Friday, March 30, 2012

It’s Beginning to Look a lot like Easter!

With Easter right around the corner, this Farmer could hardly resist paring some grocery grandeur with garden glam and set this table. I had a writer for of our local newspapers coming for a lunch interview, so I wanted to set a springy tableaux – it can’t get much springier than Easter! 

 

What is so amazing about Easter for my corner of Dixie is this: for me, and many a farmer and gardener alike, the very essence of spring is this benchmark planting date – Easter weekend. It is now safe to plant tomatoes – all veggies for that matter. I always sow my first zinnia seeds on Good Friday.  Geraniums can now cascade down the porch steps. Ferns may regain their lofty airs hanging from porches. This is the first Sunday after the first full moon of the vernal equinox – translated into “winter is gone and it is safe to plant.” A time to plant… if you will… a time for renewal, growth and new life.

 

I use Easter as my safety net for all my spring planting. Nature’s cadence churns its rhythm, designating this time of year as winter’s last call and spring’s major crescendo. With an Easter theme chiming, I thought about a spring picnic, but did not want to force my reporter friend into a pollen clad garden. I chose to bring the garden in – have a picnic luncheon al fresc… al indoors-o. And you know, the mosquitoes and gnats were not a problem at all inside! (Mind you they have emerged here in my Middle/South Georgia neck of the woods – no real winter to speak of, thus we’ll be hauled away by the bugs come summertime.)

 

Red check linens – quintessential picnic. Well, not exactly red – more raspberry – or as Mama says, “Carl,” yes, like a man’s name. Others know the color as coral, but my deep corally red/pink runner was just ready to contrast against my kitchen table and serve as the cornerstone for my tableaux.  “Carl” it is in our family. When the interview commenced, I had to tell the reporter first off about the table, for I have the kitchen table that we grew up with.

 

It is an antique Jacobean, dark English oak ordeal with thick barley twist legs and chairs that weigh at least a ton each. Trust me, I move them daily and have nearly all my life, setting another place setting, etc. I had to tell the newspaper writer that this is where we had big weekend breakfasts, did our homework, where our lunches were lined up in brown paper sacks, made sugar cube igloos for fifth grade projects – this is where my sisters, my parents, and I ate. The dark ring is from a prize begonia I overwintered one year. Ya’ll know how vital a kitchen table is. It is the true heart of the home. I wanted to start the interview with this table, at this table – thus giving provenance to my story and in turn, the story she was writing.

For this picnic, I served one of this Farmer’s staple luncheons – a salmon Nicoise platter – and akin to picnic food since everything served cold. I love this platter. Cold potato salad, the firmness of the cool salmon, the snappy textures of the asparagus, snow peas, cucumbers and baby corn – and the divine capered dill sour cream dolloped on it all. The colors too are springy and fresh and I just adore serving this dish.

 

Aunt Kathy’s heirloom pressed glass strawberry goblets for the tea set the tone for the dessert – a strawberry shortcake.  Her lavender dinnerware juxtaposed with the “carl” checks is just too fun. Pops of yellow tulips cut short in bubbled glass tumblers gave sunny tones to this tablescape and ruffled edged leaves of huechera or coral bells daintily laced the bouquets. The contrast of the chartreuse and the plum leaves is yummy! This spring-time fare is fine enough, but I was ready for some true Easter delights! 

 

Shades of grapey plum, turquoisey aqua, jaded green, salmon hued orange, and rose tinted red eggs set in lavender bowls served as the understory elements to the tulip sprays. I must confess: I truly relish in dying Easter eggs. I love it! Yet, I found these at Publix. Yes, in the grocery store! Besides being gorgeous right out of the carton, they are hardboiled! Egg salad anyone? Yessirree! There is something so luxurious about convenience and these eggs proved that mantra true.

 

So my table is set for Easter – a tad early but set and ready. I can only pray that my heart is set for Easter. Nature’s often bizarre tempo is unfathomable and baffling, yet it always gets jam up and jelly tight for Easter. That is my sincere Easter wish – in the midst of the seasons’ sway and life’s as well, may we be geared up, lined up, and set for Easter. It is beginning to look a lot like Easter and that makes one very happy Farmer!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hydrangeas

It's time to start thinking about my favorite summer flower: the hydrangea. In the past, I've done a lot of writing about hydrangeas, and so I decided to jump into hydrangea plantin' time with a few short videos. Have a look and tell us what you're doing with YOUR hydrangeas this year!


Hydrangea Blue: This Farmer's Favorite Spring Hue from James Farmer on Vimeo.




Hydrangeas: From Pot to Plot from James Farmer on Vimeo.


As always, thanks to Room Eleven Media for producing this videos!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Costa Farms Social Summit 2012

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being invited to the Costa Farms Social Summit put on by Costa Farms and the dynamic and lovely gals over at Garden Media Group. 

Over the last six years, people have become maxed out and root bound when it comes to buying plants. People tend to buy the same plants year after year, season after season: the same fern, the same pansies, the same begonias, herbs and veggies. We need to mix it up and diversify what we're putting in our gardens, y'all, and Costa Farms is here to help! Costa Farms is a company concerned with helping to grow gardeners. Plants are easy to maintain and they are life-enriching--learning how to grow and care for a plant you've never had in your garden before can be such a satisfying and rewarding experience and Costa is just the place to help you branch out of your gardening rut. A recent trip to their amazing farm down in sunny Miami has inspired this Farmer to get his hands in the dirt and get to planting!


One thing to consider in all of this is sustainability. Plants can be a major part of a sustainable, well lived life. Take the very air we breathe: we as consumers spend billions of dollars on figuring out how to make our air purer and cleaner, when all it really takes is a plant--one for every 100 sq feet to be exact. Wouldn't you rather spend our money and resources on a beautiful, living thing than another machine? I’d much rather have a gorgeous bromeliad, orchid or ZZ Plant than another buzzing, humming thing, et tu? We are too plugged in, y'all – it's time to dig in! On that note…

What better way to "dig in" than family gardening? I am a product of family gardening – Mama and I planted dozens of daylilies and daffodils (a great combo mind you, for the daylilies hide the daffodils when they’re through blooming – companion planting at its best!) and my Daddy is keen on organic gardening and knowing where his food is from. Granddaddy taught me so much about roses and tomatoes too, so a bit of family gardening can be a great endowment to the next generation. Gardening can be something that brings us together since everyone can be a part of this activity. That kid who has a knack for cooking? Get him in the garden working with herbs! I have a hard time disconnecting the table from the garden, the garden from the table. What we're eating and decorating with is first   grown somewhere–why not in our backyards? Like I always say: Whether you have a pot or a plot, whatever you GOT, you can grow a garden!

I was invited by the Garden Media Group to spend a few days in Miami to tour Costa Farms and learn about some great plants they have growing. I was like ol Brer’ Rabbit and the Brian Patch – please don’t make me go to Miami, be fed well, learn about plants, tour acres of greenhouses chock full of every plant you can imagine! Ha! Brer’ Rabbit wanted to be in that Briar Patch and I was itching to get to Miami! I cannot dream of a better way to start off the growing than touring THE SOURCE for so much of what we are growing. After traveling down to sunny south FLA and having an amazing meal at Whisk – Southern meets Latin  and truly delicious – our day on the farm could not have been any more amazing. The Costa family, literally, the Costas hosted us as did their farm family. Coming from a tight knit fam myself, I felt right at home with this group. After a brief meeting and touching film on the history of the family and farm, we were out and about!


We kicked off the morning with succulents. I’ve blogged about succulents and absolutely love them. Now, let me introduce you to Alfredo Bergolla. Born and raised in Cuba, he was given his passage to the States because Castro wanted his succulent collection. So he traded his plants for his freedom–talk about the American Dream! Here is another reason why talking to this man about succulents was such a delight.

 
Mimi has always told me about how her Grandmother. They had a close relationship as we do. Her Grandmother, Sarah Ann (as is Mimi’s “other” name since Mimi is more so the norm once you have grandchildren), always had huge jade plants in planters on her porch. They were the stalwarts on either side of the steps leading up to the porch and greeted everyone that passed by her home in Bainbridge. The jades relished the South Georgia climate and the deeper recesses of the porch allowed for spots to grow aloes too. Practical and pretty, these plants looked great on the porch but were a soothing salve to the scraped knees, bumps or burns that grand kids and grand folks alike endure. We too chatted about another Southern garden staple – Hens and Chicks. A succulent for the South if ever there were, these sedums grow in the nature a hen and her chicks do – Mama hen may squat and babies will pop out around! How many times have we seen such delightful combos in old Southern homesteads, clustering around corners or popping out of pots?! Connecting my stories of succulents with Alfredo was such a treat.


One thing Costa Farms offers (beyond gorgeous varieties of succulents you won't find anywhere else) is individually packaged succulents and cacti. And what a beautiful and original idea for a host's gift! I love for folks to leave my home or garden with something tactile that grows into a memory. And, with friends who are often clamoring that they have “black thumbs,” I think succulents are a perfect gift. Since succulents thrive on neglect, they are thus a great gift idea for that friend who thinks s/he can't garden! I guarantee you that you will kill a succulent by over-watering than under-watering! Try some this summer on your porch and in your garden – you too will become a sucker for succulents!

Another fun part of this trip was Project Houseplants. Now, my group had a cluster of common plants to pot up and make a centerpiece. Since I DO that for a living pretty much, I thought this would be too easy and a breeze. Well, there were other designers and plant peeps there too so we had great competitive fun! Give me some little plants, moss and a tablescape any day! On another note, I was completely enthralled that the little bitty plants I was potting were huge in the Miami climate! Miami – where houseplants are hedges!
Lunch in the TRIAL GARDENS … a little slice of heaven!


Ever been to the Garden of Eden? Well I got a glimpse here! After a yummy lunch, more fun started here. You like petunias? Okay. You like purple petunias? Well, which of the 15 purple varieties of petunias do we like best? This bodes true for just about any bedding plant you can think of! In the Trial Gardens, these kinds of questions are answered by professionals in the industry from all over the country. The Trial Gardens are just what their name says –TRIAL (by fire, or in this case, by greenhouse, sun, and garden exposure!)--what grows? Before you even plant that flower in your garden, that variety has been tested and tried for years of seasons to get it to be the hot new flower for your garden this year – these gardens not only help to inform what's happening in the market, but they also help us know more about how to best care for our plants. Read the tag, y'all!


Y'all, we need a whole epistle on the Tropic Escape Hibiscus! How do I even begin… Not everyone can go on a true tropical escape. When we think "tropics," we think hibiscus. The hibiscus is the quintessential tropical flower. So here's an easy, gorgeous way to bring that tropical escape to your porch or patio. Besides being beautiful elements in the garden and the staples of Tom Selleck’s Magnum PI shirt motifs, hibiscus are edible! Great elements for salads, garnishes galore for summertime meals, and of course, this Farmer is going to find a use for them with tea!  Hibiscus is a fabulous accouterment to tea or as a part to my favorite beverage. (In fact, I am fueled by Zoe’s Hibiscus Green Tea – my suburban just automatically stops for a refill! The floral notes are carried on the tamer tones of green tea – as a hot tea or on ice – I simply relish a hibiscus tea!


As for growing your very own Tropic Escape hibiscus, remember where they grow in the tropics… they love FULL SUN, they like water, but they don't want to be over-watered -- well watered, but well drained. Give them some fertilization love as well. Remove any spent blossoms to encourage new ones. A happy hibiscus will make a happy gardener. Some presidents want a chicken in every pot, Costa Farms wants a hibiscus on every patio. And now, there's no reason we shouldn't all have hibiscus outside our front doors.


And here is something so “right on” that Costa is doing – they are making plants like these luscious colored hibiscus readily available on the market. It's incredible the variety of plants that Costa Farms is making available to EVERYONE, not just this hibiscus. If you grab an orchid at the grocery store, I bet Costa Farms grew it. If your porch is bedecked in ferns, they probably had a hand there too. If your trip to the garden center is always capped with the question, “Do you need some plastic for your car?” then yes, you have probably bought a cart full of Costa Farms gems.

Jump into the garden this spring. Get your hands dirty and your brow sweaty – this Farmer surely is and is quite thankful that a big deal like Costa Farms is thinking about home gardeners like me and gardeners like you too! Happy planting!

And a big, warm, Farmer Style hug to the Garden Media Group for bringing together amazing professionals in the garden community to get our plant on in sunny Miami, FL!

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Vintage Affair…Definitely one to Remember

Here is a snippet of the write up for the local presses in Montgomery on a dinner I did for clients to benefit the American Cancer society. This was too much and a true delight! I had a ball setting the tables, orchestrating the flowers and music, and working with a fabulous chef and amazing sommelier.


“In the true finery that comes to be expected with The Vintage Affair, guests were literally wined and dined for the Caldwell Wine Dinner, Friday, February 3, 2012, at a lovely home in Montgomery, Alabama. Benefitting the American Cancer Society, this particular dinner featured the celebrated wines of Napa grower John Caldwell.
From start to finish, guests’  palettes were appeased with perfectly paired culinary delights, created by Chef Rob McDaniel of Spring House Restaurant, and Mayor Todd Strange blessed the meal. From hor d’oeurves of crab and endive salad to scrumptious salads of heirloom beets, preserved kumquat, smoked pecans and Alabama’s own belle chevre, guests began the meal with a delicious manner.

Succulent scallops, fork tender short ribs, puree of apple and sunchoke and various winter crops all rounded out the dishes in fabulous farm to table fashion. A Caldwell Vineyards Syrah Port accompanied a sticky toffee pudding dotted with pistachios and dates for the magnificent ending to the meal.

Author and event coordinator James Farmer set the tone for the evening with boughs of budding white quince, dozens of ‘Mint Ice’ cymbidium orchids perfuming the air, roses in shades of the various wines, hydrangeas, White Parrot tulips, and lemon leaf garlands festooned around the entrance and on the mantle. Tables were set with vintage hotel silver, custom linens, and dinner donned in shades of gold and champagne to continue the theme of the event.

Tunes from “Stars Fell on Alabama” to “Georgia on my Mind” wafted from the grand piano and saxophone accompaniment. Guests slowly danced to such classics after the meal and then joined Dr. and Mrs. Davidson in after dinner drinks and further vintages of Caldwell Vineyard’s best.

Truly an affair to remember – and all for grand cause – The Caldwell Wine Dinner benefitting the American Cancer Society shall linger in the minds of those in attendance. The best food, the best flowers, the best wine and some of Montgomery’s best folks all toasted to a fabulous night.”
 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

From the Farmer's Table: Southern Classic Recipes with a Garden Twist {VIDEO}

These recipes will carry you across what I like to call the Southern Social gamut: wedding showers, baby showers, luncheons, Garden Clubs, you name it. Starting with a fresh herb dip, I'll walk you through simple Southern finger foods that bring the garden into any event! For recipes, click here. Bon appetit, y'all!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Set for Spring

I hope ya’ll have seen the video counterpart, but these still shots were just too much fun not to share!

Green, white, brown, and blue are my favo combos – this combo is truly classic, season-less and timeless! If you are setting a winter tableaux, a summer soiree or an haute holiday spread, greens and whites with accents of blue and grounds of brown are always apropos.

For this verging vernal setting, daffodils, tulips, blue florets of rosemary and tiny candles in varying tiny sizes all conglomerated together on top of my great-grandmother’s silver tray. I love the complement of silver and wood – it is so handsome and the perfect grounding for any event. Mix in shades of green, creams and whites and pops of blue and your table is set!



Blue willow is a favorite pattern of mine. Mimi and Granddaddy spent the first years of their married life in Japan and I just wish they had brought back crates and crates full of, as Mimi says, “our everyday dishes – there were mounds of blue and white! Imari, Canton-ware, the like!!” I love hearing their stories of occupied Japan and, yet, I cannot help but feel their love for that culture, their cherished honeymoon years in a foreign, romantic land, helped, somehow, someway, spawn my love of Japanese and Chinioiserie… from gardens to plates!  I digress..





Another love/passion/obsession is gingham. Checks, buffalo plaids, you name it, I love it! Pairing brown check napkins with blue and white dinnerware is just too much fun. Take a peek in my closet and you’ll see the passion for plaid doesn’t stop with linens. Susie once forbade me to buy any more “checker shirts.” For those who know my “keeper of the house,” you know she’s not joshing with me! A lady of few words, but weighty words indeed! Ha!

Always good-looking and sharp, a combination of a gleaming wood table with blue settings is just itching for green and white flowers (au mon avais). My first daffodils and a few tulips were nodding to the season out in the garden and I couldn’t resist another favorite pairing – silver and mason jars! The table, the dinnerware, the linens ,the candles and silver tray are poised to continue a more formal setting, but plopping the posies in mason jars brings it down a notch – brings it to an everyday luxurious look. Celebrating the season with its floral offerings is a highlight of my “garden living” mantra, and coupling the blossoms, blooms and boughs with simple jars is just enchanting. 




I cannot help but equate such color combos directly back to nature. Browns and blues anchor the natural scene and green is nature’s neutral.  Think about bark and rocks, soil and sky, water weaving together this tapestry of natural delight. White, whether from clouds or snow, sand or fog, highlight the other colors in such a crisp way. If ever in doubt as to who to color coordinate a room, a garden or a table, I always go to some theme, some play on this set of colors – always gorgeous in nature and so true for your home too!

I hope spring has sprung for you and yours, and may a bit of Farmer’s style find its way from your garden to table! Happy early spring ya’ll!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Recent Recipes from the Farmer's Table

Herb Dip
2 cups sour cream
3 green onions
½ bunch flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 tablespoon Hidden Valley dried ranch dressing mix

Chop the onions and parsley finely by hand or in a food processor. 
Add to sour cream with dill and ranch dressing.
Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Serve with veggies, chips &/or crackers.



Thyme Roasted Chicken Salad w/Grapes
4 large chicken breasts
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ cup white wine or water
4 ribs celery, diced
3 cups grapes, halved if large
3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
Mayonnaise

Brush chicken breasts with olive oil; sprinkle with thyme, salt & pepper.
Pour wine or water into pan.
Roast at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
Remove from oven and cover with foil.  Cool before proceeding.
Dice the chicken finely by hand or in a food processor.
Mix with celery, grapes, thyme and enough mayonnaise to moisten.



Salmon Ni├žiose
1 whole salmon fillet
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 cups sour cream
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons capers, drained
2 tablespoons (or to taste) chopped fresh dill
1 bunch asparagus, blanched for 1 minute and shocked in ice water bath
1 carton cherry tomatoes
1 cup whole pitted black olives
3 or 4 hard cooked eggs, halved
½ English cucumber, sliced
Fresh dill sprigs

Brush salmon with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool before proceeding.
While salmon bakes, mix the sour cream, salt, capers and fresh dill.
Place cooled salmon on a serving platter; cover with the sour cream mixture.
Arrange the asparagus, tomatoes, olives, eggs and cucumbers on the platter and garnish with fresh dill.



Rosemary Tea
Dissolve 1 ½ cups sugar in one gallon of hot tea.
Add 2-3 sprigs of fresh rosemary and steep until cool.
Serve or refrigerate.

 


Collard Greens Coleslaw
½ bag (8 oz.) washed and cut collard greens
½ medium head green cabbage
2 green onions
½ bunch flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Mayonnaise

Process collard greens, cabbage, onions and parsley in batches in food processor until finely chopped, being careful not to over process.
Remove each batch to a large bowl.
Add sugar and vinegar and toss to mix well.
Add mayonnaise to moisten.



Pound Cake Glaze
1 cup apple jelly
1 sprig of rosemary
2-3 sprigs thyme
Rosemary and Thyme for garnish

Warm jelly with rosemary and thyme over low heat until the jelly is infused with the herbs, about 5 minutes.
Cool slightly.  Spoon the glaze over cake and garnish with herbs, if desired.

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