In honor of our Fall 2011 issue’s theme of “Flowering the House”, we sat down with author and “farm to table” expert James Farmer to discuss the joys of gardening and his newly released book, A Time to Plant: Southern-Style Garden Living.
I felt like my generation needed to hear about one of the most joyous pastimes from the voice of one of their contemporaries. At this stage of life [20's-30's], we’re all getting our first houses, our first gardens… what do we do with them? I love to be able to give seeds or mint as a gift to a new couple or to friends in their new homes. I want them to wake up and realize, “Wow, I can grow a tomato.” I want to teach them about the benefits of a garden and give them that kick in the pants they need to say, “Yes, you can!” There’s a joy in gardening and the knowledge that out of that garden you can eat, you can decorate, you can feed an army. If I can, I’d love to be that voice for my generation.
You do a wonderful job of giving suggestions for seasonal tablescapes, menus, and floral arrangements. It had me wondering: what is your favorite season for entertaining?
Honestly I love fall, it’s the swan song of it all. What’s better than having a season abundantly filled with produce and harvest? In the south, we have this wonderful Indian summer that allows us to have summer vegetables well into autumn. With all of its bounty, textures, and richness, I really do enjoy fall. And then of course, I love capping off the holiday season with Christmas.
Do you have a favorite floral memory from your childhood?
Everyone always asks me about my favorite flowers and I always say hydrangeas. They’re not just blue mop heads. They’re this wonderful flower that can be enjoyed all year–round. You can plant them any way, anywhere, and anytime. My great-grandmother had some huge glory-blue hydrangeas by her side door. They have this fabulously earthy, verdurous smell–to me it smells like the color green. She’d place some of them in a Mason jar or silver bowl, and root the rest, so she could doubly enjoy them. I remember them being on the mantle in blue and white jars. Then she would dry them and decorate our Christmas tree with them. They’re truly seasonless.
I know you grew up steeped in Southern tradition, but at what point did you become passionate about garden living?
I’ve always known where my passion was. Honestly, my mother and grandfather would tell me he’d be holding me in his arms when I was six months old and I’d be reaching for the roses. I love the hymn “Beauty for the Earth” [“The beauty of the earth… the glory of the skies; the love which from our birth…over and around us lies.”] and I put it in the preface of A Time to Plant.” From the garden, to the table, to weddings–flowers should be a part of life. Even if it’s just a rosebud by the kitchen sink that makes you smile. So it’s been an inherent love and something that I’ve always wanted to do. It’s so inspiring to know what you want to do and run with it. My passion happens to deal with beauty.