How to plan an autumn picnic in the garden?

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An authentic autumn picnic in the garden

Autumn is a perfect time for creative table settings where color plays a fundamental role, as does the use of natural elements such as flowers, seasonal fruits and vegetables, whose combination offers us visual opulence and rich, colorful associations. We recently held a family luncheon with an autumnal picnic theme. Originally, the idea was to gather food, decorations and picnic tablecloths, pack everything neatly into large boxes, and then head off for a picnic near a pretty little old church. But it was too cold that day, and far too windy to stay outside (especially with my two young nephews). So we changed our plans and opted for the easy way out: recreate the atmosphere in the garden.

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For a fun way to create an autumn harvest festival-style atmosphere, take a trip to the market to stock up on seasonal produce. There’s plenty to choose from at this time of year. Be inspired and choose apples, pears, grapes, figs, pumpkins and a few porcini mushrooms (for decoration, as shown here, but which you can also use for dinner). Autumn is synonymous with abundance, so don’t hesitate to be generous! Some time ago, I created a similar atmosphere for an autumn buffet, and you can read about it here.

Organizing this type of outdoor picnic isn’t too complicated, but you’ll need to get organized and enlist the help of a few extra hands. Set up two large side-by-side tables or trestles with fairly wide planks, and cover them with checkered tablecloths. As my tablecloths are too small to cover both tables, I superimpose them with patterns in the same style for a rustic effect.

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Antique crockery and seasonal produce as decoration

Arrange all your finds randomly on the table in baskets and antique salad bowls. I then place larger vegetables like pumpkins directly on the table and add small pine cones. Next come lanterns, bouquets of dahlias, chrysanthemums and small cabbages in terracotta pots.

Autumn fruits and vegetables make lovely decorations, and you shouldn’t hesitate to overuse them, as mentioned earlier. Even beautiful slices of fruit bread arranged in a basket with an antique tea towel can have a beautiful effect on a table. I also like to add faux foliage to fill in the decor when certain areas seem a little empty. They’re often quite deep in color and blend well with the rest. Candleholders and candles always add a nice atmosphere, even at a luncheon, and it’s okay if you don’t light them.

As for the crockery, it’s very simple for a picnic: we use antique plates in shades of blue, because it’s a color that works well with orange, pink and yellow tones, and schoolboy glasses to keep things simple. However, if you’re planning this picnic in a more remote location, I’d advise you to choose unbreakable bamboo plates, for example. They’re lightweight and safe.

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Straw bales for a "harvest table" effect

Choosing checkered tablecloths immediately puts guests in the mood, but you can go even further and really please them by replacing the chairs with straw bales, which lend a really special atmosphere. The use of straw bales adds a very convivial touch and reinforces the spirit of the rustic autumnal table. And a good thing about straw bales is that they keep the heat in and are very comfortable! I find them quite easily in garden centers in the countryside and place them in the field so that the seating height is perfect. You can also place plaids next to them for those who are a little chilly.

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I’ve always been fascinated by people who organize picnics with a lot of attention to detail. They’re people with an eye for detail, who like to add a touch of the dreamy to their everyday lives.

At plant festivals, I sometimes come across great picnic enthusiasts (often English), who manage – with almost nothing – to recreate a real atmosphere: a square folding table with a small tablecloth and a bouquet of wild flowers in a simple water bottle and voilà! Surprising but inspiring.

Recently, I’ve even met people who bring candleholders to their picnics in front of the Château de Chantilly. I wouldn’t go that far (although I can go pretty far), but I really appreciate their imagination and audacity. In the end, this type of country gathering wins many votes.

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What you need to know to organize a picnic

To organize a picnic, the food has to be simple and easy to handle. I prepare savory snacks that can be eaten cold, such as sausage rolls or sun-dried tomato pizzas. The main course is chicken sandwiches with homemade barbecue sauce and coleslaw salad. Some of us prepare a small platter of sliced cheeses with nuts and a few fruits. And finally, for dessert, I either bake a chocolate cake or a cake, or buy a flan. In either case, I pre-cut the cake into slices for ease. Forget pretty picnic baskets: they’re not much use and you can’t fit much inside. When I prepare a real outdoor picnic (in front of the Château de Fontainebleau, for example), I use large plastic storage boxes: one for decoration, containing two large tablecloths, an unbreakable pewter vase, small decorations, paper napkins, Sopalins, waste bags… another box with unbreakable crockery and reusable cardboard or plastic cups, another with food and drink. I also pack a bouquet of flowers wrapped in soaked paper towels or a few pretty branches of foliage. You can also prepare Thermos flasks with tea and coffee for dessert.

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Another advantage of using fruit as decoration is that you can serve it as dessert! It’s a great way to go home lighter. Grapes are as easy to eat as figs. If you’re planning to use apples or pears, remember to take small penknives and a few towels to wipe your hands. I always take two bottles filled with tap water with me, as it’s always useful for cleaning something.

As a final tip, pack a few sweaters or plaids to take with you. It’s always easier to leave them in the car than to regret not taking them. Also, avoid picnics in direct sunlight or on windy days, as you won’t be able to enjoy them to the full and you’ll quickly become annoyed!

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