A garden extravaganza
Photographer Michael Foley and his partner, Allen Price, host an event of the season at their near east-side home.
Fire-twirling dancers perform during the July 2010 party in the homeowners' rear courtyard as dozens of guests look on.
On the last Saturday in July for the past five years, photographer Michael Foley and his partner, Allen Price, have opened their home and gardens, adjacent to Franklin Park on the near east-side, for an extravagant party. It’s the time of summer when their gardens reach a pinnacle of colors, providing a lush background for 400, or so, party guests.
Appearances may be everything to this photographer and his partner, a visually creative duo who months in advance work tirelessly to prepare for their annual celebration. Early each summer the couple sorts through myriad garden images for one that will be used on their invitation and the collectible magnet that will accompany it. For the 2010 party, for example, the two stamped and stuffed more than 400 envelopes in anticipation of who might show up.
Even veteran partygoers will call this an event of the season, as the couple opens their entire home to guests—from the backyard garden to the refinished attic space. Food and merriment are aplenty, with some haute entertainment interspersed. On the evening of the party, every nook will be filled with guests. And, the party is likely to spill out onto the front porch and nearby sidewalk.
Guests are diverse—in age, culture and sexuality. Foley and Price—who works in technology for JP Morgan Chase—invite new acquaintances each year, as well as old ones who they haven’t seen in years. They are happy to provide the site where urban energy and a new millennial sensitivity to diversity mix it up in one big celebration.
In just a few years, their party has become known as the event where past acquaintances—long feared gone—may be rediscovered. “People see others that they think have probably moved away, or died,” says Foley, referring to the rash of AIDS deaths in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Additionally, he adds, “as gay couples get older, we tend to nest. There are so many people who are still around and rarely go out socially.”
Until it is time for this party, that is.
For a week prior to last year’s event, Price, Foley and some loyal friends worked tediously wrapping and rolling hors d’oeuvres and desserts. Two refrigerators filled with ingredients for appetizers involving bacon-wrapped chestnuts, prosciutto-wrapped melon, bacon-wrapped filets, cream-cheese pinwheels, mini cheesecakes, chicken with béarnaise sauce, au juice and other dips and munchies galore.
As the day of the affair approached, five staffers arrived to put the finishing touches on the food with a long to-do list that Foley and Price created days beforehand. Twenty-one pounds of bacon purchased for the event was then put to good use. The 700 pounds of ice were distributed to a garden bar, as well as a bar on the third floor.
Partygoers trickled in, starting at 7 pm and even though the invitation said the affair would end at 4 am, it continued into the next day with a handful of relatives and friends. (Foley has found friends still in the garden at 7:30 am after past years’ parties.)
Indeed, the Foley-Price garden site is a protected piece of nature in a purely urban setting. The two men have nurtured and grown it during the years they’ve owned the house, adding plants such as a few blueberry bushes, a voodoo lily and dozens more. Most have been given to them by friends and family, and with a new greenhouse at the side of the home, they’ve now started growing their annuals from seeds. Tall banana plants, calla lilies and others grow near the garden pond, which is populated with koi.
A circular theme was designed in the rear courtyard, as well as at the front of the home. The couple oversaw the building of brick pathways and large circular socializing areas that are equipped with tables, chairs and other such furnishings. A cauldron that Foley inherited from his grandmother, who made lye soap in it, now serves as a fire pit near the rear of the garden. Nearby, a black oak seedling has sprouted from an acorn planted in that spot. A blue spruce is short, but remains the only original planting that predates Foley and Price in the residence.
As though the garden isn’t enough of a backdrop, this couple focuses on entertaining their guests in other ways, too. In 2010, a mime called the Gardening Guy is painted in silver and meandered through the space with a watering pail in hand as he greeted guests in his encompassing silence.
As the evening wore on and hundreds of partygoers filled the spaces, Price and Foley quietly alerted guests that a surprise show was about to begin. The crowd parted as four scantily clad dancers carrying flaming torches emerged from the garage at the rear of the property and began a slow procession through the garden.
Later, Foley relates the story of how he met Anna Sullivan, creator of Anna and the Annadroids, when he photographed her for the cover of Columbus Monthly’s July 2009 edition. He learned that she was a neighbor and they socialized once or twice. Just two weeks before the 2010 garden party, she called and suggested to Foley and Price that their event be the debut of a show called SheFire. (Although Anna and the Annadroids is now based in San Francisco, spin-off groups still perform in Columbus and Tampa, Florida.) The crowd was awed as the dancers twirled fire and hula-hooped in the dark evening. A second show was performed a few hours later.
Nine days after the affair, Foley and Price were collapsed in gym shorts and T-shirts and on separate couches in their living room. They had been mopping floors and rolling out rugs, which were put into safe-keeping before their home filled with their friends.
“It’s like every year we’re doing a wedding reception,” quipped Price, in post-party exhaustion.
“It is always so humbling to hear what a great time people have had,” added Foley.
But now, the pressure is on. As the 2011 party quickly approaches, the duo has certain anxiety. “Every year we do something new and a little more exciting,” says Foley. In the past, that involved a laser or smoke machine, a recently renovated room and more. But in 2011, their home turns 100 years old. Whatever they’re planning, it is likely they will host a centennial event.
Sherry Beck Paprocki is the editor of Columbus Monthly Homes.