Carmen Cooks: Your New Signature Cocktail

Carmen Cooks: Your New Signature Cocktail

A couple of weeks ago I got to share with you my favorite recipe from Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat (link) and this week I want to share my take on several great summer cocktails. These recipes are super easy to follow and many of the fresh ingredients are ones you may have growing in your garden or can purchase locally. The mint at my home is growing in full force and I just adore my phenomenal lavender plant so of course I had to use these in my creations! I chose three delicious and refreshing drinks that are easily customizable. The original recipes are accessible through links below, but the following instructions are my take on these classics. Cheers!

Tangerine Moscow Mule

(adapted from Blood Orange Moscow Mule)

Tangerine Moscow Mule


1 meyer lemon cut into 8 wedges
1 mint leaf
2 oz vodka
2 oz tangerine juice
4 oz ginger beer (here is a link to my favorite)
Crushed ice


In the cup, muddle together a lemon wedge and the mint leaf to release juice and the mint’s flavor. I find a wooden reamer does the trick! Add the vodka and tangerine juice to the lemon and mint. I love this little bird-shaped juicer. Pour in the ginger beer and stir. Fill the glass with ice and garnish with lemon, mint, or both! Enjoy!

Tangerine Moscow Mule Tangerine Moscow Mule

Tangerine Moscow Mule Tangerine Moscow Mule

Peach Lavender Sangria

(adapted from Lavender Sangria)

Peach Lavender Sangria


1 750mL bottle of Prosecco
½ cup Altes Fasslager (this is an Austrian fruit brandy)
½ cup triple sec
2 cups of Pellegrino
½ cup lavender simple syrup (you can make this by bringing to a simmer ½ cup sugar, ½ cup water, and 2 tsp dried or fresh lavender and then cooking for 1 minute. Then strain the lavender buds out and let cool)
Fresh sliced peaches


Add sliced peaches to the bottom of a pitcher and top with prosecco, brandy, triple sec, lavender syrup, and Pellegrino. Stir and chill. Cheers!

Blackberry Mojito

(adapted from Blueberry Mojito)

Blackberry Mojito


1 cup fresh blackberries
4 oz clear rum
10 fresh mint leaves
2 teaspoons sugar
Juice of 2 limes
6 oz Pellegrino
Splash of Blackberry Manischewitz


In a food processor, puree the blackberries. Add mint and sugar to a weck jar. I always use a weck jar instead of a cocktail shaker! Muddle the mint and sugar and add the lime juice, rum, and blackberry puree and shake it up! Pour ice and club soda into glasses and then pour in the blackberry rum mixture. Add a splash of Blackberry Manischewitz and stir. Garnish with blackberries, mint, and lime. Salud!

Blackberry Mojito Blackberry Mojito

Photos Courtesy of Gunner Robinson Photography


Last week in our Father’s Day Blog I had the opportunity to share with you where my roots in the gardening business had started with my wonderful father. It is incredible to see this many years down the road the opportunities and adventures that have come from my time in this industry. The amazing events, gorgeous weddings, and friendships formed have just added to my journey so far.


Each of the experiences I have had have been a result of passion, hard work, and most importantly, support from my family, friends, and followers. As many of you know, last month we had the opportunity to collaborate on an exciting party with the Van Winkle family. The whole weekend was full of once in a lifetime experiences with an amazing team. An event like the Derby Party often receives a certain amount of local and national media attention and this year we hadthe incredible honor of being recognized in the national magazine Town and Country. This publication is the oldest continually published general interest magazine in the country. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I realized we had been acknowledged in an online article published on Town and Country!

In the online piece by Sam Dangremond, the Van Winkle’s party of the year is highlighted along with each collaborator. The article begins with a wonderful introduction:

“For this year’s Kentucky Derby, the most coveted ticket wasn’t at Churchill Downs. Instead, it was an invitation to the party the three Van Winkle triplets—Carrie, Louise, and Chenault—hosted at their parents’ house to commemorate the Run for the Roses. The three sisters’ father (and Pappy’s grandson), Julian P. Van Winkle III, is president of the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, which makes the elusive and prized Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon.”

Carmen Johnston Gardens is highlighted within the article, along with collaborators Pappy & Company, Chenalt James Interiors, Kat McCall Papers, and Jess Graves. To be highlighted in such a prestigious publication is such an honor and could not have been possible without our loving and supportive friends, family, and followers. We are so excited to share this honor and privilege with you all!

Independence Day is just a couple of weeks away and it is wonderful to watch our nation get into the holiday spirit. With flags everywhere and our nation’s colors on every piece of merchandise in stores, it is time for you to start planning your party or barbeque! Our team here at Carmen Johnston Gardens just loves this time of year as we celebrate the freedom our country represents and those who have worked so hard to make it possible. July 4th is the perfect chance to share this gratefulness with friends and family over good food and fireworks!


When we moved into the house we now live in, Tommy and I knew we had to create a space for entertaining our friends and family. For us, this area is just outside of our sunroom with a long table surrounded by rosemary, lavender, and a boxwood hedge. The best part is the view we have of our pond and the way our boxwoods frame the space. I firmly believe entertaining should not be a burden or challenge but should be something fun and easy so you can actually enjoy the event you plan. This belief is what makes me keep a few go-to party ideas on hand, so I don’t have to stress to make any event perfect. In today’s blog, I want to share some ideas for a July 4th themed table scape that will make any entertaining space ready for your friends and family!

I start with layering my table ware. Build a base with a classic and simple charger. I have a set of burled wood ones I got at an event long ago from Target! This season they have several wonderful and minimalistic options available for you to choose from- check out this link! Next, I use a set of blue and white melamine plates that I found at Tuesday Morning. I love melamine plates because they are versatile, easy to store, and best of all, are dishwasher safe. I am going let you in on a little secret with my choice in napkins. These dish towels from Ikea are my go-to for so many occasions…so much so that I own almost 100 of these! The reason I love them so much is for their simplicity, ability to go with so many things, their large size, and because of how cost effective they are! Lastly, I use a napkin holder from Two’s Company (link) to tie everything together. I love this specific one because they have a place to put a small amount of water to hold a bit of greenery or a flower. This adds a live component to your plate! At our home, we actually use our silver on a daily basis, rather than keeping it in a silver chest. This place setting is a great chance to break out your own silver as it lends a level of elegance to your setting.


Now, on to the floral arrangement! I used some gorgeous vases from Two’s Company (link) in groups down the table. Both the large and small blue and white vases have come from their store. These vases are a staple in my entertainment décor because they go with so much. Also, while I definitely advocate for using planters with plenty of drainage, these pots are great vases because they hold water and don’t have a hole in the bottom. In the large vases I placed blue hydrangeas. My tip for you when using hydrangeas in arrangements is to gather several blooms into a large ball and then use a zip tie to secure the stems. This helps them to stay in place especially if you are moving the arrangement from one place to another. The small vases each have several red dragon wing begonias in them. Both of these are very common garden flowers which makes them easy to find! I don’t have either of these growing in my garden this year, but I have a neighbor who does! I’ve been known as the “garden bandit” around our neighborhood but asking to borrow a few blooms is always a great way to supplement what you already have growing!


This tablespace only took me about 15 minutes after pulling all my supplies together and it was so easy to create! I love finding new ways to use some of my tried and true table staples and I am so excited to share my ideas with you! Tag us on Facebook and Instagram to show us the table settings you create! @carmenjohnstongardens

About two weeks ago as we walked onto the plane to find our seats there was something very different about this flight than any other I had been on. Rather than the overhead compartments filling up with small suitcases, the bins began to fill up with large colorful boxes. Yes- hatboxes! People opted to put their luggage below in the plane to keep their hatboxes safe for one very special reason, it was Derby Weekend! And if the hatboxes hadn’t tipped us off, as soon as we stepped foot in the Louisville airport we were greeted with live music, bourbon balls, and red roses galore. This year at the Kentucky Derby I had the incredible opportunity to collaborate with a number of teams on one of the most amazing experiences in my career.

During the time that I lived in Columbus I got to meet the wonderful Chenalt James of Chenalt James Interiors. Recently Chenalt’s roots have pulled her back to Louisville, Kentucky where much of her family still resides. And as I found out very quickly, it is pronounced LOU-a-vul, not LOU-iss-vill. Chenalt and her two sisters, Louise and Carrie, are fourth generation Van Winkles, of the Rip Van Winkle Bourbon Empire. The sisters have founded Pappy & Co, a line of bourbon inspired products to share the passion and dedication that their Great Grandfather “Pappy” embodied. Through my friendship with Chenalt and her family I was invited to collaborate on the Derby Party of the year, a party to recreate the great Van Winkle parties of the past. My collaboration with Chenalt James Interiors, Pappy & Co, Kat McCall Papers, Lisa Bailey, and others led to the incredible experience that I had at the Derby this year that I cannot wait to share with you all! 

In the 1930’s the Van Winkle family began hosting what Life Magazine then called “Mint Julep Parties” before the derby in the afternoon. Mrs. “Pappy” Van Winkle was the ideal hostess, providing an exquisite menu and of course plenty of mint juleps to go around in glistening silver cups. She would pick fresh flowers for the occasion in her yard and one year came across a four-leaf clover. After sending the clover and a couple of mint juleps across the street to the racetrack for a visiting neighbor’s horse, with instructions to put the clover under the saddle for good luck, the horse defied great odds to win the race. The next day, the entire horseshoe of red roses was sent across the street to Mrs. Van Winkle. The legend of the clover and also her love of all things coral colored was a great inspiration to the party that the sisters threw this year.


We had the privilege of staying in an incredible Kentucky home with a number of old and new friends and because we arrived a few days before the Derby, we got to see everything that goes on around Churchill Downs before the big event. On Thursday- or Thurby, as it is known in the area, we awoke early for a tour of the track where under a perfect sunrise we got to watch the trainers prepare. For most of our events we fly in flowers from all over the world and the Derby was no exception. With peonies and tulips coming in from Holland and of course roses flying in from South America we headed to the airport that afternoon to pick up our flowers. While there we happened to see Air Horse One, yes Air Horse One! It was quite the experience to watch the horses unload from their private jets. All throughout the days leading up to Saturday we continued to collaborate with our wonderful team in great anticipation for the Derby!

Finally, the greatest day in the year of the Kentuckian had arrived. We were all brought to tears as My Old Kentucky Home was sang across Churchill Downs and in homes all across the state. All of our collaboration had let up to the brunch which was held at the sister’s parent’s home, right next door to the old “Pappy” Van Winkle Home! Guest’s invites had been sent out weeks before with coral details and the famed clover image from great collaboration with Kat McCall Papers. The menu was a wonderful tribute to the parties of the past with classic dishes such as beaten biscuits made especially by Chenalt’s dad and aunt, Bennidictine spread, bourbon balls, and of course the party would not have been complete without sweet ice-cold mint juleps. One of the party’s most incredible details was the use of “Pappy” Van Winkles actual silver for the mint juleps! The party was the perfect start to a wonderful day in the rolling hills of Kentucky. Collaboration with Pappy & Co, Chenalt James Interiors, Kat McCall Papers, Chef Michael Crouch, Jess Graves, Lisa Bailey, The Wooks, Bartender Kyle Higgins, and many others made this event a highlight of my career!

Through our incredible collaboration with so many wonderful friends, recreating this event of the year was such a wonderful experience. The party was a great success and watching the Derby with great friends afterwards let us experience all the Derby Weekend had to offer. We love doing events for friends and clients and the Derby Party was no exception!

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and I thought that, with all you crazy love bugs out there getting ready to pop the big question, a post about wedding florals might come in handy real soon.

© 6 of Four Photography

I did the florals for this stunning wedding at Lake Burton last July. With the hot, hot heat of summer all around, the white, cream, and champagne color palette could not have been more refreshing.

© 6 of Four Photography

I just love how the greenery looks extra lush against the light and airy backdrop it provides.

© www.haleysheffield.com_0071

And just look at that classic table setting! Who doesn’t love Royal Crown Derby Blue Aves?

Weddings, though wonderful, can also be extremely stressful. However, deciding what and how and where to arrange your florals doesn’t have to be. Here are a few simple suggestions to help you plan and prepare florals for your big day:

1. Pick Your Palette – Work with 2-3 primary colors, playing off each one.

© 6 of Four Photography

2. Plan Your Placement – During a wedding, especially the reception, guests tend to gravitate to certain “hot spots.” These are the areas you want to highlight the most. When choosing where to place arrangements also consider what will look best in photos. After all, photos are how you will remember your special day.

© 6 of Four Photography

3. Repurpose Your Bouquets – After the ceremony is over, your bridesmaids are going to want to free up their hands for all of the eating and dancing and toasting that’s about to go down. Don’t let those beautiful bouquets go to waste, though! They transition perfectly into tabletop bouquets during the reception, and they always look great around the cake table or near the food.

© 6 of Four Photography

4. Choose Your Florals – Hydrangeas are my go-to suggestion for wedding florals because they cover more space–and look great doing it!

© 6 of Four Photography

5. Surprise Your Guests – There is nothing sadder than a dumpster full flowers. Trust me, there isn’t. At the end of the night, surprise your guests by giving your arrangements away instead. Use zip ties to keep smaller arrangements together throughout the day.

Thanks for stopping by! I look forward to sharing more tips for wedding day florals with you all very soon. A huge thanks to the Patterson’s for allowing me to surround them with beautiful flowers on their wedding day.

Photos: 6 of Four Photography

Happy Valentine’s Day!

As promised, here is another quick and easy solution for your holiday decor. If you thought the citrus topiary was a cinch, just wait until you see what I have planned for the day of love. I know what you’re probably thinking, ‘Valentine’s Day is today! I don’t have time to decorate now. What’s the point?’ I am here to tell you that you do have time and that the point is to celebrate those you love. It just so happens that I have the perfect plan for some last-minute decor.

All you need to do first is find a nandina bush…

Quick and Easy Plant Decor: Love Letter Topiaries  by Carmen Johnston Gardens

So,where do you find nandina berries? Just get in your car and drive around. I happened upon these beauties in a Walmart parking lot. Finders, keepers. (Tip: Always be on the look out for berries and blooms wherever you go. You never know when free foliage will fall into your lap!)

Quick and Easy Plant Decor: Love Letter Topiaries by Carmen Johnston Gardens

Simply insert the berries into the base of your plant to create a skirt of vibrant color.

Quick and Easy Plant Decor: Love Letter Topiaries by Carmen Johnston Gardens

For a touch of whimsy, I borrowed these little love birds from my kitchen. (Tip: Before buying anything new, always look around your house first.)

Quick and Easy Plant Decor: Love Letter Topiaries by Carmen Johnston Gardens

After dressing your topiary up in it’s Valentine’s Day best, put it on a tray with some sweet treats for your guests. This popsicle display was a total happy accident. The popsicles looked extra sweet in the shape of X’s and so I added some heart-shaped candy to keep them in place. It was super easy and incredibly cheap. Finally, to turn this display into a station for writing love letters, simply put out some blank stationary and let the sentimental feelings fly!


P.S. Don’t toss out those nandina berries just yet! Hang onto them and stay tuned for more DIY decorating solutions soon.

Container: The Home Depot
Tray: Better Homes and Gardens at Walmart
Valentine’s Day Cards: Anthropologie

Photos: The Photography of Haley Sheffield

If there is one gardening staple that I think everyone should have it is the ivy topiary. I have had mine for a few years now and no matter how hard I try–for instance, forgetting to water them in the summer heat–they simply refuse to die.

I have two topiaries, one on each side of the sink in my potting shed. Every now and then, I like to take them out and dress them up for a party. These plants are perfect for any last minute decorating you need to do. You don’t even have to purchase anything new! With a trained eye–or, a little help from me–you will be surprised at what you can find around the house to decorate your topiary with for an instant centerpiece.

I want 2015 to be all about inspiration and innovation. No more spending way too much money on decorations that you only use once a year. Starting with today’s post, I will be sharing easy decorating tips for every occasion. The holiday seasons are busy enough without having to worry about how to decorate your home. With that being said, it gives me great joy to introduce you all to the 5-minute centerpiece… citrus topiaries!

Warm up your winter decor with these simple ivy and citrus topiaries.  Carmen Johnston Gardens shares just how to created this quick and easy plant decor.

I can’t think of a better way to begin the year than with a colorful ring of citrus fruit! Everything is still so dreary outside, which is why God created citrus for this time of year. The bright colors bring instant happiness to anyone who sees them.

Warm up your winter decor with these simple ivy and citrus topiaries.  Carmen Johnston Gardens shares just how to created this quick and easy plant decor.

We had a lot of citrus left over from the holidays and I thought, why not? So, I sliced them up and created a citrus skirt around the base of my topiary. To keep some of the citrus in place, I simply used bamboo skewers.

Warm up your winter decor with these simple ivy and citrus topiaries.  Carmen Johnston Gardens shares just how to created this quick and easy plant decor.

Warm up your winter decor with these simple ivy and citrus topiaries.  Carmen Johnston Gardens shares just how to created this quick and easy plant decor.

Warm up your winter decor with these simple ivy and citrus topiaries.  Carmen Johnston Gardens shares just how to created this quick and easy plant decor.

Warm up your winter decor with these simple ivy and citrus topiaries.  Carmen Johnston Gardens shares just how to created this quick and easy plant decor.

Warm up your winter decor with these simple ivy and citrus topiaries.  Carmen Johnston Gardens shares just how to created this quick and easy plant decor.

Who says we can’t live like the French? This citrus topiary is basically like having a little Versailles Orangerie all to yourself.

Warm up your winter decor with these simple ivy and citrus topiaries.  Carmen Johnston Gardens shares just how to created this quick and easy plant decor.

Warm up your winter decor with these simple ivy and citrus topiaries.  Carmen Johnston Gardens shares just how to created this quick and easy plant decor.

Don’t let all that citrus go to waste! Once your guests are gone, have a little after party for yourself. Slice up some fruit and make a Mixed Citrus Liqueur or some Citrus-Infused Vodka, Gin, and Tequila for later.

Mixed Citrus Liqueur

You can purchase your own topiaries online at The Garden Gates right now.

Quick and Easy Plant Decor: The 5-Minute Centerpiece  10

My topiaries in the potting shed where they stay for the majority of the year.

If you are looking forward to warmer weather… I just know you will also like this simple centerpiece idea

Simple Centerpiece Idea

This post is for those of you out there who love to give and receive beautiful things and thoughtful gifts. I can’t wait to share with you eight of my very favorite gift ideas for Valentine’s Day. The Green Thumb Gal’s Guide is back and you won’t want to miss these fabulous ideas!

The Green Thumb Girl is back with her top gift ideas for Valentine's Day.  You won't want to miss these fabulous ideas from Carmen Johnston Gardens!

1. This Custom Floral Heart Print by Rifle Paper Co. will make your special someone’s heart skip a beat. A personalized gift like this is as creative as it is thoughtful. This would also make a great gift for any newlyweds you might know.

2. Give your gal something sweet that she can feel good about. Justin’s peanut butter cups are made with all natural ingredients. If she doesn’t like milk chocolate, Justin’s peanut butter cups come in dark chocolate and white chocolate too!

3. Show the ladies in your life how much you appreciate their hard work. This Caldrea Hand Balm is great for soothing hardworking hands. There are a ton of great scents to choose from!

4. Maybe you’re not known as Mr. Romance, maybe the right words don’t always come out at the right time. If so, “Love Poems” by Pablo Neruda may be just the gift for you to give this year. You can personalize it by looking through the poems beforehand and marking any pages that make you think of your special gal.

5. Nothing sweeps a woman off her feet quite like a little help around the house. These “You cook, I’ll Clean” dishtowels at Anthropologie are every gal’s dream. But don’t forget your half of the deal! As far as this gift is concerned, it is NOT just the thought that counts. Those dishes aren’t going to clean themselves!

6. If you know of someone who really appreciates handmade jewelry, this Adobe Spike + Daphnes necklace by 31 Bits is just the gift for them. Every piece of jewelry is handmade in Uganda and the beads are all made from recycled paper. How cool is that?

7. A gal can never have too many mugs! This Cactus What You Preach Mug from Modcloth will make a great addition to your sweetheart’s growing collection. Throw in some of her favorite tea and her heart is yours forever!

8. Don’t bore your lady to death with a dozen roses. Be original and give her this Forget-Me-Not Garden in a Bag from Shop Terrain. This is a great gift for any gal, green thumb or not!

Looking for more inspiration for Valentine’s Day? Plan an Indoor Valentine’s Day Picnic!

Take A Chance With Romance.Still028

You simply must check out this sweet video, too!


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I have been so blessed in my business, but one of my favorite things about getting to do what I do is meeting all of the fun individuals along the way. Today I am especially thankful for Amy Norton who I met last summer at the Southern Living Idea House. I was beyond excited when Amy asked for my help in sharing 5 simple steps for hosting an alfresco dinner party on Style Blue Print today. If you aren’t familiar with alfresco dining or Style Blue Print, I suggest you head over there now and get acquainted with both.

Here is a sneak peak!


photography by Sara Monty alfresco 2br0011

Amy, thanks again for having me as your guest today! It has been an absolute pleasure. Happy summer dining, everyone! Make the most of this wonderful weather while it lasts.