In summer, the neighborhood Parisian farmers’ markets provide endless inspiration, showcasing the bounty of each season in artistic and colorful displays. In both country and urban venues, French “potagers” or kitchen gardens, featuring a mélange of herbs, vegetables, fruits and flowers planted in intricate designs, are equally inspiring, enticing both the cook and the decorator to conjure up magical creations from the garden.
This season, why not take inspiration from the summer harvest and the French approach to dining in style and create your own festive menus and table décor? Here are four ideas for garden-themed summer soirees – Enjoy and bon appétit!
Jardin Classique. In a Parisian townhouse garden in the Trocadero, elegant green and white flowers, including viburnum, hydrangea, and garden roses, provide a serene setting for an al fresco meal and offer an inviting theme for summertime entertaining.
A dinner party in a classic garden could be casual or formal, depending on the table décor – white Limoges dishes with gold trim and cut crystal stemware would impart a formal feel, while creamware dishes, perhaps in a modern square shape, would set a more casual tone.
To complement the backdrop, create natural, unstructured table centerpieces in shades of white or green, using garden flowers such as hellebores, hydrangeas, and trailing jasmine for a lush seasonal look. In the Jardin Classique style, a perfect menu would include escargot, crab-stuffed tomatoes, and roast duck with raspberries, followed by a decadent cheese course and a fluffy chocolate soufflé. Start your evening with a local red, white or rose wine, sip a Bordeaux or Burgundy wine with dinner, and pop open champagne for a festive finishing touch.
Jardin de Loire. The exquisite chateaux and gardens of the Loire Valley in France provide the perfect inspiration for a woodlands-themed garden party. For this style, use lush greens – ferns, raspberry leaves, and berried ivy, along with flowers in rich shades of plum and lavender, styled into natural bouquets presented in moss and fern-covered containers.
The goals are to emphasize several textures and varied hues, and to create a romantic ambiance using candles and rustic accoutrements, including branches, burlap linens, and woodlands flowers.
For the table setting, select rustic stoneware – perhaps featuring a hunting theme or a bird and ivy motif to create a sense of charm and whimsy. Craft a menu that is similarly rustic and casual – start with a regional paté and crusty bread, followed by a coq au vin or a roast chicken and a gratin of vegetables, finishing off the meal with a green salad and a seasonal tarte. Pair a chardonnay or rosé with the starter and main course, and serve a chenin blanc with the tarte tatin.
Jardin de Matisse. The inspiration for this entertaining style is Henri Matisse – the artist known as the master of color. In a Matisse-inspired garden vignette, there are riotous sweeps of summer color, laid out in bold and painterly patterns.
For table décor, create a modern and sophisticated display using bright colors in a lively mix – fuchsia, pink, orange, turquoise, and chartreuse linens and dishes combined with seasonal flowers such as roses, peonies and hydrangea.
To complement this vivid setting, select an equally forthright menu of salad nicoise, trout with almonds and green beans, followed by a colorful cheese plate and capped off with summer fruit – raspberries and mangos topped with a creamy sabayon. With this meal, your guests will enjoy rosé, pinot blanc, and a fine champagne.
Jardin Provencal. The Provencal region in the south of France is known for ancient chateaux, charming farmhouses, and endless fields of sunflowers and lavender. The idyllic landscape, divine cuisine and brightly colored décor comprise the hallmarks of French country style.
To capture the spirit of the south of France for your summer soiree, decorate with Provencal fabrics and accessories in bright shades of yellow, red, blue and green, mixing and matching linens and patterns, accenting your table with bouquets of sunflowers and lemons.
Whip up a simple and rustic menu using fresh seasonal ingredients: smoked salmon with spinach in a puff pastry crust, served with a whole roast artichoke and asparagus, followed by fromage blanc in a bed or crème fraiche. Rosé and semillion wines would be a perfect complement to this lovely meal.
End note. For a festive summer soiree in the French garden style, start with an overarching concept or theme, choose table settings, including linen, china, glassware and silver that carry out the theme, create decorations and bouquets, always using fresh, seasonal, natural materials, and select a menu that complements your theme.
Above all, create a gracious, warm and inviting experience for your guests – one that they will enjoy, remember, and want to repeat again and again.
Laura Dowling is Principal of Intérieurs et Fleurs in Old Town Alexandria and writes and lectures on flowers in the French style. For additional ideas and inspiration, visit her web site at www.lauradowling.com