Garden picnic ideas: 11 ways to enjoy a laid-back dining experience outdoors
These garden picnic ideas will help you make the most of good weather and throw a memorable meal outdoors
What better way to embrace summer than to indulge in garden picnic ideas? This laid-back style of dining is a wonderful way to make a lunchtime or evening get-together feel more of an occasion, and for many, has a nostalgic charm.
What's more, this type of alfresco event is super budget-friendly – all you need is a picnic blanket, after all. But there are a few simple things you can do to elevate the experience – from personalized cutlery bundles perfect for a garden party to layering up comfy cushions in a cohesive color scheme.
11 gorgeous garden picnic ideas to try at home or away
Whether you're in the midst of garden party planning and looking to create an informal yet inspiring dining vibe, or are simply after fun ideas for bringing the family together for a weekend meal, this guide is sure to come in handy.
1. Elevate your picnic with upcycled pallets
There are plenty of creative pallet ideas for gardens you can try for different outdoor features – from benches to planters. A quick sand and a lick of paint can be all it takes to transform them, and the best part is they can usually be picked up for cheap – or sometimes, even free.
If you're planning on throwing a picnic party but love the idea of tablescaping, pallets make the perfect base. Simply add table linens, pretty dinnerware, and perhaps a vase of flowers or two, then surround with soft cushions for guests to sit on. You'll still capture that laid-back essence crucial to this style of dining, plus, they'll be less chance of spillages.
2. Create a sense of cohesion with a color scheme
An instant way to bring a sense of harmony to any sort of styling – indoors or out – is to pick a garden color scheme and stick with it. With usual dining setups, a key way to channel this is with plates, glasses, and serving platters, or perhaps with floral arrangements down the center of a table. But, with blanket-based dining, vases of flowers and your best dinnerware aren't always the most feasible additions.
If this is the case, you can always use your textiles to channel your chosen colors instead. Choose complementing cushions, throws, and an outdoor rug – your napkins could match, too. We adore this blue and white setup which oozes elegance.
3. Craft personalized cutlery packages
This idea is lovely for a rustic backyard wedding or alfresco birthday party. And it's really easy to recreate.
Fill brown paper bags with cutlery, patterned paper straws, and napkins, and maybe some small sachets of salt, pepper, or condiments. Add pretty name tags attached with a length of jute or, if you're feeling creative, handwrite your guests' names on the front with your best calligraphy.
It's a great way to ensure that everyone has everything they need, plus it brings a pleasing personal touch to the occasion.
4. Use reclaimed crates for small tables
Maybe you love the idea of centering your garden picnic ideas around a simple blanket. But, you also quite like the thought of having at least one or two sturdy platforms for a jug of chilled drink, a floral arrangement, or perhaps, for evening events, a candle-lit lantern.
A simple solution is to use an upturned wooden crate. It'll provide a vintage vibe, and is affordable, too. Plus, it's the ideal height for keeping things within arm's reach.
This idea would also work well for a backyard movie night, as it won't get in the way of your screen.
5. Set up a nighttime picnic with plenty of soft lighting
A summer's day picnic is a wonderful thing, but this style of dining can be even more magical when held on a balmy night beneath the stars. Of course, you'll need some backyard party lighting ideas to keep the ambiance inviting, and one of our favorite approaches is dotting outdoor LED candles throughout the scheme.
Zig-zagging festoons overhead is another simple way to up the sense of romance, or you could decorate nearby shrubs or garden structures with twinkling fairy lights.
And with this sort of soft, glowy lighting, more is more – so don't be afraid to layer them up to really impress your guests.
6. Keep comfy with layers of cushions
It's not just the lighting that you can layer to enhance the atmosphere of your garden picnic – providing cushions aplenty will create a sense of lavish luxury. And of course, it will make the whole experience much more comfortable for guests.
Go for matching designs or a mix for a more eclectic feel. You could also layer up the best outdoor rugs with picnic blankets and throws, and then bring in poufs or bean bags for slightly more structured seating options.
7. Protect guests from the elements with a canopy and fire pit
An elegant canopy will provide shade and shelter for your setup – whether that's from the sun's rays or a spot of light rain. Plus, it'll up the sense of occasion.
Place a fire pit nearby and you can ensure that guests stay cozy too, keeping conversations going well into the evening. We've got lots of stunning fire pit ideas in our dedicated guide to get you inspired.
Add a few twinkling lights and some cozy throws to the scene and you'll be all set for a magical alfresco experience.
8. Mix and match bright patterns for a boho feel
Combining bold colors and fabulous floral patterns is well-suited to summer outdoor styling, particularly if you're a fan of bohemian garden ideas. So, to lift the mood for your dining setup, embrace all things bright and beautiful – from your cutlery and cups to your picnic basket.
Bunting overhead will add to the celebratory vibe. And, it's quite straightforward to make yourself if you're feeling handy with the sewing machine. You could even make a simple canopy with a length of colorful fabric, too – this setup above features a lemon-yellow shelter for providing shade.
9. Up the laid-back vibe with a hammock
Fancy hosting your picnic beneath a leafy canopy of trees? it's the perfect spot for keeping cool on a midsummer day, and the rustle in the breeze will add to the relaxing experience.
Plus, it's the ideal setup for introducing one of the best hammocks to the mix – a lovely seating option for a post-picnic snooze.
10. Take a portable picnic to the beach
Perhaps you don't have the space in your backyard for hosting a picnic party. Not to worry – one of the best things about this style of dining is it can be easily packed up and transported elsewhere, whether that's to a nearby beach, woodland, or wildflower meadow.
A stylish picnic rug, a handful of cushions, foldaway deck chairs, festoon lights, and even portable BBQs can all be slotted into the back of the car. They're quick to set up and will instantly elevate your picnic, wherever you choose to host it. All that's left to do is pack your basket with tasty treats and you're ready to hit the road.
11. Keep guests entertained with garden games
After the feasting has finished, it's a good idea – for any garden get-together that is – to provide some form of entertainment for your guests.
Garden games that all ages can get involved with will bring everyone together, from rounders to cornhole. Even a pack of cards can provide hours of entertainment. Or perhaps you have time to devise a quiz or a treasure hunt, with a prize for the winner, of course.
If you've got lots of little ones coming to your gathering, then our guide on garden activities for kids has plenty more inspo to keep them entertained.
What dinnerware can you use for a picnic?
Choosing beautiful dinnerware is an easy way to wow guests and pull an outdoor dining theme together, but with the casual style of picnics, there are practical factors to bear in mind.
'If you’re worried about risking your best glasses outside, you can invest in a sophisticated-looking set of acrylic tumblers or wine glasses,' suggests Sam Hood, the co-founder and chief creative officer of AMARA. 'You can also complete the set with an elegant jug or carafe containing iced water or sangria.
'Similarly, eating outdoors doesn't mean you have to eat off paper plates. Instead, you can treat your guests to a set of stylish picnic plates,' she continues.
Sam also suggests completing the look with luxury trays, which can be a good option for a pool party or hot tub party too. They're a convenient way to carry food, drink, or condiments outside and then will provide a sturdy base to keep them while you lounge.
The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then. She's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator – plants are her passion.
Take part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch 2023 to save our feathered friends
Gardens Watching garden visitors for just one hour in the Big Garden Birdwatch 2023 could help provide vital data to protect birds from the effects of climate change
By Jayne Dowle • Published
Do you need to chit potatoes? Find out what the experts say
Grow Your Own Learn how to chit potatoes before planting them in the ground and you’ll be on your way to getting an earlier and bigger harvest
By Drew Swainston • Published