Musing about all the delicious and delectable dinner parties that you'd like to host this Summer? Us too. In our daydream, divine food, bountiful floral displays and even better company and conversation reign supreme.
Of course we like to go one step further and match our chosen blooms to the cuisine we're serving - a medley for the senses, with sight and scent catered to in equal measure.
And so, we spoke to one of our favourite horticulturalists, Rachel de Thame, to raid her enviable knowledge on all things botanical, when it comes to pairing with food at the table. We hope you enjoy!
[ Food & Flower Pairings with Rachel de Thame ]
Can you suggest which flowers/herbs we should adorn our table with, if we're serving these cuisines...
Group individual terracotta pots of Mediterranean herb plants, such as rosemary, thyme and purple sage along the centre of the table, with tomatoes on the vine artfully arranged on the table around them.
Place a row of mini citrus trees in brightly coloured hand painted ceramic pots along the length of the table.
A tabletop meadow of lemongrass strands would be simple, fresh and very striking.
An elegant, understated collection of small vases, each containing a single chrysanthemum, cut to varying heights. Take your inspiration from traditional ikebana arrangements, where less is more and the shapes of the spaces created between individual flower stems are as important as the blooms themselves.
Create a cornucopia of plenty, with bunches of purple grapes and fresh pomegranates, interspersed with corns of wheat or barley. If you're serving Indian food, consider adding sprigs of helichrysum to the table. Also known as the curry plant, the aromatic silver foliage is warm and spicy.
Our affinity with France and love for French cuisine is no secret - what's your favourite French inspired dish and what herbs/flowers would you pair with it on the table?
My husband and I had a small family wedding in the South of France - where we dined on sea bass drizzled with olive oil and black olives and had vases of ivory roses on the lunch table. We wanted to continue the Provencal theme at a party for friends when we got home. Tabletop urns were filled with figs and dangling bunches of black grapes. And sprigs of silver-leafed lavender, tied with ribbon, adorned each place setting, bringing the atmosphere of Provence to the heart of London.
Are there any rules when it comes to food & flower pairings?
It's best to avoid using too many conflicting fragrances, which could overpower the delicious aromas of the food. Better to use fresh versions of complimentary aromatics such as fresh rosemary on the table, accompanying dishes cooked with rosemary. This will add complexity and layers to a multi-sensory dining experience. I also recommend being adventurous and having fun with arrangements. I love to use fresh fruits and even vegetables - I recently included bolted lettuces to give height to a floral display. Edible fresh produce can be wonderfully decorative and summery when combined with flowers, grasses and herbs.
What flowers are your go-to for your table, no matter what dish you're serving? Is there an 'all-rounder' flower that suits every meal?
The most important thing is to use flowers that are fresh and locally grown whenever possible. There are so many wonderful British cut flower growers, producing seasonal blooms, which give a sense of immediacy to any table. I generally prefer to keep things simple, choose whatever flowers are growing naturally at that moment and allow the beauty of individual flowers speak for themselves.
We love creating memorable, meaningful moments at the table and multi-sensory dining has been a mainstay in a our canon for years. Why do you think it's important for families to take the time and eat together, away from the distraction of digital devices, surrounded only by family, food and flowers?
With the relentless, often high-tech pace of modern life, it feels more important than ever for everyone to switch off and really focus on one another when we gather to eat. Noisy cross-generational family meals make for life-long memories. For me, fresh flowers on the table, particularly those you've grown yourself, quite literally grounds you and brings a sense of having contributed to the overall success of the meal. Focusing on the small things, such as the beauty of an individual bloom, is calming and encourages us to live in the moment, appreciate those we love whilst enjoying delicious home-cooked food.
Which herbs do you find most useful and why?
The appeal of herbs, both in the garden and for cooking, is highly personal and can change seasonally. Simply in terms of their unmistakable aromatic qualities, I couldn't do without Rosemary, Thyme, Sage and Basil. Mint and Vervain are also both essential for brewing a refreshing tisane. A few stems of lavender, popped into a muslin bag and tied to the bath taps, will suffuse the running water with fragrant, naturally relaxing aromatic oils.
Can you suggest any tips for our readers who want to grow and cultivate their own herbs at home?
Most of the Mediterranean herbs that we know and love are perfectly adapted to grown in the hot, dry conditions of that area. It can be hard to replicate the same growing conditions in the UK, particularly during a long, wet winter, but a few simple rules will help. Choose a sheltered sunny spot and make sure the soil is really well-drained by adding generous helpings of horticultural grit before planting. Containers are also ideal for growing these types of herbs and if you add a layer of grit on the surface of peat-free compost, the base of the plant won't get soggy and the herbs will be set off beautifully. Softer-leaved herbs, such as parsley, chervil and coriander, can tolerate a bit more shade. Grow them near the kitchen door so they're close at hand when you want to snip off a few leaves.
Where did your fascination with plants, gardens, flowers and all things botanical stem from?
Undoubtedly my family. My father was a keen and knowledgeable gardener and he and my mother, who is an orchid whisperer, often took us to visit famous gardens. My maternal grandmother was also very fond of plants... I think growing things is in the genes! We lived in a house with a sizeable suburban garden which included a rockery, traditional flower beds and space for vegetables and apple trees. My childhood memories are of seemingly endless summers in the garden with my brothers, pressing flowers and leaves and helping my father with potting up hyacinth bulbs.
List your favoured herbs, plants & flowers to pair with food...
Tulips - Gorgeous in bud and even better when the mature stems begin to curve and bend in a vase. With a myriad of colours and shapes to choose from, your table could resemble a Dutch Old Master still life.
Roses - Classic, fragrant and best when cut fresh from your own garden, rather than the stiff, often unscented blooms you sometimes see in supermarkets.
Peony - These sumptuous blooms are the ultimate romantic flowers... a late Spring and early Summer treat.
Gladioli - Banish all thoughts of Dame Edna from your mind... new breeding has brought some wonderful, and very sophisticated varieties, in colours ranging from hot pink, to deepest burgundy and acid green... and they last ages in a vase!
Cosmos - Large daisy flowers on long wiry stems, perfect for an informal cottage garden arrangement. Available in shades of mauve-pink, cerise, pale yellow and orange - my favourites are the pure white varieties, including 'Honorine Jobert.'
Pinks - Sometimes less is more. These tiny carnation shaped flowers in shades varying from white, through the whole spectrum of pinks, to deep crimson, some with streaks and stripes on the petals, have real charm and an old-fashioned appeal.
Dahlias - I'm a dahlia addict and grow dozens of varieties each year. Nothing else flowers generously or comes in such a wide range of colours, sizes and shapes.
Lavender - Simply pop a single plant into an attractive container, for a wonderfully aromatic table centrepiece. Go for a classic hardy English lavender or choose French, which has tufted flowers.
Dill - With it's fantastically architectural greenish-yellow flower heads, dill is one of the best herbs for giving arrangements structural interest.
Grasses - Often overlooked in home grown arrangements, I think grasses immediately bring a more professional quality that takes things to another level. Choose from ornamental grasses such as Brizia Maxima to add movement, Carex for fiery colour, or arching Deschampsia to bring delicacy to floral displays.
Foliage - Leafy stems add texture and balance which can be key to a design. So, raid your garden shrubs and trees for material. Try creating a display using mostly foliage, combined with only a few flowers. The result will be an interesting contemporary twist on conventional techniques.
Seed heads - I love including dried seed heads such as poppies and alliums. Many will add structure well beyond Summer.
Finally, we have to ask, what pieces from S&B are you coveting at the moment?
I absolutely love the Olive Branch Tapered Candle Holders. They'd be the perfect table adornment for a Mediterranean al fresco meal. My perfect tablecloth and napkins would be one of the Bernadette's Falling Flowers designs in lovely, deep forest green. I do have a bit of a 'thing' for vases, so the yellow and green Ceramic Crackled Vases are also on my wish list and would look gorgeous filled with posies of home-gown cut flowers.
A special thank you to Rachel for collaborating with us on this. Be sure to join Rachel for her live webinar: Tulips from Rachel's Cotswold Garden on Wednesday 28th April from 6.00-7.00pm. Rachel will take you on a tour of her own garden, where she's planted a glorious display of around 3,000 tulips. She'll discuss the best varieties and share tips for cultivating and arranging tulips as cut flowers. Tickets will be available soon via Rachel's Instagram page: @racheldethame