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Book Excerpt: A Time to Plant

Gardener James Farmer shares tips on al fresco entertaining

Written by James T. Farmer III
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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.

    Cover photograph by Ralph Anderson
    Produced for the Web by Lucy Fitzgerald

  • Plant in Spring for a Fabulous Fall

    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.

    Photograph by Walter Elliott

  • Plant in Fall for a Splendid Spring

    For a profusion of springtime blooms, plant these combos of annuals and perennials in the fall:

    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.

    Photograph by Walter Elliott

  • Table Decor

    The yields of springtime fruits and flowers make beautiful additions to the tablescape 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!

    Photograph by James Farmer

  • 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.

    The Meal

    Photograph by Stephanie Lynn

  • 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

    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!

    Photograph by James Farmer

  • 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.

    Photograph by James Farmer

  • Garden Architecture

    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.

    Photograph by Kate Dowdle

  • 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!

    Photograph by Stephanie Lynn

  • Outdoor Entertaining

    A few tips on garden weddings, events, and outdoor entertaining ventures:

    Photograph by Kate Dowdle

  • 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

    Photograph by Stephanie Lynn

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