Alfresco is one of my favorite ways to entertain. Late September into early October, after the summer swelter has passed, is usually the best time to do it here in Missouri. Fortunately, June was unseasonably cool when this farm-to-table dinner party took place a few years ago at Winding Brook Estate, a 16-acre lavender farm tilled into tidy, fragrant rows by my friends Deborah and Steve Nathe. The occasion: a simple summer respite from the rigors of tending 7,000 lavender plants!

I was honored that Deborah asked me to plan and style her event (one that would be featured in a local magazine, no less). But I also recognized the challenge of adapting my “more-is-more” approach to her minimalist aesthetic. She wanted to keep the party down to earth, yet still give guests that ah-ha experience they’d never forget. Hmmmm . . . simple, yet over the top? Subtle, but showy? What had I gotten myself into, and was it even possible?

Lavender Luxe | Photo by Susan Jackson

As it turned out, it was, and it wasn’t all that difficult. Taking my primary cue from Mother Nature and drawing on the profusion of lavender (everywhere!) and other borrowed odds and ends, I simply buffed up the inherent beauty of the place so it could fully express itself. Here’s how:

1 | Found a Strategic Spot.

After surveying the property, I placed the table on the spot with the most built-in ambience, atop a tiny hill overlooking the Nathe’s most extensive lavender plot (top photo). From every angle, flashes of purple and pink were in plain view – a vivid surround that left the table not needing much. A simple burlap runner and scattered “plantings” of lavender, moss, and rocks completed the table’s less-is-more look.

2 | Went to Seed (Again).

Seed Packet Invitation
Seed Packet Invitation | Photo by Susan Jackson

Okay, so I also used this idea for my mom’s 70th birthday bash around the same time. But it worked well then for a party of similar theme, so why reinvent the wheel, eh? A few weeks before the event, I snapped photos of the Nathe’s lavender plants, grabbed some of their seed stash from the previous year’s harvest, and then combined them into these welcoming seed packet invitations.

A Menu Fitting the Mood
A Menu Fitting the Mood | Photo by Susan Jackson

3 | Served Fitting Farm-to-Table Fare.

The menu (above) was also designed to underscore the overall farm effect. Its ingredients, such as lavender and lamb, were drawn from the farm, as well as the Nathe’s nearby ranch. (Yeah, they’re pretty industrious – they raise grass-fed lamb, too!) Backed with burlap and propped in a bucket of lavender, the menu fit perfectly with the pastoral mood.

Lavender Lemonade
Lavender Lemonade | Photo by Susan Jackson

4. Worked the Iconic Ingredient All the Way Through.

The mood was further reinforced by wending the star ingredient (you guessed it, lavender) into everything from lemonade served up as a thirst-quenching starter to panna cotta (below), the meal’s finale. For those recipes, see Lavender Lemonade and White Chocolate-Lavender Panna Cotta in the recipes section of this blog.

Flower Power
Flower Power | Photo by Susan Jackson

Lavender lent its magic to the tabletop, too, in the form of hand-tied “wands” stolen from the Nathe’s on-farm gift shop (below).

A Pastoral Setting
A Pastoral Setting | Photo by Susan Jackson

5 | Begged and Borrowed.

To fill out the décor without spending a dime, I was quick to steal a few other things as well! Grapevine wreaths, on hand from a previous photo shoot, were turned into quirky, but mood-appropriate chargers. Chairs and benches were taken from various places about the farm and mixed and matched to create the table seating. And funky chandeliers made from emptied soup cans, used many moons ago at my own wedding, were pulled from my basement and dressed up with lavender sprigs and grapevine. Strung from the trees, they cast a comforting glow over the guests long into this memorable evening (below).

Bright Idea
Bright Idea | Photo by Susan Jackson