My husband and I have two important summer rituals. The first is the planting of our vegetable garden. It’s actually amazing that we get this accomplished in any accord because in general we don’t usually work well together. He and I each think we have a better idea about how a given task should be done. And each of us is absolutely convinced that we’re right. Somehow we manage to work together peacefully in the vegetable beds however, and one of our favorite things is to go into this garden at the end of the day and ask, “What’s for dinner?”
Our other summer custom is to put aside all work and digital devices in the early evening and sit in the garden for the cocktail hour. It’s a time to reconnect with each other and the natural world. We relax and appreciate the landscape, watch the wildlife, and pause to count our blessings.
Most of the time we’re sitting on the back deck, but lately we’ve been moving this practice into the vegetable garden. Let’s face it…even with crop-extending practices and an emphasis on cold-tolerant plants such as Tuscan kale, when you garden in temperate climates, the growing season is short.
One evening a few years ago, as I harvested snow peas to dip into the hummus and picked nasturtium leaves to make goat cheese wraps, I was struck by how beautiful the vegetable garden is at the end of the day. Why are we taking our hors d’oeuvres out of this lovely garden instead of enjoying them right here? I asked myself. Why shouldn’t we take every opportunity to celebrate the place where we raise the best tasting food on earth?
This began a new tradition: cocktail hour in the vegetable garden. I took a lightweight bistro table and chairs into the center of the veggie beds and we had an instant place to relax and enjoy how the garden looks while we grazed on the produce.
The setting sun backlights the chard, making me glad that I’ve planted a combination of varieties. Rainbow and Peppermint are especially lovely as the sun illuminates the reds and yellows of their stems. The sugar-snap peas and cucumber vines also show well as warm sunlight streams through the rebar fencing that supports them. The red noodle beans (really a cow pea) that hang down on an arbor at the garden’s entrance sometimes seem to glow.
Beyond the vegetables themselves, the stakes in the garden make me smile. These were the solution to of one of the few veggie garden disagreements that I’ve had with my husband. Dan is a very practical guy who is sometimes more interested in function than form. He’s also a scrounger who loves nothing more than recycling found materials in the landscape. While I find this admirable, occasionally I object to the look of this repurposing. I might acknowledge that what he’s done is practical, but find it not especially attractive.
The marking of the rows in the vegetable garden is an example. Dan has long taken assorted wooden stakes of all heights and weathered appearances for use as row markers and hose guides. These stakes are free and completely functional, but I was less than thrilled with their ramshackle appearance.
So last summer, before stopping work for the cocktail hour, I walked into the garden shed and pulled out stacks of small, clay flowerpots. Where do these tiny pots come from, anyway? I never plant things in a pot so small, yet over the years I’ve accumulated dozens of them. Now, suddenly, they were useful. I topped each stake with a small pot and what was ramshackle instantly became transformed into charming.
When I posted a photo of this onto my Facebook page someone asked, “What are the flower pots for and do they work?” I replied, “They are for ornament, and they work perfectly.”
Sitting at the small bistro table, sipping a Garnishes’ Revenge cocktail, (recipe on page 156 of The Cocktail Hour Garden) I appreciate the whimsical touch provided by the flowerpot-covered stakes. We toasted the beautiful garden, the delicious flavors of the fresh-off-the-plant hors d’oeuvres, and the creative ways we cultivate marital harmony.
Win a copy of The Cocktail Hour Garden
Want to know more about creating a garden you can relax in during the “cocktail hour”? C.L. Fornari will give away a signed copy of her new book, The Cocktail Hour Garden, to one person chosen randomly from all the comments received by May 15, 2016. When you comment, make sure your email address is entered correctly, as that is how you will be notified if you are the winner. [Update: A winner has been chosen and notified. The giveaway is over.]