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!

River House, Landscape Installation, Carmen Johnston Gardens

Check out the magic behind the multi-dimensional, landscape installation of this beautiful river house my team and I did on the banks of the Savannah River in Augusta, Georgia.


Landscape Installation, River House Exterior, Carmen Johnston Gardens


River House Landscape Installation 

Yes, I love putting together gorgeous container gardens but many times that’s the icing on the cake.  Now, let me tell you about the cake.


Aerial, River House Landscape Installation, Carmen Johnston Gardens


On this project, I was honored to consultant with my amazing clients from plan to installation collaborating with the talented landscape architect, Jessica Ezzell. This comprehensive project involved site prep, and drainage installation, motor court installation, extensive hardscape, irrigation, including custom copper heads, and of course hand-selected specimen size plantings from one of our many growers we work with from all over the Southeast. We even created a custom soil blend!


River House Landscape Installation, Rear Exterior, Carmen Johnston Gardens


Hardscape Installation, Carmen Johnston Gardens


I grabbed my iPhone and chronicled the journey which took three years from planning to inception.  Take a look at the landscape installation and I share several of my secrets to installing landscape, gardens and containers so they are beautiful for years to come!


Carmen Johnston Gardens Comprehensive Services 

Probably some of you were surprised to find out the extent of the outdoor services my company provides from conception to implementation- all within one company.  As a landscape designer and installation company, I do plan over site and execution collaborating with creatives and professionals. I also have years of experience coordinating subcontractors and vendors – paying close attention to timing and schedule.  Ultimately, we work hard (and so many hours) to ensure a successful garden and outdoor living installation – making on-site adjustments when necessary.  And, it all requires good team communication.


River House Steps, Carmen Johnston Gardens


Taking a look at the long-term use for a home’s outdoor area and garden is important which is why our attention-to-detail has to be of the highest quality.  Ultimately, with our utmost care, I like to create a calm, beautiful oasis for making memories and enhancing life!


Looking For Garden Inspiration

If you need some spring-time inspiration, be sure and follow along via our emails, blogs or on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest!


River Garden, Garden Installation, Carmen Johnston Gardens

Sharing ideas and encouraging creativity is part of the heart of Carmen Johnston Gardens and exactly what happened at the annual Haven Conference in Atlanta. As a Southern Living Garden Lifestyle Editor, I was honored to present great ideas in plants & gardening with the always beautiful Southern Living Plant Collection.

The Southern Living Plant Collection, first introduced in Spring 2008, provides gardeners with innovative new plants designed to solve specific landscape challenges and to excel in Southern gardens. Each plant in the collection is the result of years of plant evaluations, plant trials and research.

During the two sessions, I had SO much fun presenting lifestyle gardening solutions with container gardens, something I’m excited to pioneer and to share! My co-presentor for the two sessions was HGTV/DIY’s Jeff Wilson and I loved hearing about his home adventures and the building of his deck using Thompson’s WaterSeal products.

Carmen Johnston, Carmen Johnston Gardens


Some of the most popular tips from my session were the “stuff and shove” where we created beautiful container gardens with plants from the gorgeous Southern Living collection. Using the Three Ts, tall, thick and trailing, DIY bloggers from across the Southeast helped me create fresh container gardens which were also given out to several lucky winners. Everybody went home with their own lovely plant and so can you by visiting your local Home Depot today!

Carmen Johnston, Carmen Johnston Gardens


We took a variety of fun snapshots and assemble a quick glimpse in this video.


Remember, have fun and don’t forget, if you fail, just give it back to the Earth and try again!