Story and Photos by Ashley Bommer Singh

Tying the garden into your next dinner party can make things interesting and fun. We recently hosted friends for a summer garden potluck. The table was set with pink Gomphrena in terracotta pots and daylilies and mint picked by the children that morning. The mint carried out to the cocktails for a refreshing welcome drink. Everyone shared their creations and brought one dish.

The elaborate cheese platter arrived, including one tailored for kids. The salad and beets picked that morning came from a neighbor’s garden. A side salad of fresh peas, radish and feta cheese complimented. There were warm lentils with carrots and garlic. Spicy roasted potatoes with fresh chives. After hanging upside down from a climbing rope hung between an apple and pear tree, the kids ate grass-fed burgers on an Oushak rug under the river birch.

We had a feast surrounded by fireflies under the stars. It takes a village in the summer with school out, and we need each other. My talented event planner friend, Suzi Molak, came early to set the whole table. We picked flowers for the vases. Five families gathered. The party grew like our garden, when more friends popped by for drinks. The children ran free. A sense of happy disorder filled the air with flowers, food, and friends. By all bringing dishes and switching houses each month for entertaining, we manage to stay connected and not overwhelmed.

And by tying the garden into your everyday entertaining, you can feel good about cultivating a strong sense of place. A friend made a dashing pink cocktail with fresh basil, port and bourbon the other day. I was over there helping them plant perennials around their pool. The cocktail was a welcome treat as we added catmint, geranium, scented flowering tobacco and white cosmos “Purity” to the garden. So keep basil and mint (in a pot or it will take over) just outside the door for iced tea or cocktails, not just fresh
pesto and salads.

Entertaining in the garden lets you enjoy the vibrant life all around, so nurture what you love. We add native and tropical milkweed every year. If you plant it, the monarchs come. They lay their eggs. Caterpillars eat the milkweed. You watch the chrysalis become a butterfly. I saw one monarch this morning which made my heart sing.

The bees have feasted on the clover, salvias, Veronica, catmint, African basil and are now moving on to Monarda, Alliums, Agastache, even the Hostas which finally are in bloom. Hostas are an amazing plant. They come up every year stronger and stronger and they are almost impossible to kill. My favorites are the large ‘Blue Angel’ with white flowers and the ‘Patriot’ with variegated leaves and purple flowers. On North facing shady sides, I love tucking the blues in front of boxwood to add depth and soften the lines. Astilbes and Japanese painted ferns are a nice compliment as well.

My Asters are three feet tall so I am cutting them down to grow again and bloom for October. I like making sure the bees have food as long as possible. Another friend mass plants sunflowers for the birds. I have perennial sunflowers in my garden for the bees, transplanted from a neighbor. They tower over me.

British Garden Designer Arne Maynard notes in his book, Gardens with Atmosphere, that “we spend so much time inside looking towards the garden, either from the kitchen sink or preferably from a comfortable chair that the view from the windows is a key to design and planting.” Look out your windows. What do you see? What do you want to see?

Taking a risk, I made a curving path of extra large tumbled bluestone that makes me think of frogs on lily pads. Weeks later and after a lot of digging, children at our summer garden party were hoping from stone to stone down the lawn – just like little frogs.

Our house is playful. The path carries the playfulness outside. Maynard notes, “whatever the style of your interior, the garden should reflect it.” I can’t wait till the gardens near the path start to grow. Hopefully it will be our turn to host the friends again. We can pick a few of our fall Asters and make dishes from the garden and connect once more.

This article first appeared in the July 2019 issue of Middleburg Life.