If that arbiter of Southern style, Garden & Gun magazine, had a Georgia poster boy (besides Sid Mashburn), it would be James Farmer III—a twenty-nine-year-old prepster who refurbishes historic Southern gardens and blogs about farm-to-table cuisine. Take, for example, his advice about iced tea. He uses one Earl Grey tea bag to four standard ones in order to catch the black tea’s hint of bergamot orange. He sweetens the brew with simple syrup made from sugar and limes or Meyer lemons. In fall he adds a rosemary stalk for seasonal, “pinelike” flavor.
It’s that kind of simple but sophisticated style that has won over clients, talk show hosts, and blog followers around the South, prompting a book deal with prestigious Gibbs Smith publishers. Farmer’s debut, A Time to Plant, arrives this month. It explores “garden living,” with chapters on planting, cooking, and entertaining.
How did Farmer become such a lifestyle multitasker? “I can’t remember not being in the kitchen with Mimi, my grandmother, as a child,” says Farmer, who grew up in Kathleen, near Macon. “I’m sure I was in the way at times, but I would be the best sous chef a kid could be, and I loved bringing in vegetables from the garden—whatever was ‘coming in.’” Tabletop decorating and flower arranging became specialties, too—using antique vessels to hold flowers, herbs, vines, or anything else that inspired his relaxed approach.
Weekends in Atlanta were also a big part of his childhood. “We country mice would love to come to town,” Farmer says, with fond memories of Pano’s & Paul’s, the Buckhead Diner (still one of his favorites), and visiting his muse, the Atlanta Botanical Garden. After earning a landscape design degree at Auburn, Farmer honed his skills for private clients from Sea Island to Cashiers, but his interest in all aspects of Southern culture led to broader aspirations.
“James Farmer is an old soul with a hip, original voice—a Southern gentleman for the new millennium,” says Sheila Benson, whose Miami Circle store, Foxglove Antiques, will host his first book signing.
This article originally appeared in our August 2011 issue.