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Come to My Garden Party!

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Ericka McConnell

To celebrate the end of the school year, a spring birthday, or just a warm and sunny afternoon, a garden party is the perfect way for kids to delight in the beauty of the season. A flower-filled celebration offers children creative ways to use plant materials, from decorating pots and filling them with fresh blossoms to crafting beautiful floral head wreaths.

"Kids are naturals at working with flowers because they don't worry about whether they're doing it right," says Jen Stone, co-owner of Stonekelly Events and Florals in New York City, who assembled blooms and grasses for a group of 5-year-olds, including her daughter, Sophie. A former painter, Jen points out that flowers have a sculptural quality kids find appealing. "A garden party is terrific because they can be outside having fun with colorful, tactile materials," she says.

Planning the party is as simple as setting up a picnic table in the backyard and gathering a bucket of seasonal flowers, a flat of wheatgrass, and craft supplies. Pick a few hardy varieties of similar size that look pretty together -- we chose marigolds, zinnias, and ranunculuses -- and buy enough so that each child has two generous bunches to work with.

Begin by letting guests decorate a small vase, plain or glazed terra-cotta pot, or wood planter that they'll later fill with flowers or grass. (Containers used for flower arranging should not have drainage holes.) Set out washable paint pens and glitter glue sticks, along with stencils in shapes like bugs and butterflies. After the pots dry, kids can grab their favorite blossoms, trim the stems with an adult's help, and arrange a tight bouquet. Some guests may prefer to pull apart squares of wheatgrass to fit in pots or shallow planters. Remind the kids to add water when they get home.

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Ericka McConnell

In addition to playing florist, little girls will love working with a grown-up to make festive flower wreaths to wear in their hair. It's surprisingly easy: Measure a length of florist wire long enough to circle a child's head plus about two inches. Break off the stems of small flowers and thread the wire through the base of the flower tops, making sure blooms face in the same direction. When the wire is almost filled, twist the ends together to form a circle. "At this party, it's fine to tear into the flowers and try new things," says Jen, who suggests art projects to make with leftover materials: "Fill a bowl with petals, then let kids drip glue onto colored paper and sprinkle petals on top," she says. "Dip flower tops in poster paint and press them on paper to make prints. Or glue tops and stems on paper for a collage. The kids should feel free to experiment."

For refreshments, try a garden-theme menu of crudites and roasted red pepper dip displayed in a tray of wheatgrass, tiny flower-shaped jelly-and-cream-cheese sandwiches, and bite-size stuffed cherry tomatoes and cucumbers, accompanied by iced tea garnished with edible flowers such as pansies and nasturtium. Cupcakes topped with spun-sugar flowers end the party on a sweet note.

As the guests departed, they bubbled with enthusiasm about their creations."I'm giving my flowers to my mommy," one little girl said proudly. "And then I can plant something in my pot." As Jen predicted, the party awakened in the kids an appreciation of nature that will last for many seasons to come.

Birthday Party Ideas: Daisy Balloons
Birthday Party Ideas: Daisy Balloons
Crudites With Roasted Red Pepper Dip
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Ericka McConnell

Line three mini flower pots with plastic wrap. Fill two of the pots with vegetables, such as baby carrots, wax beans, and pepper strips. Fill remaining pot with roasted red pepper dip. To make it, slice 3 red bell peppers into 1" strips, and toss with 2 Tbs. olive oil on a cookie sheet. Bake in a preheated 300°F oven for 45 minutes; cool for 15 minutes. In the bowl of a food processor or blender, combine roasted peppers, 1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise, 1/2 cup low-fat sour cream, 2 Tbs. chopped fresh dill, 1 minced garlic clove, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Refrigerate until party time.

Assorted Mini Flower Sandwiches
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Ericka McConnell

Using flower cookie cutters in two sizes, cut an equal number of large and small shapes from a loaf of bread. Cut thin slices of ham and cheese with the cutters, and assemble sandwiches, placing the ham on the larger bread slices and the cheese on the smaller slices. Secure with a drop of low-fat mayonnaise, and garnish with half a pitted black olive, if desired. A fruity variation: Spread low-fat cream cheese on one slice of bread and top with a dollop of apricot or strawberry fruit spread; top with a smaller flower layer and garnish with a raspberry or strawberry.

Flower Fruit Punch
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Ericka McConnell

In a large pitcher, combine 3 cups cranberry juice, 3 cups lemonade, 1 cup sliced strawberries, 1 cup raspberries, and 8 sprigs fresh mint. Chill until ready to serve. Garnish with 8 to 10 edible fresh flowers, such as pansies or nasturtiums.

Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes and Cucumbers

With a sharp knife, scoop out the top and center of a dozen cherry tomatoes. Fill with store-bought tabouli. Garnish with a chive sprig. Slice a washed, unpeeled cucumber diagonally, changing the angle with each slice. Scoop out flesh from slices, not going all the way to the bottom. Fill with a teaspoon of low-fat cream cheese and top with a dill sprig.

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Copyright ? 2003. Reprinted with permission from the May 2003 issue of Child Magazine.