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Book Excerpt: A Time to Plant
Gardener James Farmer shares tips on al fresco entertaining
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Gardener, cook, and design guru James T. Farmer shares numerous ideas for outdoor entertaining from his recent book, A Time To Plant. From his favorite family recipes to fun and unique ideas for lighting your outdoor space, James’s Southern style works its magic to transform a garden into a lush, colorful feast for the senses.
A Time To Plant provides trustworthy tutorials for novice and seasoned gardeners alike. In addition to the valuable gardening advice, James demonstrates how to incorporate the joys and beauty of nature into entertaining.
Produced for the Web by Lucy Fitzgerald
Plant in Spring for a Fabulous Fall
- Mexican salvia or Mexican brush sage
- Russian sage
- Ryan’s daisies and asters
- Mexican marigold
- Other salvias or sages, such as pineapple, ‘Black and Blue’, ‘May Night’, and forsythia sage
- Lamb’s ear
- Black-eyed Susan and other Rudbeckias
- Ornamental grasses and sedges
- Eupatorium, or Joe-Pye weed
- ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum (sedums are knockouts in the garden!)
- Caryopteris, or blue mist shrub
- Perennial or swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolia)
- ‘Sweet Autumn’ clematis
- Japanese anemone
- Toad lilies, lily bulbs, and daylilies
Choose a few from this list and document your success. Allow your coleuses, tender tropical plants such as ginger and angel trumpet, caladiums and elephant ears, sweet potato vine and other summer troopers to mix in with your fall perennials, and a cornucopia of your own garden flowers will be in bloom throughout the season.
Plant in Fall for a Splendid Spring
For a profusion of springtime blooms, plant these combos of annuals and perennials in the fall:
- Violas and pansies
- Huechera, or coral bells
- Parsley, chervil, tricolor sage, and chives
- Mustards, ornamental cabbages, and kale
- Snapdragons (plant in fall and cut back in winter for a spring explosion)
- Digitalis (foxglove)
- Delphinium and larkspur
- Hellebores or Lenten roses
- Poppies (sow seeds or set out small plants in late fall or winter)
- Dianthus, Sweet William and alyssum (bloom in spring and fall)
- Monarda, or bee balm
- Rudbeckias, such as black-eyed Susan (spring and fall bloomers)
- Tulips, daffodils, and other spring-blooming bulbs
Pick a grouping of your favorites and start there. Expand upon your successes each season, and remember to keep a record of what works for you.
The yields of springtime fruits and flowers make beautiful additions to the tablescape as well.
- Bring in branches of blooming trees from dogwood, cherry, and plum as stunning displays in large clear hurricanes.
- Julep cups filled with fresh stems of spirea, liriope, new fern fronds, or buds of azaleas can all declare the vernal equinox on your table.
- ackets of annual bedding plants split into individual containers make a personal and lively tablescape.
- Plant snapdragons in the fall for springtime blossoms and you will have an explosion of blooms to cut from and a profusion of color for the garden and home.
- Foxgloves, delphiniums, and poppies are other good “plant in fall for spring success” choices and all make wonderful cut flowers, as well.
Take advantage of the bright newness of spring. Plan a menu, spruce up the garden, and invite your company to your table in celebration of spring. What better time to live with the garden than the beginning of its growth and output of rejuvenation!
An Autumn Tableau
As with gardening, an elegant presentation of your seasonal know-how can be displayed through your meal. Keep your ingredient theme, from the sides to the salads, in a seasonally tonal color theme. The purple hues of cabbage and red onion, along with the orange of peppers, give an autumnal nod to salad elements as well as sides. Sweet potatoes, squashes, and root vegetables mix nicely in a roasted medley and perpetuate an autumnal feel with your food.
- Pork, chicken, and beef all adapt well to the grill or a roaster and can be adjusted seasonally with available produce and ingredients.
- Grilling autumn squashes—such as butternut squash mixed with onions and rosemary—continues the garden theme.
- Apples and pears lend themselves well to pork for main dishes, but are definitely dominant forces for dessert ideas.
- Think autumn colors—browns, oranges, rusts, and deep lavenders—and borrow this palette for your dishes and meals. Browned onions and sauces like a buerre blanc (white wine and butter sauce) or red wine sauce lend autumnal color and garden flavor to dishes along with herbs.
- The smell of burning leaves reminiscent of fall can be captured with smoky flavors in the season’s dishes. Smoked sea salt brings the flavor of smoke into your food, recalling the embers of leaves burned this time of year.
- Try roasting purple onions, purple cabbage, baby carrots, peppers, and diced sweet potatoes for a fabulous fall vegetable dish. Use smoked sea salt and rosemary for added depth and flavor.
- Roasted pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds, pine nuts or sliced apples and pears in salads with a balsamic dressing can make a salad of autumn’s greens fresh and fun.
Mimi’s Apple Cake
Mimi’s Apple Cake is so delicious and enjoyable for several reasons, I feel. First, the toasted pecans in the cake give me that sweet and salty complement I crave. Second, the simplicity of the cake itself is truly appealing. The ingredients are not complicated and are readily available. Furthermore, this cake is the gift that keeps on giving, that is, a gift you can keep on giving; for you can easily make two, share one with friends and keep one for your family. For Christmas, Thanksgiving, or any holiday, for that matter, this cake is a perfect contribution to your supper club, dinner party, church dinner on the grounds, or host/hostess gift.
Mimi’s Apple Cake
- 3 eggs
- 2 cups sugar (reduce by a third if your apples are sweet enough)
- 1-1/2 cups vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- Pinch salt
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons good vanilla
- 3 apples, chopped to make 3 cups
- 1 cup toasted and chopped pecans
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
In a large bowl, beat the eggs, then add sugar and oil and beat. Add dry ingredients, apples, and nuts. Mix well.
Pour into a greased Bundt pan or tube pan.
Bake at 335 degrees for 1-1/2 hours.
Garnish with freshly whipped cream and roasted pecans, buttered and salted. How easy is that? Enjoy!
Entertaining in the Garden
A mild winter day, a balmy spring, a delightful summer night, or a perfect autumn afternoon—each season boasts a fantastic time for garden entertaining. With sunsets and coolness of night coming later and later as the warm seasons progress, I relish these times for garden living. Porches, gazebos, pergolas, loggias and arbors are the home’s gateways to the garden, and taking advantage of these semi-covered areas is vital to outdoor entertaining. Besides serving as a transition between outside and in, these intermediate locales between garden and home provide the best spots to seamlessly integrate the pulses of the home and garden.
Weatherproof furnishings and fabrics have revolutionized outdoor living and entertaining. The porch is a direct link to our nostalgic past, and now it offers a contemporary spot for the creature comforts of indoor conveniences to be re-oriented for the great outdoors. Keep in mind that the first and last impression for your guests is your entrance. Whether it’s a covered portico, porch, or stoop, make a statement and a reflection of your personality at your entrances.
Urns, pots, finials, and architectural elements can be your calling card for your home and the start of a theme for your outdoor entertaining. Bright azure blue pots or classic iron urns at the front door can be repeated throughout the garden and even used as serving pieces for garden-style entertaining. Small urns holding flatware, large pots or buckets iced down with drinks, cloches harboring bird’s nests or cheeses, and lanterns brimming with candles or even arrangements assimilating light are all possibilities for interweaving garden basics and entertainment features.
A Time to Wed
My sister Maggie wanted a garden-themed, elegantly Southern wedding and reception. Our home church was a given, and a tented reception at our aunt and uncle’s was totally apropos. A wedding on the land—decorated with its bounty and lending a familial garden tone as well—was the perfect venue for a garden-living kind of girl and her farm-boy beau. Yellow and blue, her signature colors, and shades in and around, were used, from the programs to the tables to the altar. Hundreds of Nikko Blue hydrangeas were specially grown for the wedding, along with yellow sweetheart roses, variegated shell ginger, palms (it was Palm Sunday weekend), maidenhair ferns, and a myriad of other floral wonders.
Rather than numerous cut arrangements, I planted “living arrangements,” or compositions of plants mixed in with some cut stems for additional interest and drama. The plus side of these floral symposiums is that we could plant the hydrangeas, roses, ferns, and ivy in the garden and have perennial reminders of that happy day!
A few tips on garden weddings, events, and outdoor entertaining ventures:
- Use nature’s provisions. Forsythia, Agarista, Aspidistra, azalea, and budding spring limbs worked well for this early spring wedding.
- Try planted compositions. They last longer than cut arrangements and can be planted in the garden after the wedding. Hydrangeas, ferns, and ivy are simply elegant and stunning in compositions. Stems of cut flowers and sticks add drama, too.
- Use urns, pots, baskets, and garden furniture as props, containers, and serving ware for that “touch from the garden” feel. Maggie’s cake table was the door from an old grain elevator held up by two iron stands. An urn with maidenhair fern, some rusty iron birds, and an urn base for the cake kept the al fresco theme in high gear.
- Lanterns. Use lots of lanterns, and even torches, for added romance and charm. Everyone always looks great in candlelight!
- Remember the season with your food. Fruits and other flavors of the season make a memorable table for your guests.
- Garnishing the food with flowers keeps the theme on track, too. Blossoms on the cake or herbs and flowers tethered to serving pieces make charming details.
- If you have time to plan your event ahead, plan your plantings and pots. Fill your color beds and containers with seasonal accents and allow them to be fun parts of the outdoor décor. Plus, planting ahead allows them to grow and fill out before the event.
- Think scale. Outdoor scale is larger than indoor scale. Pots and containers should be big enough to make a statement and not get lost in the crowd.
- As with any party, have fun! Roll with the flow and entertain with confidence!
A Time to Think Outside the Vase
Thinking outside the vase can lead to alternative containers geared for garden living. Taking from what is on hand, collected, inherited, and found, start a compilation of containers for your centerpiece arsenal. With an interesting collection of jars to jardinières to pull from, be assured that employing the highlights from your assortment as bases for your centerpiece will be done with thought and creativity. A hollowed watermelon, cantaloupe, apple, or pumpkin can work wonders as a vessel for flowers—garden arrangements in garden produce. Individual nosegays arranged in jelly jars for each place setting add a simple yet personal touch as well.
Fun List of Container Candidates
- Julep cups
- Cache pots and other serving pieces
- Silver goblets and pewter stemware
- Rose bowls
- Pitchers and jugs
- Jars, large mugs, and coffee cups
- Jardinières, urns, and planters
- Bottles—all shapes and sizes—and decanters, too!
- Hollowed fruits and vegetables—gourds, apples, oranges, and melons