Big Freedia’s weekly Garden Cookout in City Park is more about Freedia than food | Keith Spera

The focus of Big Freedia’s Garden Cookout is, in descending order of priority, Big Freedia, the garden and the actual cookout.

Since July, Freedia, the multiplatform Queen Diva of Bounce, has presided over a weekly cooking-themed webcast at the New Orleans Botanical Garden in City Park’s Kitchen in the Garden pavilion. The Friday night events are livestreamed on Freedia’s social media outlets.

The Garden Cookout expands on Freedia’s popular Sunday morning at-home cooking webcast and replaces some touring income lost to the coronavirus pandemic. Forty spectators seated at socially distanced tables each pay $90, or $120 to sit at one of the front tables. Tickets must be purchased through EventBrite in blocks of at least two, to fill tables with self-contained groups.

Freedia’s cottage industry, built from the ground up after years of toil on the New Orleans club circuit, encompasses recording, touring, an autobiography, branded bubbly and aprons, collaborations with the likes of Beyoncé and six seasons of a Fuse network reality show, alternately titled “Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce” and “Big Freedia Bounces Back,” from 2013 to 2017.

If the Oct. 2 Garden Cookout was typical, chatting and cutting up take precedence over actual cooking.

Fans “wiggle” to Big Freedia’s music during Big Freedia’s Garden Cookout at the New Orleans Botanical Garden in City Park, Friday, Oct. 2, 2020.

Early arrivals, wearing mandatory face masks, were escorted through the lovely Botanical Garden — it’s even more enchanting at night — to the brightly lit Kitchen in the Garden. Completed last fall, the open-air kitchen pavilion hosts culinary-themed educational and social events.

From 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., attendees patronized a cash bar while DJ Juane Jordan spun music. Freedia appeared in a sequined facemask, glittering purple pants and a custom chef’s coat bearing the image of his late, beloved mother, Vera, going quickly from table to table to pose for pictures.

And then it was show time. As cameras streamed the action on Facebook Live, Freedia, whose charisma translates well to the small screen, held court from behind the stove. A trio of friends, including longtime sidekick and dancer Tootie Tootz, provided running commentary from a corner of the countertop.

Big Freedia on her City Park cooking series and live-streaming from the kitchen

Big Freedia’s “Garden Cookout” series continues on Thursdays at City Park through August. The Queen Diva also live-streams the cooking demonstration on social media.

Freedia’s sister, Crystal, was in attendance with her young daughter. The Oct. 2 show celebrated the 60th birthday of Vera, who died of cancer in 2014, as well as the birthday of Devon, Freedia’s boyfriend.

(Freedia, who is fine with both masculine and feminine pronouns, recently wrote in the online magazine The Root, “I was born male and remain male — physically, hormonally and mentally. But I am a gay male. Some folks insist I have to be trans, but I don’t agree. I’m gender nonconforming, fluid, nonbinary. If I had known the ‘queen’ in Queen Diva would cause so much confusion, I might have called myself

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Keith Weed: The new president of the RHS gives a tour of his own garden

Keith Weed, the aptly-named new president of Royal Horticultural Society, spoke to Country Life’s gardens editor Tiffany Daneff about his love of plants, his new role — and showed her around his own garden.

It’s a broiling day in mid August when even the ducks on the pond look hot. Keith Weed, the newly appointed president of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), is out in the garden that surrounds his 15th-century timber-frame farmhouse in Surrey.

‘You’ll find him in the border,’ says his wife, Kate, an artist, who is accompanied by two border terriers, Biscuit and Bear, named — Keith tells me later — by their children, two sons and a daughter, all of whom are now grown up.

Sure enough, we discover the president crouched inside the suitably impressive herbaceous border between the cosmos and the crocosmia, obligingly clutching a vast bunch of freshly picked flowers for the Country Life photographer Dan Gould.

Keith Weed with Bear and Biscuit. ©Daniel Gould / Country Life

He certainly has the right garden for the job and, photograph taken, is touchingly enthusiastic to show off its various parts: the abstract topiary garden, the walled garden with espaliered fruits that he has trained himself, the raised vegetable beds with curled kale and onions and a large herb bed with lovage — ‘people never guess what the leaves are when I put them in a salad’ — not to mention the two beds that Kate has filched in order to grow dahlias. (She has 250 tubers, he reports.)

They are both keen growers, but they also employ a gardener — ‘essential when I was working full time’. In the greenhouse, the beefsteak and cherry tomatoes are ripe for the picking. The grapes hanging from the vines above Keith’s head, usually harvested for wine, are suffering a bad bout of mildew after the heat. ‘I was going to cut them all off before you came!’ he jokes.

This is an unusual appointment for the RHS, which tends to offer the role to one of its own, Sir Nicholas Bacon and Elizabeth Banks, the past two incumbents, being cases in point. Although Keith is a hands-on gardener — he even constructed a plywood template in order to accurately shear his yew topiary — and a member and fellow of the RHS, living around the corner from RHS Wisley in Surrey, his background is in the corporate world.

©Daniel Gould / Country Life

Now 59, he retired from Unilever in May 2019. He had been employed there for 36 years, having worked his way up from office trainee to board member. It was at that point he decided to assemble a portfolio of roles that would best put his expertise to use: ‘I was not interested in retiring and sitting in a deckchair.’ These include being on the board of Grange Park Opera at nearby West Horsley Place, sitting on the sustainability committees for WPP (the global advertising group) and for Sainsbury’s, as well as being

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