Life’s a Picnic

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a lavender field is a magical place to have a picnic

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I often found a picnic to be – sometimes literally – a pain in the backside. The weather is iffy. You end up with cramp, grass-stained and covered by an army of ants. Yet, there is something heavenly about a picnic on a warm sunny day.

The occasion can be an open air concert, a sporting event, or simply a day out in the countryside. Whatever your favourite activity, why not celebrate the season by laying on a simple feast for your friends and family.

There are two ways to enjoy a picnic. The posh tradition and glamour of Royal Ascot or Glyndebourne, going the whole hog, bringing table and chairs, an ice bucket to keep the champagne cool, and a luxurious ready-made hamper. The other is legging it to M&S for sandwiches and a few bottles of plonk, throwing a comfy rug on the grass, and “Bob’s your Uncle”. Both have their fans.

Personally, I think with a little effort and some imagination, one can turn simple fare into a memorable event.

Here are some of my tips to achieve just that:

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Setting up the Scene

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Make a simple canopy by tying the corners of pieces of lightweight fabric to the end of long poles. Place the poles on either side of the table and press firmly into the ground to ensure they are secure. They will provide shade and look pretty.

Reclaimed wooden planks can create an informal table, left bare or covered with a colourful cloth.

A mismatch selection of rugs and a few cushions scattered on the ground give a bohemian atmosphere. For a sunset picnic, festooned lights add magic and pull the look together.

There are many simple ways to personalise your table. Seek inspiration from your surroundings, be inspired by nature. It can be some wild flowers just picked, or some branches which will prevent napkins flying away.

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Life’s a Picnic

 St Tropez old Harbour, photo by Grant Sainsbury

Life’s a Picnic
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Photo by Grant Sainsbury

Call me a snob, but eating from a paper plate never used to thrill me. But nowadays you can buy well-designed, colourful plastic picnic ware, including ‘glasses’.  Tiger, John Lewis, IKEA have good selections at very reasonable prices.

A few pieces of vintage china, bought in second-hand shops, will add instant glamour or quirkiness to the table. I have been collecting over the years, and love the fact that nothing matches.

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Paper tableware from

A wicker basket is something quite special and glamorous. Add a cold bag and you have the perfect combo to accommodate food and drink.

Old metal tins are much prettier than plastic containers to transport food. Car boot sales are the best place to find them. Department stores sell copies at reasonable prices.

Glass jars can also be used to carry food or hold flower arrangements.

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Photo by Grant Sainsbury

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Photo by Grant Sainsbury


Meals eaten out of doors need every bit as much planning and preparation as those at home. You must consider how your guests will be seated. The food must be easy to eat. Bending double on a rug makes fancy handiwork with cutlery quite difficult.

The other important thing is portability. Make sure the food is delivered intact and as presentable as when you put it together.

I like to serve a selection of charcuterie, cured meats, cheese and pickles, assorted salads and good bread, as well as some homemade goodies – quiches and fruit tarts.

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Salads should only be tossed and dressed just before serving. You don’t want a soggy salad.    

Wrapped sandwiches in baking paper and tied with garden twine or colourful strings are always a talking point. 

Try to serve individually prepared boxes, such as black pasta with seafood, or couscous with grilled vegetables.

If you are using paper plates, the food needs to be cut into bite size pieces. Barbeque sauce leaking through a cut in a paper plate will make for very unhappy guests.

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Rosé wine is the fashionable drink at the moment. It brings back memories of holidays in the Méditerranée and goes well with cold food. 

Champagne brings class to any party. Why not offer individual 1/4 bottles, easy to drink through a straw and saves the washing up. Prosecco is the cheaper alternative and quite delicious.

Don’t ignore the non-alcoholic drinkers, the one designated to drive home. As well as a few bottles of water, a couple of interesting homemade fruit juices show you thought about them.

And don’t forget things like bottle openers, corkscrews, paper napkins… and insect repellent stuff!

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Burmese picnic

Have fun!