On Black Friday, Shelley MacNary did what she always does after Thanksgiving Day. She rose before dawn to get a head start on Christmas.
A self-professed “Christmas fanatic,” MacNary hurried to The Home Depot to purchase poinsettias at 50% off. Finding there was no limit to the number she could buy at that price, she snared 64 before the sun rose. She’s made that early poinsettia run for 20 years.
“I just love Christmas,” MacNary said. “It’s a good time to be with friends and family. It’s a great time to say thanks and just be with good people.”
That love shows up in an equal obsession with decorating for the season, in part for the Christmas parties she’s hosted for almost three decades. This year’s poinsettia display starts at the entry of her Old Metairie home, spreads across the entry table and runs up the staircase to the second floor.
The merry red path continues to the dining room, through the living area, loops through the breakfast nook, past the ceiling-height Christmas tree before going out the backdoor to create a hilly pile near the newly installed outdoor kitchen.
Even the extensive backyard installation appears to have been designed with Christmas in mind. Its hot pink and white color scheme provides the perfect backdrop for the Christmas party she throws every year.
MacNary said that its fitting seasonal color wasn’t planned. The swath of white petunia blossoms that resembles glittering snow is a serendipitous feature.
Last fall, with the pandemic still limiting social interaction, she finally felt ready to initiate the backyard redo that had been growing in her imagination for a decade. She hired Mullin Landscape Associates in St. Rose to draw up a design that would be low-maintenance and provide all-year-around blooms.
She also wanted an outdoor kitchen, a covered patio and a fountain. The result is a 50-foot by 50-foot landscape of half hardscape and half plant life.
The kitchen, containing a grill and mini-fridge, is located near the back door of the house. Eagleston hollies ring the fence to create more height for privacy, and blooming plants run in front of them. Together, they create a U-shaped bed of green and all-season color. A brick fountain creates visual balance to the right of the yard.
Azaleas, hydrangeas, and lily of the night provide color in spring and summer along with white vinca, which replaces petunias before they die in the heat. Two varieties of Camellia, pink and white, join the petunias to brighten the winter months.
MacNary plans a natural look for the holly privacy hedge, which requires little pruning, but she prefers the formality of straight lines for other parts of the garden. The only curves run along the rounded fountain.
“I need structure in my life,” she said. “To me, it’s peace.”
No work on her part was key to the overall design. The only DIY she did during the construction and planting phases was to stain the fence French Quarter Black by Benjamin Moore. It took two weeks.
As a retired lawyer for Entergy, travel is her preferred pastime. The garden reflects her determination to be free to jump on a plane at a moment’s notice.
“I have a passport and a credit card,” she said. “I could leave tomorrow.”
With long periods of absence in mind, the garden also includes an automatic timer for lights and irrigation. A maintenance crew keeps the garden beds tidy.
MacNary’s enthusiasm for entertaining influenced the design of the covered patio, which she calls the “cabana.” She wanted it large enough to hold an outdoor sofa and side chairs and a dining set for six. To ensure it would be large enough to hold these essential elements, MacNary measured the furniture she wanted before settling on the size of the space.
“I’ve got a lot of money in this project,” she said. “But it’s worth it. I love it.”
The garden was finished in April, giving her plenty of time to plan the event of the year — the ever-growing Christmas party.
Canceled during the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, she looked forward to holding the party again. The tradition started when she lived around the corner in a smaller house. A group of friends gathered at her house before going to City Park’s Christmas in the Oaks.
After she moved to her current, more spacious home, the party started growing. “As life went on,” she said, “it got bigger and bigger, and we stopped going to Christmas in the Oaks.”
This year, the invitation list included 100 guests.
On the first Saturday of December, guests filled the dining room, living room, breakfast nook and spilled out into the well-lit garden.
At some point in the evening, MacNary noticed quests’ heels sinking into the gravel between the pavers fronting the bar setup. The quintessential hostess, she made a mental note to find a more comfortable location for the bar next year, the party’s 30th anniversary.
MacNary said she’s considering hiring a band. “It’s going to be a blowout.”