From yard to family table!

By Kaitlyn Yarborough
April 24, 2020
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Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

When Lauren Liess isn’t designing someone’s dream home; writing her blog, Pure Style Home; publishing interior design books (she’s written two so far); or raising five kids, three dogs, and the occasional gaggle of geese—yes, really—you’ll find her in the yard. “It’s cliché, but my garden is truly my happy place,” she says.

Liess, who runs an interior design company with husband David in Great Falls, Virginia, likes an indoor-outdoor type of lifestyle and cites fresh flowers, good food, and music as a few of her favorite things—all of which are found at weekend brunches and afternoon gatherings hosted in her yard.

In tandem with Liess’ trademark easy-living design style, the not-your-grandmother’s garden parties are made bespoke by using whatever’s ripe and in season at the moment. She primarily goes with the vegetables, flowers, and herbs she and her kids pick from the raised beds surrounding the outdoor entertaining area. (“I’m not very big on prepping things in advance!” she says.)

Steal the Southern Living 2020 Idea House designer’s tailored tips for a stress-free backyard party.

Start Small, and Grow at Your Own Speed

“I’ve loved flowers for as long as I can remember,” Liess says. “When I was in high school, my mom let me create a secret garden behind our house with things I transplanted from all over.” For novices, she suggests keeping it simple and having fun. “We started small 10 years ago, but every time we’ve moved, I’ve made the kitchen garden bigger,” she says.

Grow Vegetables You Actually Want To Eat

Liess begins early by planting lettuces, other greens, and hardy herbs that can handle cold weather and then waits to plant everything else (tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, and beans) until after her area has had its last frost, typically by early May. “I don’t really coordinate anything first,” she admits. “I’m too impatient and just dig in.”

Left: Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller
Right: Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

Let the Children Harvest

“My kids seem to eat so many more vegetables when they’ve had a hand in growing them,” she says. “I give them baskets and tell them to pick away. It’s definitely a family tradition we’ll keep around for years to come.” Serve the veggies on a charcuterie board or in seasonal dishes like tomato gazpacho and a casual beet or carrot salad.

Just Add Water

Install a drip-irrigation or sprinkler system to reduce worry when you are traveling or busy. “I felt like a terrible gardener until we got one!” Liess says.

Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

Create a Low-key Setting

“Food always seems to taste better outside, and the kids end up running around and having fun instead of asking when dinner is ready,” Liess says. “I love having a full-size dining table out there to be able to eat with my family. That’s when I’m happiest.” She recommends setting out as many casual flower arrangements as possible, turning up the music, and taking the trash can outside for easy cleanup. For a rustic arrangement, gather on-hand greenery, like carrot stems or hosta leaves. For blooms, Liess uses store-bought Queen Anne’s lace or goldenrod.

Left: Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller
Right: Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Buffy Hargett Millet

Build the Perfect Charcuterie Board

“Stick to delicious but simple ingredients,” she advises. “It doesn’t have to be fancy.” Start by grouping cured meats, cheeses, nuts, olives, sliced vegetables, and bread on a board before corralling liquids like pesto and honey into small bowls. “Serve those along with any other random thing from the garden, fridge, or pantry that needs to get eaten!” Liess adds. Having extra snacks on hand ensures the kids (and adults) don’t get “hangry.”

Use Herbs in Creative Ways

“Basil is always my go-to,” she says. Homemade pesto is the favorite dipping sauce when her family and friends pick veggies in the garden. Set it out on the table for easy dunking. Liess says she also uses rosemary, fennel, mint, and dill to create “the tiniest little arrangements” to place in the kitchen or scatter around the house.

Left: Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller
Right: Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

Throw Together an Easy Dinner

Liess doesn't stress the meal components; letting the garden inspire her menu. Try her best garden aperitif: a fizzy Prosecco spritzer muddled with fresh mint and garnished with in-bloom nasturtium petals and peach slices. For a nice side salad combine thinly sliced onions (marinated in olive oil and vinegar), rainbow chard, Bibb lettuce, kale, nasturtium petals, and dandelion leaves. Presto!