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The romantic softly variegated foliage of a dappled willow (Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki’) takes center stage when illuminated at night.

We have recently purchased a fancy new propane fire pit. It is one of those lovely ones with a tile surround large enough to function as a table for your wine glass and snacks and pretty reflective glass through which the flames dance and flicker. Being propane it is a great option for instant ambience without the smoke and with the unprecedented warm temperatures Seattle has been experiencing, my husband and I have found ourselves….RELAXING in the evening! What a concept.

Our usual routine is work, work and then more work. As business owners that also work part time  it seems that there is a never ending list of  ‘must do’s’ from grocery shopping and cleaning to laundry and cutting the grass. Your list may include child care, car pools, sports or music practice. The point is Life can trump Living. That’s why the new book The Cocktail Hour Garden by C.L. Fornari (St. Lynn’s Press, 2016) caught my attention.

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Late afternoon sun can be hot – provide shade structures or a colorful umbrella

The Cocktail Hour Garden gives a plethora of ideas for designing, planting and accessorizing your garden space to offer maximum enjoyment for those couple of hours when you can actually indulge in sitting down. Whether that is an hour before you start dinner with a calming cup of tea or like us, taking your wine glasses (and chocolate) over to the fire pit at dusk to watch the bats start to fly and the stars come out. C.L helps the reader evaluate their current garden and ask what each plant “brings to the party”. How does it support your vision for a magical gathering place for 2 or 20, a space that lures you into the garden at twilight?

For those of us who need help fine tuning that vision C.L. takes the reader through the design and decorating processes step by step, all beautifully illustrated with her evocative photographs. As you turn the pages I guarantee that your heart rate will slow a little and your breathing become easier as you being to imagine the possibilities.

Plant selection is key and C.L. discusses her favorites to include for fragrance, including several that only release their heady scent in the evening. From shrubs and vines to annuals and herbs be sure to include something that lures you outside. We have included several Phenomenal lavender (Lavandula x intermedia ‘Phenomenal) in a raised bed adjacent to the fire pit and I am hunting down the night scented phlox (Zaluzianskya capensis ‘Midnight Candy’) for that area also. Mmmmm.

The colors of the cocktail hour garden are also important; white, silver and soft lavender seem to glow at dusk for example and many examples of great foliage and flowers in this palette are suggested.

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Talking of delicious plants this book also covers fun edibles to include for your cocktail garden design. Imagine reaching over to snip a stem of lemon balm to stir into your iced tea? CL goes much further than that though, with a fabulous chapter called Cocktail Hour Grazing. Here she discusses the new trend in flexible, edible landscaping and provides us glimpses into her  front garden, entered via a rustic arbor, which is an exuberant tapestry of edibles and flowers that frames an enchanting patio. Those flowers attract pollinators (birds, bees, butterflies and more) that add life and movement to the garden – another aspect of garden design that is so vital and helps us re-connect with the natural world around us.

C.L. also discusses the importance of lighting for your cocktail hour garden, from battery operated candles to string lights and professional landscape lighting you can add just the right balance of drama, mystery and intimacy. The leading photograph of an illuminated dappled willow tree shows how effective uplighting can be.

Perhaps my favorite chapter in this book is Conversations with Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Sky. As a designer I pride myself in creating gardens that will be experienced – not just observed and that means engaging all the senses. C.L. addresses this by discussing how our senses communicate with the elements and giving ideas on how to purposefully plan for them. Whether it is by the inclusion of a small pebble mosaic that invites us to touch, or deliberately planting a swathe of tall grasses to move in the breeze atop a windy bluff or incorporating a petite fountain near a sitting porch.

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So I invite you to step out into the garden and simply ‘be’.

The cocktail hour garden is a landscape that reminds us to put …. distractions aside and be in the present moment. It’s an environment that, like a strong ocean current, pulls us determinedly into the natural world and invites us to relax and better sync our rhythms to the flora and fauna around us”.

Enter to Win!

I have one signed copy of C.L.s book to give away to a lucky winner! Simply leave a comment below and you will be entered to win. I will draw a name May 23rd 6pm PST.

Buy your copies here

Follow C.L. on her website, Facebook or one of her two call-in radio shows; GardenLine on WXTK and The Garden lady on WRKO.

And the winner is….

Nancy Daniels!

Congratulations Nancy, and thank you to everyone who entered. I hope the rest of you will purchase a copy through the link given. Cheers!

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