“By all these lovely tokens September days are here,
With summer’s best of weather
And autumn’s best of cheer.”
Helen Hunt Jackson
When summer’s sultry heat has abated and the leaves have just started to turn is a wonderful time to enjoy some fall alfresco dining. Take a cue from nature and highlight autumn’s gorgeous jewel shades in your table setting. Start dinner a bit earlier to catch the setting sun and share some easy conversation around a table set under the early autumn sky. Bring in some candlelight and break out the sweaters to stretch the evening under the stars.
“Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine to the mind.” Luther Burbank
One of my favorite challenges is to create floral arrangements out of what is blooming in my garden, no matter the season. Come fall, the selections are fewer but no less interesting. I was hosting a large group recently and needed several floral arrangements to place throughout the house. I went foraging in my garden and this is what I was able to find to work with:
- persicaria ‘Red Dragon’, for its pretty purple and green foliage
- hydrangea, in various stages of colors from green to deep pinks
- astilbe in its post flowering seed stage
- a few yellow annual dahlias still blooming in a planter
- hardy begonias both for their delicate pink flowers and for their striking heart-shaped leaves
- sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, still in its green stage
- a single ‘Pierre-Auguste Renoir’ rose
I will show you half a dozen way I used different combinations of these flowers to create beautiful arrangements, all a bit different from one another. Even when I didn’t think I had very much to work with and I was ready to run out to buy flowers, I managed to create seasonal centerpieces and hope to give you ideas to do the same.
For the bar area I created a tall arrangement in a birch bark container using astilbe, sedum, hydrangea, upside down begonia leaves and feather clusters in autumnal colors. I started with a tight bundle of astilbe. I then wrapped sedum around their stems. Next came a crown of hydrangeas just beneath the sedum. I finished the arrangement with upside down begonia leaves for their striking pink color. I just gathered the flowers in hand and tied the stems together with an elastic band to keep the arrangement tight. I stuck the feathers in last. This is my favorite creation by far. Doesn’t it look like it came from a high end florist? Continue reading
“The best way to eat crabs, as everyone knows, is off newspaper at a large table with a large number of people.” Laurie Colwin
A crab boil is one of the easiest summer entertaining parties to host. Low on stress and high on fun, I make mine even easier by ordering the crabs already cooked, encrusted in Old-Bay style seasoning and picked up piping hot, right before guests arrive. Where we live these red-shelled beauties are Maryland blue crabs from the Chesapeake. Their Latin name, Callinectes sapidus, means beautiful swimmer. Their flesh is sweet and succulent and they are in season now. Aren’t they gorgeous? Continue reading
This rich chocolate torte is almost too good to believe. With just 3 ingredients which come together in a few minutes, it is decadent and very satisfying with a texture reminiscent of lush chocolate fudge. Baking the cake in a water bath helps keep it moist. There is no added sugar in the recipe and the sweetness comes exclusively from the chocolate you use. I find dark chocolate sweet enough but if you prefer your dessert sweeter, go with milk chocolate or maybe half milk/half dark. It is a decadent dessert so cut it in small slices. It will easily serve a dozen guests. To change it up from my usual recipe, I added a layer of ganache on the top of this version simply made by melting a Godiva dark chocolate-blood orange chocolate bar right on top of the warm cake. So easy! To finish it up, I sprinkled candied orange peel all over the top and served fresh orange slices on the side. A truly special dessert for holiday entertaining. Love the chocolate and orange combo of flavor but don’t want to fuss with the chocolate ganache layer and candied orange peel? Just add the zest of 1 orange to the batter and serve with fresh orange slices. Did I tell you the cake can be made up to 4 days in advance???
“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree long ago.”
Some seek the sun. I prefer a respite from the sun, yet still spending a lot of time outdoors. I took shade for granted until neighbors cut down mature trees between our yards and we lost the shade we had designed a patio around. Overnight, we stopped using this patio which had been a favorite spot for reading and dining next to a peaceful water feature. It made me sad to be unable to enjoy this beautiful space anymore. We recently came up with a solution for this dilemma which gave me the idea to write about shade. More on that later.
Offering shelter from the sun creates cooler, comfier spaces and enhances existing outdoor spaces for maximum enjoyment. It is possible to let the sun shine and enjoy being outdoors without soaking up the damaging UV rays. Designing pockets of shade is just as important as the plantings in your garden. Shade also reduces stress on plantings and decreases watering needs. Here are some ideas to help you create nice shady spots, shielded from harsh rays and sizzling temperatures.
1) Garden Umbrellas
The easiest way to create shade is to add an umbrella over your outdoor table. Obvious. Near our dining table we had created an outdoor seating area to lounge and read. The problem was it could not be enjoyed for 90 percent of the day because it was in full sun. Enter the off-set, free standing umbrella. I fought my husband on this one. I thought 2 umbrellas near each other would look tacky. I thought it was gimmicky to get one of these giant umbrellas with adjustable positioning. Boy, was I wrong. This seating area is now one of my favorite places to enjoy the garden and entertain. It gets used daily and is shady almost all day long. To minimize competing umbrellas, we matched their colors. Our umbrella, a special-order from Home Depot, came equipped with a canopy-top solar battery that powers a series of mini lights that run along the umbrella’s ribs and cast lovely whimsical star-like lighting at night as an added bonus.
“Porches are America’s lost rooms.”
Barbara Grizzuti Harrison
One of my favorite spring rituals is setting up the front porch for warm weather living. This year, I looked at the porch furniture coming out of storage and suddenly felt I had it all wrong. I decided to move everything around. Do you ever do this? I really love the new design so much more and can’t figure out how I didn’t set it up this way all along. The porch seems more spacious. The conversation easier. Movement around the porch smoother. There is much more of the pretty outdoor rug, my design starting point, to see and enjoy. I even had room to add a bar area! It’s not a huge space but it lives big. I had to laugh, as I sat on my “newly” designed porch reading the latest Architectural Digest issue, when the words of Bunny Williams, a favorite designer, jumped out at me: “I get so upset when people ask what’s new in decorating? Just take what you have and make it look new.” Point well taken Bunny!
You can read about how I first created an outdoor room on the front porch here. Tour the redesigned space and let me know which version of the porch you like more. But don’t be seduced by those gorgeous blue hydrangeas on the old porch….They’ll be making another appearance at a porch near you, soon!
One of the biggest changes I made was moving this console table previously used as a room divider to the focal point of the porch. The plate rack with its bird house and green tole garden plate was already on the wall. It makes so much more sense to put the console there. The lanterns and urn are the same as when the table was on the side of the porch. Now they really all work together. The table is also in the middle of the seating area and can be used to serve food when entertaining on the porch.
Treating you to lots of eye candy today to inspire your spring or Easter décor and entertaining! From the welcome of spring blooms on our front porch to Easter around the house and at the table, there are ideas galore to take away. Enjoy!
An ice cream parlor chair repurposed into a planter greets visitors with a chalkboard welcome sign. Tutorial here.