Veggie Gardens, Cocktails, and Marital Harmony

– Posted in: Book reviews, Vegetables

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.


A toast to the growing season! Even those who grow vegetables in raised beds could put a small table near the garden to celebrate the beauty of their summer bounty.

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.


Red noodle bean has become one of my must-grow vegetables. Unlike the burgundy string beans, they keep their color when cooked.

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.


I was thrilled with how the small pots transformed the look of row markers.

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.]


I took this shot in a community garden I visited with a group from The Garden Writer’s Association. I’m thinking the gardener was sending a message to someone…

About the Author

C.L. Fornari is the author of The Cocktail Hour Garden and Coffee for Roses. She gardens at Poison Ivy Acres on Cape Cod and can be found online at

If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It’s a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it’s time to reflect on what’s come before.

~Mitchell Burgess in Northern Exposure

Comments on this entry are closed.

Misty Wickline May 21, 2016, 12:37 am

I like spring time of the year, the time when we can all get out into the garden and start thinking happy thoughts of warmer days. This article is an inspiration for me by which I can make some improvement in my back yard.

Alana May 15, 2016, 4:18 pm

That is such a wonderful idea, but we would then have our cocktail hour in our community garden just a few feet from busy Interstate 81. (I got such a kick out of that garden photo with the gloves, by the way!)

Thalia Cleveland May 13, 2016, 8:30 am

Thank you for the sweet reminders of being in the garden we work so hard on. Having a cocktail hour enjoying the beauty of our hard work is such a great idea! I look forward to reading more.

Louise Oppedahl May 12, 2016, 10:34 pm

Each of us is always right! That’s my husband and me. I love picking something from the garden for dinner. I love the idea of a couple of chairs and table in the garden. Thanks.

stephanie May 12, 2016, 9:30 am

Such a lovely article ! So interesting and delightfully true. The ideas are wonderful and full of life. Thank you so much for the information!

Joanna May 12, 2016, 7:55 am

That is what we need to do. It seems we are always working to make a delightful scene, but we rarely sit down long enough to really enjoy it. Thanks for the article. 🙂

John May 12, 2016, 2:11 am

What a great article! Good to see you are working together in the garden maintenance space. Great read – thanks!

V. Sam May 11, 2016, 11:50 pm

Hello C L Fornari, It is remarkable how you have connected the harmony of your married life with the beauty of your garden. The practical nature of your husband and your sensible touch is the perfect combination for maintaining a garden. I will be looking forward to your newly signed book “The Cocktail Hour Garden.”

Jenny May 11, 2016, 7:12 pm

Oh! How I often wish I could sit in my garden every night with a cocktail-but there is dinner to be made. I need to get the meal done ahead so I can do that. This book might just inspire me to get the job done.

Beth May 11, 2016, 10:28 am

What a lovely ritual for warm spring and summer evenings! We have a bench in our kitchen garden, but we hardly ever sit there. Good ideas! -Beth

Lita Sollisch May 10, 2016, 6:14 pm

I h=never know what to do with all those small clay pots I’ve collected over the years. Now I know. Thanks for that great idea.

Mary May 10, 2016, 10:35 am

Loved this article especially, although I always enjoy reading your blog. Loved your honesty re the hubs and had to smile as mine is quite similar. I do not grow vegs (too much wildlife) but always like to read about artistic veg gardens. A drink on the patio after a long day sounds wonderful, I need to make the time to do this!

Cindy May 10, 2016, 8:45 am

What a wonderful idea! Bravo!

Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern May 10, 2016, 7:33 am

Oh, I laughed at so many points in this post! Firstly I love to have a martini in my garden at the end of the day. Secondly I confess I sometimes cannot bear to harvest some of my garden because it looks so pretty to me! This year I have built a patio in the garden – in the Potager! So far it’s been wonderful to gaze upon the vegetable beds (although somewhat empty right now). Thirdly, I LOVE those red noodle beans – I’ve tried to start from seed for two years without much success and thought maybe our climate was just too darn cold but boy have you proved me wrong! Lastly, I have quite a collection of old gloves I’d put over my stakes and yes, use the middle finger – to the cats and big fat rabbit! Ha ha. Love the little pots on the stakes – so “potagery.”

Kathy Purdy May 16, 2016, 6:58 pm

Just to be clear, this is C.L. writing about red noodle beans and she is in a warmer climate than you are. I have no idea if climate is the problem as I’ve never grown them.–Kathy of CCG

Sue Ulrich May 10, 2016, 7:29 am

cOcktails in the garden is a great idea. On the front end of the day, I like to do tai chi in (or next to) the veggies!

Kelly M May 10, 2016, 5:16 am

What a wonderful idea ! We also like to sit on the deck in the evening but you have inspired me to find a way to get closer to the garden. You are right – the season is far too short to miss out on a moment in my garden. Thanks.

Lisa Buckley May 10, 2016, 4:54 am

I am buying a house for a first time and aspire to have gardens where I can have a cocktail

Beth @ PlantPostings May 9, 2016, 9:40 pm

Lucky you to have a hubby who enjoys gardening with you! My better half gets the kudos for vision with the hardscapes and the special projects, so I’m blessed, too. We frequently convene for discussion on the patio or in the sunroom with glasses of wine after dinner, but we haven’t made it a regular habit. That’s a great idea!

Joanne Toft May 9, 2016, 1:10 pm

I love this idea! My veggie garden is in the front of my city yard but a little table and chairs would be a fun addition. I will have to go hunting. I will love to read this new book – to build new ideas for my front yard garden. Thanks for sharing!

Diane Cooney May 9, 2016, 12:06 pm

Love the article and pictures. Definitely a book for my library

Samantha May 9, 2016, 8:02 am

We are working towards a cocktail garden at our house! Our lot is quite small and very shady, so I’m always looking for ideas. And living in northern Vermont there isn’t a long season, so you really need to get those cocktail hours in!