camellia grove luncheon, rebecca gardner

For this camellia grove luncheon, Rebecca Gardner was inspired by British photographer Tim Walker. “He often creates these surreal environments for his images, and I wanted a little of that fantasy at play,” she says.

camellia grove luncheon, rebecca gardner

Rebecca Gardner prepares for the luncheon.

Considering today’s Pinterest-driven quest for perfection, it’s refreshingly unexpected to meet someone who is removed from all that—someone who truly sings her own tune—a beautifully arranged melody that’s tinged with delightful quirkiness and always surprise. Rebecca Gardner of Houses & Parties, an event and interiors specialist based in Savannah, Georgia, and New York, is that person, one who believes that rules are more like suggestions and that a little irreverence is always in order.

Use elegant Herend china and serve takeout Chinese straight out of the box at a dinner party? Introduce a basket of bunnies for guests to play with at an outdoor wedding? Decorate the table with withered leaves and flowers on the brink of decay for a hip gallery fest? Yes, yes, and yes. The novelty is never random, however, but is part of a remarkably orchestrated experience for those fortunate enough to attend a Gardner event. She’s like a child with a dress-up box who keeps reaching in and arranging things in completely new ways.

camellia grove luncheon, rebecca gardner

All varieties of camellia dance in petite monogrammed glass vases from Rebecca Gardner’s collection.

“We had to make our own fun,” says Gardner when describing her childhood in Corpus Christi, the coastal town in Texas. “And part of that fun was parties.” While other girls were playing with Barbies, Gardner was making seating charts and arranging the details of her fashion show–themed birthday party. “It’s one of my favorite memories,” she says. “The driveway was the runway, and I was the bride at the end of the show. My mother made me a bouquet out of flowers from her garden.” Gardner was that child who was always sneaking out to get a glimpse of her parents’ frequent parties. “I loved the sound of the ice cubes in the crystal glasses, the laughter, and the exotic combined scents of whiskey, tobacco, and the women’s perfume,” she says.

camellia grove luncheon, rebecca gardner

Gardner’s French bulldog, Mr. Button, was the only masculine presence at the gathering.

That attraction to parties has never waned. Gardner is always in a flurry of creativity, with projects in far-flung places such as Tokyo and Provence. For the storied St. Regis hotel in New York, she curated products and created an immersive atmosphere last year. “The hotel asked me to do something magical for the holidays, and the Sugarplum Pop-Up was born,” she says. “We decorated the lobby with enormous red-velvet bows and tiers of pink parasols bedecked with oversized colorful ornaments and gold tinsel. It was my wild Tony Duquette dream.”

“Showing guests that you made an obvious effort, no matter the type of event, is always appreciated, as is beautiful candlelight and good, strong drinks.”—Rebecca Gardner

Last year, she also imagined a dreamy ladies luncheon in the middle of a camellia grove on an island outside of Savannah. “I wanted it to be a bit like going down Alice’s rabbit hole,” explains Gardner. “Plopping the table in the middle of the grove with no obvious path made getting to it a bit of an adventure in itself.” A pink-striped tablecloth, crisp white ruffled chair covers, ornate silver, and an abundance of cut camellias contributed to the decidedly feminine a air. “In today’s busy world, going to a ladies luncheon in the middle of the day is a luxury and a bit decadent,”
she says.

More from the Camellia Grove Luncheon

camellia grove luncheon, rebecca gardner

The menu sits on a Mottahedeh plate in the Tobacco Leaf pattern and announces a parlor game as an icebreaker for the guests.

camellia grove luncheon, rebecca gardner

Colorful borscht and pink Champagne add to the feminine appeal of the luncheon.

Dessert was lemon tarts with ginger snap crusts and meringue.
camellia grove luncheon, rebecca gardner

The table setting includes ornate repoussé silver, Herend’s Chinese Bouquet soup bowls, mint julep cups from Rebecca Gardner’s personal collection, groupings of vibrant camellias in small glass vases, and lace-edged linen napkins on a lively pink-and-white-striped tablecloth.

camellia grove luncheon, rebecca gardner

The party was timed so the camellias would be in full bloom, creating a canopy over the table.

Many camellia varieties were in full bloom in this grove off the coast of Savannah, Georgia.
Many camellia varieties were in full bloom in this grove off the coast of Savannah, Georgia.
Many camellia varieties were in full bloom in this grove off the coast of Savannah, Georgia.
Many camellia varieties were in full bloom in this grove off the coast of Savannah, Georgia.
Rebecca Gardner camellia luncheon
"In today's busy world, going to a ladies luncheon in the middle of the day is a luxury and a bit decadent."—Rebecca Gardner
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While a seasoned pro at this point, Gardner never leaves a party early, as she explains in her charming way: “We manage every detail of an event and stay through the end. You can pull a rabbit out of a hat, but is his fur the right color? Have his paws had a manicure? Is he in a vintage top hat with a satin band?” In Gardner’s supremely talented hands, the answers will be yes, yes, and yes.

“In today’s busy world, going to a ladies luncheon in the middle of the day is a luxury and a bit decadent.”—Rebecca Gardner


Produced and written by Alice Welsh Doyle | Photography by Chia Chong

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