Photos: AJ Ragasa (Glasswing)
The sun is out, the air is warm with a gentle breeze, and you cannot wait to have your first of many parties in the garden. This season, instead of just having a party outdoors, try doubling up on nature by incorporating herbs and flowers onto your table and into your decor. Embrace the beauty of nature in your outdoor setting with the aroma from fresh herbs, the color pops and patterns from flowers and, with a little forethought, into garden-inspired take-home gifts.
Being surrounded by nature is a tactile experience. Enhance the senses by bringing your favorite bloom to a centerpiece or adding aromatics to the food or beverage menu. Below are some ideas that will brighten up any garden party by using what you already have in the garden.
A table centerpiece can inspire the theme of a party. Whether it's a color palette, texture or particular type of foliage, try to work in as much of the natural garden setting as possible. Maybe you have wild honeysuckle or clematis vines in your yard that are begging to be clipped or your rosemary shrub has grown out of control. With pruners in hand, add your garden's bounty to your centerpiece. Olive branches, bay laurel, lavender, rosemary and sage are all great base layers to start the arrangement.
Try to have at least one to three "star" elements. These might include larger-faced flowers, vegetables or unique foliage pieces that will make the centerpiece really pop. Artichokes, allium flowers, nasturtiums, fig and citrus all work great as star elements.
Don't worry if your seedlings or veggies have not grown to epic proportions yet. A few small sprigs of your most abundant herbs can be placed in bud vases and scattered along the table to create a whimsical garden tablescape on their own, or can be used in conjunction with a larger arrangement depending on how bountiful your garden has been.
What better way to start off the culinary experience than with a salad featuring edible flowers. Edible flowers tend to have a kick to them that is both sweet and spicy, and their color warms up the salad's palette. There are many tasty flowers to choose from, such as chives, nasturtiums, violets, pansies, lavender, sage, marigold, calendula and roses. Make sure any flowers you use have not been sprayed with chemicals or pesticides. Wash the flowers gently so as not to disturb their delicate petals, and let the flowers air-dry before placing them on the salad. Flowers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge until you need them.
A garden party is the perfect time to share starters of small potted herbs with your guests. Whether you use vintage-inspired terra-cotta pots or some of the old mason jars you've been collecting, having a small herb plant for each guest to take home will make their experience all-encompassing.
If you don't have enough time or plants to do potted herbs, try making cut-herb posy bouquets using a few different herb and bloom sprigs tied with twine. Lavender, sage, rosemary, sweet pea and pansies all look beautiful with just a few stems. Adding a handwritten name tag to each sprig or potted plant will make each guest feel truly special. Keep the stems in water or wait to cut them from your garden until you plan to use them to avoid wilting.
Herbal tea blends are an easy and fun way to utilize all those excess herbs you've been growing in the garden. Drying times for herbs range from five days to a couple weeks, so make sure you start this project well in advance of your party. In a pinch, you can do a quick dry with the herbs in the oven at low heat.
Related: How to Dry Fresh Herbs
Pair your herbs with different spices to create unique blends for each guest to take home. Some options may include: Lavender/Mint/Chamomile, Thyme/Rosemary/Sage and Lemon Balm/Ground Ginger/Mint. Keep tea blends in a glass jar or tin (not plastic) to preserve their taste and freshness.
What better way to cool down from the afternoon sun than by adding delicious herbal flavored ice cubes to your favorite beverage. These can be made in advance and add not only tremendous flavor, but also visual appeal to any basic drink. Try freezing lavender, rosemary, mint or basil and pairing them with lemonade, iced tea or gin cocktails. The flavor only gets better as the temperature heats up.