W ALFRESCO ON THE FARM
What better way to celebrate a sunny afternoon than with a convivial meal under a clear blue sky? To make the day absolutely perfect, savvy hosts start by creating a setting that complements their own unique style of entertaining.
For Michelle Bignell, flowers and food are the principal ingredients she uses to create a memorable feast for her family and friends. And her favorite place to entertain is the garden surrounding the log cabin home she and her husband, Tom, built on the rural plains of Ontario, Canada.
“I use my garden for everything from simple tea parties to big dinner gatherings,” says Michelle, who tends a flower farm on the land that has been in her family for four generations. For outdoor meals, she often uses logs, benches and ladders as stands to hold the sweets and savory treats she offers her guests.
For many of her informal get-togethers, Michelle creates rustic temporary tables by topping hay bales she borrows from her barn with old doors. She spreads a mix-and- match assortment of old quilts on the grass for effortless seating.
“I take my cues from the landscape and use what I have on hand to create an unfussy outdoor oasis in keeping with our rural location,” Michelle explains.
To set a table with farmstead flair, she mixes her grandmother’s cups and saucers,
LEFT: A pair of mature cherry trees add a cloud of color to a garden surrounding the log cabin Michelle Bignell and her husband, Tom, built using aged logs. BELOW: A concrete British hare sports one of Michelle’s garden bonnets. RIGHT: Louis, the family’s 11-year- old shih tzu, surveys his bucolic surroundings while seated in a found, distressed chair upholstered in pink damask. BELOW RIGHT: Baked using an old family recipe, sugar cookies get a floral update when garnished with rose petals and lavender blossoms.
ABOVE: When peonies are abundant, Michelle crafts quick wreaths by tucking water-soaked floral foam into a chicken-wire frame and then inserting the stems into the foam. RIGHT: Figs and fresh mint accompany bruschetta topped with prosciutto and slivers of locally made hard cheese. BELOW RIGHT: A majolica jug brimming with fringed tulips and lilac and vintage goblets filled with pink lemonade sit atop a vintage farmhouse side table. OPPOSITE: An antique chair, votive chandeliers and timeworn linens are some of Michelle’s favorite indoor pieces, which she sometimes brings outside into the garden. “I love how the glass chandeliers sparkle in the sunlight,” she says. her mother’s vintage goblets, and heirloom plates of varied heritage she has acquired on antiquing forays. “I love bringing out all the beautiful dishes and glassware that I sometimes forget to use!” Michelle says. “And my grandmother’s hand-crocheted white tablecloths and doilies pull all of the diverse elements together.”
Michelle credits the women in her family with her love of cooking and baking. “My parents and grandparents grew mainly vegetables,” she recalls. “Everything my mother and grandmother cooked was simple, but very fresh and tasty. I use homegrown
OPPOSITE: Michelle hosts budget-friendly parties by using whatever is on hand. Here, a milking stool holds a teapot filled with sweetened iced tea. LEFT: Wrapping lilac branches and other woody-stemmed flowers together with twine before placing them in a vase helps the bouquet stay upright. ABOVE: Michelle’s home-baked rosemary-flecked focaccia is a family favorite. BELOW LEFT: Rose-petal-adorned sugar cookies, just-picked blackberries and prosecco—life is good! ingredients in my own cooking, and I also follow many of my family’s old recipes.”
She adds, “I like meals at which guests can graze, taking a bite of this and a taste of that. I think that a pitcher of freshly squeezed lemonade and a bottle of bubbly prosecco offer the best of both worlds. Beverages don’t need to be complicated to feel festive.”
Simple but special also describes Michelle’s floral arrangements. “A pitcher of perfect peonies or a bunch of lilacs at their peak are all you need for an alfresco affair when your garden is at its prime.”