summer entertaining – slow and easy

table laid with knife rest and individual salt

Summer is most certainly the season when we entertain the most.   Dining al fresco is only possible for part of the year in Normandy, so we like to make the most of it.   Invitations are often last minute and spontaneous,  decided on a whim because the temperatures are warmer; because we bought something special at the market in the morning or just because good  friends are in town.

The truth is that you don’t need any sort of excuse to organise an impromptu dinner between friends ….. in summertime, the living is most certainly easy.

The same goes for the table, while in the winter I often lay a table with layers of tableware and fancy linen napkins, my summer tables are much more simple.   Just a knife and fork, and if we change plates between savoury courses then my favourite knife rest besides each plate are most useful.  Flatware for dessert is either laid  at the start or later, a silver spoon  brought out with each person’s verrine or little fruit tart.

I generally provide a couple of glasses per guest, to be sure they can enjoy the wine, but also drink as much water as they wish.

table laid with knife rest and individual salt

Of course I can never lay a table without flowers, and at this time of year they are definitely all from the garden.   I prefer smaller bouquets dotted along the table, that can be moved to make space for platters and  never so tall as to hinder conversation.

My other latest favorite on the dinner table  are the tiny individual salt cellars.   The best ones are crystal and silver.   I often come across these at antique and brocante fairs, and now have enough to provide one in front of each place setting.   It’s only a tiny detail, but guests often appreciate the comfort of having their own salt supply.

Candles are a must all along the table, and in the summer as a precaution, I burn a couple of citronella candles on the walls around the table to keep any ‘moustiques’ at bay.

But the most important element to any dinner, and in any season, is the right combination of guests around the table.   With the perfect dose of good humour, lively conversation and ready smile, the most simple meal  becomes a banquet for a king.

I hope you are enjoying your summer entertaining, or if you are in the southern hemisphere, that you are beginning to glimpse the first signs of spring.

Please forgive my silence over the past couple of weeks, I have had back-to-back clients here and a minor family emergency, but now all is back to normal and I’m looking forward to picking up where we left off and enjoying the rest of the summer together.

table laid with knife rest and individual salt

You can follow my pinterest for more inspiration here.

the parterres – a one year update

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The parterres in front of the house were first created 18 months ago, so this is their second summer.   If you are interested you can read the back posts about creating the parterres and choosing the planting schemes, here , here and here

It feels like my readers have been closely involved with these parterres, and with the design of the bed in front of the terrace  I was amazed at the response when I asked for planting suggestions, and tips for maintenance.

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A year on, I thought you may like to hear how things are going, and maybe share your own experience with similar projects.   Have you noticed how gardeners love to share?  Be it seedlings, fruit from the potager or simply advice on what to do, I love this gardening community.

Having hummed and haahed about the edging for the parterres for ages, I finally chose not to put in the box hedging.  There is a big problem with box blight in our area and I was afraid of importing young plants carrying the disease, and seeing it spread to the mature box that we already have here.

Instead I went for variegated lamium (an ornamental nettle), mostly using small cuttings from a plant here.   Was this a good idea?   Well, if you like an unruly, slightly invasive but nevertheless pretty and romantic edging then yes it was.  If you prefer the stricter more formal outline that traditionally accompanies a parterre, then no!  lamium is to be avoided at all costs!

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In the centre of each parterre I planted a weeping white rose called White Dorothy.  They flower in July through to the first frosts and they look great, but I have discovered that they get very top heavy, especially in the rain, and need some serious support

At the end of last summer I was over generous in scattering Nigella and Jacobs Ladder seeds over the parterres, so this year we got a blue jungle of flowers that was pretty but tended to hide the careful grey and white colour scheme beneath

I think this is what gardening and garden design is all about.  Choosing our plants with love and care, encouraging them to do their best, and then stepping back to see how our plans work out.

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 If you have a garden planning story to tell us, please feel free to share in the comments below – thank you for reading me, I hope you are enjoying your garden or window planting wherever you are.

the book tour – or how to live out of a suitcase and remain sane

ideas for a weekend away

As you may know, I have just completed a whirlwind 11 day tour in the US which took me through six States, and to nine wonderful venues.

Who says ‘tour’ says ‘living out of a suitcase’, or ‘survival on the go’ and I thought you may enjoy the few snippets of wisdom that I gained over the past two weeks … mostly a process of trial and error!

Be Prepared!

Make sure that you have all you may need before you travel, because once you are on the road and in the swing of things the last thing you want to do is spend time hunting down a pen, or a tube of toothpaste.

Get yourself a mani-pedi and  a good hair cut just before you leave.    Treat yourself to a few wardrobe additions that will boost your confidence, and make getting ready each day an enjoyable experience.

I built my wardrobe around a few staple pieces from the French designer Gérard Darel.   Its fun to mix and match some quality pieces with other brands, providing you always feel elegant and comfortable

Be Organised!

Fine words from me, a girl generally acknowledged to be more accustomed to winging it than being super organised.

I discovered that the only way to be zen about living out of a suitcase was to have my bags extremely rationalised and easy to comprehend.   Colour coordination is vital, pretty much everything can be coordinated to everything else

Shoes are in canvas bags, toiletries in easy to access vanity cases, or long-zippered pouches and jewelry in small pouches with separate sections.   Underwear is kept together in a linen draw-bag, and the inevitable selection of phone and laptop chargers are tidied into a compact pouch.

shoes in shoe bags for travelling

Make Friends!

When you are away from home you don’t have access to your regular group of family and friends for support and practical back up.  Chances are that if you are nice and friendly to your new ‘friends’, then they’ll be happy to help you out.

One of my most surprising ‘helpers’ during my tour was a cab driver called Bruce in Kansas City.   Not only was he ready to pick me up and deliver me anywhere at any time, he also took care of my dry cleaning and my hairdresser appointment …. in case you’re reading this Bruce:  “Hi! and thank you so much!”

Keep it light!

Few things are worse than heavy baggage when you are on the go.   With a little careful planning it is surprising how far a limited wardrobe can go.

Before I left, I lay everything out in my bedroom and checked that I had an outfit for each signing event, and a few more casual pieces to wear as I travelled

You may be surprised to know that despite being told that the weather would be hot and humid, the most useful piece in my bags was my cachemire button down shawl – perfect for all those air-conditioned cars and planes.

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For my handbags, I took one generous tote that was big enough for my laptop as well as other stuff while on the move, and one small clutch bag, that could be worn cross body or held in my hand,  just big enough to hold my phone, lipstick, a few cards and a pen for
each event.

Shoes were a mix of heels and ballerina flats, with a pair of stacked sandals just for fun.   No matter how dressy, they all had to be comfortable, I had no time for blisters. french country home packing tips

I’d love to hear what your suitcase rules are, and how you best fare when you are on the move …. in the meantime HERE is a little sample of moments from the tour.