Orchard Dinner, Carmen Johnston Gardens, Photo by Hector Sanchez

Gatherings with friends and family are now an option again, thank goodness, and here’re my top six tips for creating summertime entertaining memories.


Orchard Dinner, Carmen Johnston Gardens, Photo by Hector Sanchez

Photo by Hector Sanchez

Create Summertime Entertaining Memories

How many brunches and dinners have you been dreaming up in the past year?!  I want to inspire your events, big and small, by helping you personalize your entertaining. We are so excited its 2021!

Last summer, at a socially distanced event, we invited family and friend pods over for an Orchard Dinner at our Johnston family farm pecan orchard in Thomaston, Georgia. The goal of the evening was to support local chefs and growers who were really struggling during the pandemic while helping our guests connect in a safe environment.


2020 Orchard Dinner, Carmen Johnston Gardens, Photo by Hector Sanchez

We collaborate with Epic Restaurant chef Jamie Keating on the delicious Orchard Garden dinner! (Photo by Hector Sanchez)

It was a really special evening and I’m sharing my top tips to make my parties, events and dinners memorable. These beautiful photos were captured by a friend from my Southern Living days, talented photographer Hector Sanchez.

1. Invitation – Paper invitations are still so special and you can find great choices at your local paper goods store.  I’d also suggest you check out my friend, Kat McCall Papers, to help you really honor a moment. She’s so talented! And, if all else fails, why not create something on Canva to email your friends.  No matter the format, I think a thoughtful invitation really makes the evening special from a family reunion or birth celebration to dinner for friends in your backyard.

2. Create A Special Table – Don’t let your family pieces languish in a china cabinet or linen closet. For the Orchard Dinner, I brought out my vintage linens, heirloom silver and Italian terra cotta. Weave together pieces which mean something, maybe even collected from a trip. And, don’t worry about being matchy matchy. A table set with special family mementos will mean so much more to your guests!


Orchard Dinner, Carmen Johnston Gardens, Photo by Hector Sanchez


3. Snip & Clip Your Center Piece – You know I have a lot of gardening philosophies and snip and click is one of my favorites for table centerpieces.  Head outdoors and gather greenery and seasonal blooms from your yard like hydrangea, iris or fresh herbs.  See what is flowering in your yard and use it.  You might want to supplement with flowers from your local vendor and consider using live plants or a small container garden.  Your guests will enjoy the flowers for the evening and you can enjoy for days after!  For the orchard dinner, I used multiple tables and made sure each had a unique theme so guests had fun exploring each one!

4. Personalize The Menu – Head to your local produce stand as you start to plan your menu.  I collaborated with my friend, chef Jamie Keating, owner of the four diamond, Triple AAA award-winning restaurant Epic, in Columbus, Georgia.  Jamie curated the menu combining seasonal pickings based on elements which mean something to our family and named the menu items to reflect our family and region’s history.  Take a look at the fun menu here!


Orchard Dinner Menu, Carmen Johnston Gardens, Photo by Hector Sanchez



Sliders, Orchard Dinner, Carmen Johnston Gardens, Photo by Hector Sanchez

Three sliders were named R.E.D. after the three individuals that bring ultimate joy to our hearts, our dogs, Rusti, Elle, and Dixie! Our dogs have such fun, individualistic personalities, we knew that our three sliders had to reflect this. (Photo by Hector Sanchez)

5. Curate A Playlist – Music brings such a special element to an evening. For bigger events, maybe check with the local symphony to see if a musician hires out for special evenings. These musicians could use your support! You can also check in with your neighborhood Facebook group to see if a young piano, guitar of fiddle player is available.  Or, create on your favorite streaming app a playlist of background music.  For our last summer’s event, I shared our playlist.  Or how about creating a DVD to take home.  Who remembers mix tapes?!


Gatherings with friends and family are now an option again, thank goodness, and here’re my top six tips for creating summertime entertaining memories.


6. Serci – Departing Gift – In addition to providing guests with my favorite music list, Jamie create a special serci for me, homemade pralines.  In addition to weaving into the evening meal, our guests had to have Johnston farm pecans and wow, this was a sweet treat!  We also had a basket of fresh produce on each table and included recipes for guests to take as well.


Johnston Farm Pralines, Carmen Johnston Gardens


Personalizing Entertaining Makes Memories

My main goal is to help you honor your family history and journey by weaving your experiences into your entertaining.  This will charm your guests and help you relieve those moments. It will also help you remember those special people in your life who’ve passed on those keepsakes.

The Orchard Dinner was pretty spectacular and took a lot of hands, energy and talent to create.  I want to know big and small ways you are creating special memories for your family and friends.  Head over to my Instagram where I’m sharing more of the Orchard Dinner.  Comment and inspire me and my followers!


Carmen Johnston, Orchard Dinner, Photo by Hector Sanchez

Coming Up Next – Kayak Giveaway

If you’ve been following along my 2021 HGTV Smart Home adventure, you’ll know I took the water in Naples with Ty Pennington!


Carmen Johnston, Ty Pennington, HGTV Smart Home Film Crew


Staring Tuesday, May 25 through June 1, I will be giving away a kayak in honor of that epic moment!  When you see my kayak social media post, check out details on entering for a chance to win!  Be sure and tune in on May 26 at 11 a.m. EDT and May 31 at 8 a.m. EDT for an encore of the HGTV Smart Home 2021 special.  It was SO much fun filming with rock star interior designer Tiffany Brooks and Ty!

Finally, through June 11, 5 p.m. EDT, you’ll be able to enter online for a chance to win the HGTV Smart Home 2021. The grand prize is worth over $1.1 million and includes the home and all furnishings, a 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet and $100,000 from LendingTree!