Angela Cassidy
Angela Cassidy

As the month of May beckons, neighbors in and around Peachtree Heights East are preparing for their signature event: The Ladies of the Lake’s Garden Party. The women are sprucing up their hats, or perhaps shopping for a new spring bonnet. The men are getting gentle nudges to hunt down – and blow the dust off of – their bow ties.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Garden Party – an elegant cocktail party with catered food, open bar, live music and silent auction – set on the edge of Duck Pond Lake, the sparkling gem of Duck Pond Park.

Unlike most parks within city limits, this tranquil 7.5-acre site is neither owned nor maintained by the city of Atlanta. The widow of neighborhood developer E. Rivers deeded the 1909 park directly to the Buckhead neighborhood, so its upkeep and property taxes fall to the neighbors.

Today there are 325 single-family homes in Peachtree Heights East, with about as many townhouses and condos near enough so that those residents also take advantage of this bucolic retreat with dogwoods, wild azaleas and a weeping willow. Budding now, the maples and oaks will soon form a bright lime-green canopy that’s almost like a gigantic umbrella over the grounds.

Mary Chris Murry
Mary Chris Murry

The Garden Party raises funds each year to help maintain the park and pond. The Ladies of the Lake coordinate such assistance with the Peachtree Heights East Neighborhood Association.The park including the 2-acre pond is home to 40 species of birds, 12 mammals and 35 species of shrubs and trees, reports Mary Chris Murry. She’s a longtime member of the Ladies of the Lake.

“I haven’t decided what to wear yet,” Murry says. “Maybe a little fuchsia and orange sun dress. I’ve had some fun decorating some of my hats over the years.”

Longtime neighbor Angela Cassidy is among four club members who launched the Garden Party in 1985. The Ladies organization, founded in about 1933, previously hosted a yard sale to raise funds. But Cassidy, along with fellow neighbor “Ladies” Jane Hill, Alice Barr and Ashlyn Dugan, launched the Garden Party to step things up a bit.

“We wanted to get dressed up,” recalls Cassidy, “and we wanted to create an event that reflected the way the neighborhood was evolving. We liked the idea of a spring cocktail party for adults, a festive, genteel affair.”

It was Cassidy who thought the George Seurat painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” could serve as splendid inspiration for the new event. (The 1884 painting, the same that inspired Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Sunday in the Park with George,” depicts an old-fashioned afternoon with people dressed up and enjoying the day).

The Garden Party is the neighborhood’s primary annual fundraising event.  The Ladies of the Lake Garden Club was “thrilled” to have raised $2,000 at the inaugural Garden Party in 1985, says Cassidy.  Each year, the club contributes a portion of proceeds from the party to the neighborhood association to help fund the monthly maintenance of Duck Pond Park. Over the past 30 years, the organization has contributed more than $225,000 for the upkeep of Duck Pond and its surrounding parklands, reports Murry.

“I’m delighted the event has steadily grown and has become such an annual highlight,” says Cassidy. “It’s a great team effort and a wonderful cause.”

It’s also a good way to meet your neighbors. Take Kyle and Chuck Ball, for example. They relocated to Peachtree Heights East from Florida just two years ago. “We drove around, found this neighborhood and fell in love with it,” recalls Kyle. “We didn’t know anyone. Right after we moved in, neighbors said ‘You’ve got to go to this party!’ ”

“When you no longer have kids in school, it’s much harder to meet people, so this party was just what we needed,” says Kyle. “Being part of this organization has been a huge boost. I feel like we absolutely lucked out in finding this neighborhood. We already love it so much.”

Alice Lyons and Gladys Gunning are two of the original Ladies of the Lake. In the 1940s, they would would gather at the lake with their children and tend to park upkeep.   [Photo provided by Ladies of the Lake]
Alice Lyons and Gladys Gunning are two of the original Ladies of the Lake. In the 1940s, they would would gather at the lake with their children and tend to park upkeep.
[Photo provided by Ladies of the Lake]

It didn’t take Kyle long to jump right into Ladies of the Lake, which today boasts about 100 active members. She’s the chair of this year’s Garden Party, which she hopes will draw 250-300 people. In light of the 30th anniversary, she says the Ladies are pulling out all the stops this year: a “blowout party” with wine tastings and a silent auction offering everything from enticing vacation packages to private parties and dinners out. The Azalea Trio will serenade patrons with chamber music for violin, oboe and cello.

Soiree Catering and Events, owned by neighborhood resident Mary Hataway, is handling the buffet. Hataway plans a “Southern gourmet” menu that reflects the bounty of spring. A few enticements: basil parmesan chicken salad sandwiches, grilled marinated artichoke hearts with a light mustard sauce, roasted corn salad, and a gruyere cheese mousse with roasted macadamia nuts.

“The Duck Pond is such a wonderful place to live,” says Kyle Ball. “We plan to celebrate our 30th anniversary of the Ladies of the Lake Garden Party in style to honor the traditions that make this neighborhood so unique.”

–Julie Bookman

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.