtesy of Lizzie Plaugic)

Lizzie: My contributions to the party were a batch of mojitos, banana cream pudding, and a croquet set that my parents unearthed from their basement. The mojitos were the worst part of it all because I had to juice 30 limes to get two cups of lime juice. And because I have several small wounds on my knuckles from grating my skin off with a microplane, the marathon lime-squeezing session was punctuated by searing pain. Plus, I really overshot the mark when purchasing the limes, and still have about 30 left in my apartment.

I had planned on getting to Kaitlyn’s early to help set up, but by the time I got there, the yard was already primed for a crowd: Little pyramids of sandwiches were perched on the floral-tableclothed table, next to pitchers of “cuke water” and punch, and buckets of canned drinks on ice. On the concrete part of the yard, there was a message in colorful chalk: WELCOME TO THE GARDEN. Surrounding the message like a halo were drawings of various vegetables—carrots, lettuce, broccoli, and the like. Kait explained that everyone was supposed to use the provided chalk to add their favorite vegetable to the drawing. My first thought was radishes, but they were already taken, so I drew peas, which, while not necessarily my favorite vegetable, are probably the easiest to draw.  

Then Nathan showed me his seed-planting station, where guests were encouraged to select a seed from one of the four paper pouches displayed on the table (snow peas, leeks, Chinese broccoli, and serrano peppers) and plant it in one of the compartments of the black plastic plant tray. I chose leeks. The seeds looked like those charcoal bits that sometimes escape into your Brita pitcher when you replace the filter. I made a little indent in the soil and dropped three seeds in. As soon as I dropped the seeds, though, I couldn’t see them anymore, so I mostly just hoped they were safely nestled underground. If they don’t make it, I’ll never look at a leek the same way again.

Kaitlyn: Lizzie labeled her leek “Lizzie’s Leek.” I can’t wait to eat it with her.

For some additional context about the gardening aspect of the garden party, it’s important for readers to know that there was an absolutely violent flash thunderstorm the night before. Water came down the chimney. The cat panicked. Nathan bolted outside, then came back in sopping wet, hands in the air. The baby radishes had all flopped over from the force of the raindrops. There was no telling which other plants would be drowned. The past month’s work was being washed away by an act of God and there was nothing we could do except sit there and also watch the Mets lose. “Don’t tell anyone I cried about the plants,” Nathan told me. I wouldn’t do that because he obviously didn’t.

But thank goodness for the power of positive thinking. I told Nathan over and over: Nature is resilient; the plants are designed to live. I didn’t actually have any idea what I was talking about, but what do you know: In the morning, the radishes were standing back up and everything was all right. Green!

Showers had brought flowers. I’d even say that the perennials in the yard looked more lush than ever. So did the trees, which grow hard little green apples that you can supposedly eat despite the prevalence of heavy metals in Brooklyn soil. The squirrels were out and fighting loudly with one another. We had “God’s Coloring Book” on the playlist, and a big bowl of snap peas to munch on with Matt and Lizzie while we waited for our guests.

Lizzie: As people started to arrive, Nathan gathered a few of us for a tour of his crops. Small green sprouts were lined up in neat little rows inside the raised bed, punctuated by pink flowers. It looked like something out of a children’s book!

Getting to this point in his gardening journey had required Nathan to take several trips to Home Depot. He told us a story about buying approximately 400 pounds of soil there one day and accidentally loading it into the car of some unsuspecting couple (the result of a communication error with the freelance guys-with-a-van in the Home Depot parking lot). The wife said to the husband, upon seeing Nathan hauling pounds of soil into their car, “I told you to lock it.” Nathan said the couple were actually angry, which to me seems like a pretty useless reaction to a situation that’s basically slapstick comedy. It’s not like Nathan was insisting they keep his soil in there and drive him home. He said he even offered to give them a bag of his dirt as a peace offering, but they said something like “We have our own.”

A table full of party snacks—peas, green Sun Chips, gummy worms, green finger sandwiches, a cake with a crown of parsley.
A green array for a green party. (Courtesy of Lizzie Plaugic)

Kaitlyn: Someone breaks into your car to put something into it? Cry me a river. For the past week, someone has been repeatedly breaking into our house to take things out of it. The first time they came, Nathan was insulted because they stole our friend Leo’s bike and apparently didn’t want Nathan’s. The second time, they stole Nathan’s bike. This situation is ongoing. I think we’re all just hoping that whoever has figured out how to get into our home starts to feel guilty about it, because we’re so clearly clueless and defenseless.

Anyway, Russell and his girlfriend, Molly, came with a box of cupcakes and asked me quietly whether Nathan would be open to any gardening tips, because Molly in fact runs a small farm. They didn’t want to make the offer if it would be perceived as rude. “No, no, Nathan loves to learn,” I told them. Molly produced some rare sea-plantain seeds from an island off Maine from her purse and headed over to the planting area.

I was thrilled by everyone’s commitment to the theme. Many wore outfits featuring a lemon print, and Mariya had shorts with tomatoes on them. Rachel arrived in a green silk dress—she said she was dressed as a cucumber. Stephanie came out with a big white cake that was wearing a crown of parsley. When she cut into it, it was as green as a cucumber!

Lizzie: The party was exactly what you want from a party. I flitted around from conversation to conversation, discussing all the hot topics of the day: vegetables, sweating through your shirt in the summer, Daria, “dry acupuncture,” the Vanderpump Rules reunion, “It’s Pablo-matic,” Ghia’s new mystery flavor.

For a while we also talked about teeth. Claire and I showed Brandon photos of what teeth look like under veneers (Bat Boy nubs) because he hadn’t seen them before. As the conversation drifted toward dentistry in general, Brandon said he was pro-Tend, the stylish dental boutique for young people, because he can make same-day appointments and go there at 8 p.m. We laughed at the idea of “Tend After Dark.” Ashley said she prefers her old-school dentist, where the teeth-cleaning process can be painfully thorough. Claire told us her theory of “Pangea teeth,” which is when your top teeth and bottom teeth begin their lives as, I guess, a mono-tooth, only to be broken up into the standard two rows of teeth that most humans are familiar with. As supporting evidence, she showed us how her top and bottom teeth fit together like puzzle pieces.

Galen and Claire also told a riveting story about abandoning a ski slope mid-ski because of injury, climbing back to the top, and persuading someone in charge to let them take the ski lift the wrong way, down to the bottom of the mountain. They said they were eventually permitted to do this, on the condition that a “ski ambassador” chaperone them—and not only that, but the ambassador sat between them on the lift, presumably so they wouldn’t try any funny business.

In need of a simple party activity? Try chalk. (Courtesy of Lizzie Plaugic)

Kaitlyn: I missed the veneers conversation, but I’ve seen the photo Lizzie is talking about, and it is really scary. She shows it to people fairly often. (Does she have it saved on her phone?) The thing is, I don’t think they actually shave your teeth down that much. I think that’s just one of those fake pictures from the internet. (I’m speaking as someone with two veneers, though I don’t talk about it with Lizzie for obvious reasons.) If I had been over there while she was spreading this misinfo I might have intervened.

Honestly, most of the party was a blur for me because as host, I was obsessed entirely with everyone else’s experience. At times, I wondered whether there were enough activities. Should we have strung beans? Should we have done the Mr. Potato Head craft my mom suggested? (Stick cut-up vegetables onto a potato with toothpicks.) Or the other potato craft? (Carve shapes into a potato, creating a “stamp,” then make art with it.) But no, everyone was enjoying themselves. They loved croquet.

In the early evening, as the crowd thinned out, I was able to relax. I talked to Ashley about our upcoming trip to her hometown and she said she’ll take us to “the Ditch,” where she sat on the ground and gossiped as a teen. Can you imagine Ashley—who is always immaculate and has never forgiven me for making her sleep in an Econo Lodge eight years ago—hanging out anywhere called “the Ditch”? This cracked me up. I’m so excited to see it.

The late stage of a party is the best. You get to go around to the people who are your true favorites but who you had to let alone for most of the day because they do fine without you. Nathan was like, “Did you see? Sea-plantain seeds!” We went upstairs to check on the cat, who was snuggling with Tamar on the couch. She’d gotten back from France just 15 hours before. She was not going to fall asleep, she insisted. “I’m just sitting and watching the videos they pick out for me,” she said. “Who is ‘they’?” Nathan asked. “The government.” (I believe she was looking at her algorithm-recommended Instagram Reels.) She gave me a magnet shaped like a basket of baguettes and an Annie Ernaux book with the British cover. We took her back down to the party so she could say honestly that she hadn’t fallen asleep.

Pretty soon, the punch and the mojitos were gone, and all that was left were the cheapest bottles of wine and like two gallons of soft, warm pudding.

Lizzie: A garden party ends when everyone has eaten enough dainty sandwiches and herbal cakes and starts craving a cheeseburger. By 8 p.m., the yard had cleared out. When we left, Nathan was crouched down next to his garden, maybe checking to see if the magic of the party had resulted in any growth spurts. Or just enjoying the time alone.

On Nobody Famous: Guesting, Gossiping, and Gallivanting, a collection of Famous People letters from the past five years, is available now from Zando Projects and The Atlantic.