An Urban Garden Cocktail Party

August 25, 2011 by

Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton

In 2006, Chicago resident LaManda Joy and her husband Peter purchased “a yard with a house attached to it.” The couple explain that they did this “for the sole, myopic, obsessive purpose of growing a vegetable garden” and are “damned and determined to convince, cajole and charm as many Chicagoans as possible to tear up their own yards and grow their own food!”

Robin Plaskoff Horton

Last week I visited this amazing private garden, named in 2009 one of the top five vegetable gardens in Mayor Daley’s Annual Landscape Competition. LaManda’s delicious blog, The Yarden, is a compendium of wonderful urban gardening how-to’s, information about what to cook with what you’ve freshly harvested, and lots of sharing about community gardening and gardens including The Peterson Garden Project, a revival Victory Garden of which she is the founder. (More to come on The Peterson Garden Project.)

Robin Plaskoff Horton

Farm-to-Table Cocktails and Appetizers
We toured the impressive garden, sipping sage-infused vodka cocktails dubbed “Sage Advice” and supping on farm-to-table delicacies provided by Chicago’s Nana, a family-owned organic restaurant in Chicago’s historic Bridgeport neighborhood. I bit into what I thought was tomato and mozzarella only to be surprised by what turned out to be a sumptuous burrata cheese-topped seedless watermelon slice garnished with roasted beets, thyme, olive oil, salt, fresh pepper, and borage flowers. “The beauty is in leaving the product untouched!” Nana’s chef Guy Meikle told me when he shared the recipe. He tosses the roasted beets in the olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and whole thyme first, then roasts them until tender, peels them, places them on the watermelon slices, then garnishes them with the flowers. I have to try this! Later, Nana’s owner, Omar Solis, and Chef Meikle, chatted about enlisting local farms to build a stronger food system.

Espalier and bench on one end of the garden. Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton

Robin Plaskoff Horton

A Virtual Garden Party Too
Those unable to attend in person were able to enjoy the festivities virtually via a live-streamed Twitter “GardenChat” hosted by Brenda Haas of, another blog you must read, BG Garden. There was a lot of energy in the garden. Mike Nowak, “the Chicago radio voice of gardening” co-hosted the event while our friends from Corona Tools introduced their new pruner and Proven Winners spoke about the care and feeding of hydrangeas. Garden and lifestyle personality P. Allen Smith was on hand to enlighten everyone with tips from his uniquely stylish point of view.

And there were giveaways too, including a very cool “tailgate wagon” from Suburu of which my blogger friend Jenny Peterson of J. Peterson Garden Design was the lucky winner. Lucky folks snagged lots of goodies such as a gardener’s tote filled with Corona hand tools; a gorgeous piece from a new kid on the block, Moss Rocks from Moss and Stone Gardens; organic repellents from Liquid Fence; Annie Haven’s wonderful cow, horse, and alfalfa Manure Tea fertilizers; Easy Gardener’s portable garden planter; and an organic herb garden trio from Olive Barn.

Robin Plaskoff Horton

Paper-mâché flowers, above, created by LaManda’s friend, Mark Kanazawa, hung from bird cages inside a small tent decorated for the occasion. Clever.

The Yarden mistress herself, LaManda Joy, with Mark Kanazawa. Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton

Sage Advice from the Garden

“Sage Advice” infused vodka cocktail created, served, and photographed by Shawn-Erik Toth.

Another friend of LaManda’s, Shawn-Erik Toth, transformed a set of potting tables into a bar for the evening where he mixed up garden-inspired cocktails. Toth, a designer and photographer, also runs a small catering company where he is known for his creative cocktail concoctions. Stay tuned for more from Toth as he will soon be contributing garden-to-table recipes here that you can grow and cook up even from your tiny balcony.

Sage Advice Recipe (on the rocks)
1 part Sage-infused vodka
1 tbsp Cucumber Syrup
2 parts Sparkling lemonade
Garnish with sliced lemon and rolled sliced sage

Sage-Infused Vodka
Add fresh cut sage to vodka
Leave at room temperature for at least 2 days not more than 4 days
(at more than 4 days strain and remove sage from vodka)

Cucumber Syrup
In saucepan combine:
1.5 cps water and 1.5 cps sugar
Bring to a simmer until sugar is completely dissolved
Turn off heat, add 1 grated cucumber (seeds removed) and 1/2 tsp. fresh ginger
Let pan cool, leave at least overnight in refrigerator
Strain out cucumber through sieve

Robin Plaskoff Horton

I left through the garden gate, above, ready to host my own garden party. It will have to be an autumn party…check back for your invitation.

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