Country Sampler's Prairie Style - - In The -

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.”

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