Waterside Supper with Riparian Entertainments
Yes, I am a sucker for Hyacinth Bucket (it’s pronounced Bouquet) and her antics. The title of this article suggests supper by the water. If you’re not familiar with Hyacinth and the British sitcom, Keeping Up Appearances, search it out and you will not be disappointed. Every time Hyacinth, with a critical eye, dusts the leaves on her rose arbor or chastises her neighbor, Elizabeth, for climbing the garden wall inappropriately, I guffaw. But one thing I have in common with Hyacinth is her love of entertaining.
I remember, as a child, going out onto our deck on a summer weekend morning with mom and dad to eat breakfast. Our deck faced west, so the sun was just poking above our roof line from the east as we enjoyed the last of the cooling shade before the rear yard was awash in sun. We had a small water garden between the deck and house just under my bedroom window. Surrounding the water’s edge were splashes of color from spring until fall.
There were wild strawberries, daffodils, and poppies in spring, coreopsis, lavender, and roses in summer, sedum in autumn. A St. John’s Wort stood in the center and shot yellow blooms from its arched stems pointing in every direction. It was like the “More You Know” shooting star but in our garden. A fountain provided the sound of splashing water in the small pond that also played host to a variety of wildlife.
Along the outside edge of the deck, more sun-loving plants could be found. The corner was anchored with a Hydrangea paniculata Vanilla Strawberry™. Bearded iris, phlox, and obedient plant all took turns showing their glory. Andromeda was on the other corner, ever slow growing, but beautiful and mesmerizing when in bloom. Mom’s love of roses was displayed as they wrapped around the corner of the deck.
The deck had been built over top of an existing concrete porch. Dad designed and built the deck and its open pergola top. I remember helping him as much as I could at the time, but I was just a wee little lad. There was an upper deck, straight out from the French doors and dining room, and a lower, smaller deck near the water garden. We had tables and chairs on both tiers, and always welcomed visitors and family outside, weather permitting.
On the north facing side, mom planted Joseph’s Coat climbing roses, to see how they’d do. They probably needed more sun, but they still reached for the sky and bloomed every year. We had so many different types of roses I lost count.
There was also an aroma in the air during these mornings on the deck; it might have been the dew lingering on the lawn because it reminded me of those moments just after it starts to rain. I ate breakfast while they enjoyed a cup of coffee and read the newspaper or Parade magazine. This may have been the catalyst to my connection with eating and enjoying life within the garden.
If we were not on the deck, we may have been taking a stroll in the garden or playing on the lawn. There was something to do for everyone, which perhaps has guided me in designing for others.
Try including some design elements throughout your outdoor spaces. Make sure you have an area for dining, especially if you like to feed your guests as part of the “riparian entertainments.” Provide some cover to help make the space more intimate and charming, as well as casting some shade during the day. This could just be an extended tree limb that overhangs the table—try incorporating lights for evening soirées that hang off the branches or from post to post on a pergola. Provide a space for lounging and relaxation. Don’t forget a little open space for the kids to play and pets to frolic. A privacy buffer that includes a variety of plants at different levels—and hides nosey neighbors—is always a good idea too.
Whatever you do, be yourself, have fun, and take joy in your surroundings. Entertaining should be about having good times with family and friends. Come join Hyacinth and me in the garden, and as she would inevitably exalt: “I would be very pleased if you would accept my invitation to one of my candlelight suppers.” ▼
Eric W. Wahl, RLA is a landscape architect at Element Design Group and president of the Delaware Native Plant Society.