A backyard bounty of seasonal fruits and vegetables are reason enough to celebrate with a salad extravaganza. With zero cooking involved, a spring salad bar relies only on the host's own artistry in shopping and styling a table. Shop with the chefs at an early morning farmers' market for first pick, or simply gather from your own raised beds or community garden. Staying local and organic is the key to brilliant flavors. Plus you can invite guests to bring and share their homemade salad dressings. A table set in a spring palette, colorful fresh produce and dressings made from scratch lets everyone compose their plates like artists.

Setting Up

In planning such a party, first send guests invitations that mention a homemade salad dressing is all they need to bring. Have beakers, mason jars, and bottles with corks or hinged caps on hand to display everyone's creations; each is visually appealing, especially with artful label treatments listing the name of the cook and the recipe ingredients.

In composing your table, think like Mother Nature. We stayed natural by choosing a classic Turkish floral print that translates throughout all the textiles and dishware. Napkins, side plates, pitcher and serving utensils easily unify the table through theme and color. Pale green ceramic dishware supports the palette and wood serving pieces establish an earthy anchor.

In a spring–themed lunch, a big overflowing salad bowl — perhaps two of them, depending on the crowd — is naturally the centerpiece of a long dining table. We chose a wide wooden salad bowl and a pedestal salad bowl for a casual variety of classic shapes. Smaller dishes make up the salad bar, filled with sides and toppings. Have plenty of these on hand in an eclectic blend of shapes and colors. Complementary colors and materials turn the table into a garden of visual delights.

Wooden platforms elevate the dressing bottles, providing a stage and showcase. A drink dispenser, and glassware efficiently placed on a tiered wire tower allows guests to serve themselves. Instead of a flower arrangement, our stylist arranged fresh vines in the wires of the tower for a surprising and unique gardener's touch.

All that's left is going to the market. In a lunch that emphasizes seasonal tastes, what's in the bowls matters more than the beauty of the bowls themselves. The special ingredient is how local your produce is — as local your own backyard or farmers' market. Plan to go to the farmers' market early for access to the best produce, and to have enough time to wash and prepare it for the table. Although it always helps to have a list in hand, it might be just as fun to let the market seduce you with the beauty of its bounty.