(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 8, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
The previous "Plant Party" article focused on tips for hosting an informal DG gathering in your home or at a location where all the logistical details were up to you. With everybody pitching in, such gatherings are pretty easy to put together and an awful lot of fun on the day of the event. But there's an even easier way to get a group of DGers together for an afternoon. Let a local restaurant handle most of the logistics for you!
In most areas, you can find restaurants with private rooms, used for meetings and family celebrations. If it's not a buffet restaurant like Chef Lin in Frederick where we gathered for a "Chinese Tea Party and Seed Swap" last February, then you can often make arrangements for a simple catered meal. Unless you'll have a small group, it's easiest to have a fixed price arrangement rather than trying to have two dozen people order from the menu.
Be sure to chat up the owner or manager when you're making arrangements for your gathering. Explaining about DG ahead of time helps a lot when people unexpectedly show up with plants and cuttings at what the manager had thought was going to be a genteel seed swap. Still, it's probably best to try to limit this sort of event to seed swapping, by and large.
The manager at Chef Lin was very helpful, letting me come in ahead of time to set up a table for door prizes and other tables to use for the seed swapping part of our afternoon. Since the room wasn't being used later that day, she graciously allowed us to stay as long as we liked after lunch, giving us plenty of time to visit and swap seeds. A waitress continued to check with us, providing drinks and anything else we needed. We made sure to leave a generous tip, because we want to be welcome to do this again!
Our "gift table" at my fall swap last year was such fun that I decided I wanted to have a lot of door prizes for this party, also. A few people had let me know they were bringing things, and I put together an assortment of other goodies, making sure everybody would go home with something. Well, the generosity of DGers is legendary. With all the unannounced door prizes that were added to the table as people arrived, I think everybody went home with two or three items–what fun!
Although the general tone of gatherings like this is informal, it's important to have a couple of scheduled times in mind for various events to happen. Otherwise, suddenly three hours have passed in eating and conversation, it's nearly time to go, and nobody has swapped so much as a single sunflower seed. And while seed swapping may be secondary to visiting, going home with new-to-you seeds is definitely part of the fun of an event like this! Since we were gathering at noon, I decided we'd play a game for door prizes at 2 pm, and then after that we'd start swapping seeds. The game (nothing too lengthy; we played a version of Bingo) was a good transition between meal time and seed swapping time.
The seed swapping will go more smoothly and be more fun for everybody with a little advance preparation. Posting a seed swap thread before the gathering gives people a place to discuss what seeds they have to share and what they're looking for. Seeds can be earmarked to fill requests, and people's interests can be gauged. It's good to know ahead of time whether to try to bag up lots of birdhouse gourd seeds to share around or to concentrate on bringing flower seeds instead.
New gardeners at your swap event may not have many seeds to share. I decided to use some extra seeds in my stash to get things off to a good start with our swap. I made up little gift bags for each person, putting several packets of seed into each bag. Anything they didn't want could be traded on the spot. The bags also turned out to be useful for others to drop in seeds earmarked for particular people before the swap got underway. I also put a couple of "free to good home" baskets on each swap table. All afternoon, people added extra seed packets to these baskets and took what they could use. Leftovers went out in "seed for SASBE" offers after the party.
As much as possible, encourage participants to package their seeds ahead of time in little labeled packets, just as they would for trades by mail. Having both the name of the plant and the DG name of the trader on the packet will help a lot if somebody has any questions later. Some seeds always seem to get split up on the spot, so it's also a great idea to provide some extra little seed packets as well as labels and pencils.
Organizing a DG gathering at my home was fairly easy, because I kept things simple and had a lot of help from the folks who came. Organizing a DG gathering at a local restaurant was even easier, and best of all somebody else handled the cleanup. The hardest thing I had to do at the end was to say goodbye.
Thanks to docgipe for the photos used in the images of me arranging the gift table and of the buffet serving line. Other photos in the article are by the author.
We're doing it again! If you'll be in the Frederick area February 21, check out the "Think Spring!" swap planning thread in the MidAtlantic forum.