A good place to start is by checking your Regional Gardening Forums and the Roundup Forum to see if there are any upcoming events you could attend. What? Nothing on the horizon? Don't let that slow you down. Organize an event! Keep it simple and enlist some help, and you'll be surprised at how easily a DG gathering can come together. Remember, you're not dealing with a demanding bunch of social climbers, just a few friendly folks who want to meet up and talk plants.
Organize the Party Posts - Make Information Easy To Find
You could begin by posting an "interest" thread if you haven't picked a definite date or place for your gathering, so you can get input from potential party-goers. Once you've got the basics settled, start a new thread with all the details at the top: date, time, and location. (For security, use Dmail rather than posting information such as your phone number or directions to your home.) Give the thread a clear title, such as "Fall Plant Swap at Critter's on Sept. 20"
Reserve the top few posts of the organization thread for additional information. You may want to keep a running list of people planning to come, as well as a post explaining what people should bring (plants to trade, a food or drink item to share, etc.). A larger event may need separate threads for discussing plant swaps and for organizing party food. Be sure to put links to these threads at the top of the main organization thread and vice versa. If threads get long and need to be continued on another thread, then linking between threads is crucial.
At any gathering of gardeners, plants and seeds get shared. Even in the middle of winter, when you think people will only be swapping seeds or sharing gardening stories, people will bring plants. When you're setting up for your gathering, set aside space for plants and other unexpected items.
Trades can be arranged in advance or on the spot. Our Mid-Atlantic Forum gatherings are pretty informal, with people bringing their extra plants and seeds and going home with plenty in return. Larger swaps may need a more formal system. I've heard of people receiving tokens for the plants they bring (one or more depending on size) and then trading those tokens in turn for plants of their choosing.
Labels are very important! As well as having the name of the plant on or in the pot, including your DG name is also really helpful. That way, if the person taking your plant home has any questions about it later, they'll know who to ask. When I host a gathering, I try to provide for on-the-spot labeling and potting up, too.
Labels for people are also good. Nametags with enough space for both "real" and DG names will help conversations run smoothly. Set up an "arrival station" with nametags and pens and a big "Got a Nametag?" reminder sign.
Food & Drink
A buffet with finger foods that people can help themselves to at any time is an easy way to go. Some people may come late or have to leave early, so not having a set meal time can simplify the party planning. Finger foods are fun, and all you need for service are napkins and maybe some small paper plates.
Your party food choices will be the biggest factor in determining how much time you, the host, will spend having fun with your guests. You can spend the day behind the grill or micro-managing in the kitchen, or you can keep it simple and let everybody help. Ask everybody to bring a treat to share, and set up a buffet table to serve from. Extra serving utensils and a box of toothpicks are useful to have on hand. If I'm feeling formal, I'll get out a stack of cake plates and platters so food doesn't have to be set out in plastic containers. Picking a theme for the party can be fun, and it helps people answer that often-asked question, "what should I bring?"
Try to keep drink arrangements simple, too. Provide one beverage (like iced tea or simply ice water) in quantity, then simply ask people to bring what they'd like to drink if they want something different. That way, you don't end up with 17 two liter bottles, trying to cover everybody's preferences. If you want to do specialty drinks to go with a theme party, recruit one or two other people for bartender duty.
Spreading the party jobs around makes it play for everyone and not just all work for you. If the host has fun, everybody else enjoys the party more also.
While you're recruiting party help, don't forget cleanup detail. Ask for a couple of volunteers who are willing to linger over a cup of coffee and help clear away the aftermath. At this stage, you'll appreciate your choice of finger foods and paper goods for meal service. Check the plant swap area for "orphans," too. Zip-top bags are useful for taking home leftover goodies and for bagging up plant cuttings.
After the Swap
You've got one final thread to post after the swap. After a swap, a thread is needed for photos, stories, follow-up questions about plants, and general chatter. The photos and stories just keep that wonderful camaraderie going and also draw in people who wish they could have been there but couldn't make it.
If you plan it, they will come!
I hope you're feeling encouraged and empowered about putting together your own local DG gathering. Even if you're able to attend one or more of the larger DG roundups, you need something like this to tide you over in between!
Keep it simple, and you'll keep it fun. Host a Plant Party!
Do you have tips and suggestions for hosting a DG gathering? Want to chat about the possibilities? Please, post a thread after this article.
Thanks to Becky for the photo used in the thumbnail image at the top of the article, and to Gitagal for the photos used to show the buffet dishes on my counter and our bartender in action. Other photos are by the author.