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Outdoor concerts, sunny weekends, trips to the beach – what better way to enjoy these events, and the last weeks of summer, than with a picnic?

The word ‘picnic’ comes from the French ‘pique-nique’, and entered into common usage in the 1800s. It has a nice dual meaning, being both an outing with food, and a pleasant experience. Originally, the idea of a picnic was simply a communal event in which everyone brought an item of food, but evolved into being an outdoor activity. Writing at the close of the 19th century, Lady Colin Campbell paints a fascinating picture of what such an occasion might have been like: "The provisions should have a separate vehicle allotted to them, and not be scattered about in the different carriages…. The servants – not too many, please, or we shall have too much state and ceremony – accompanying the car should start in good time, so as to be at the destination when the company arrives." Suitable provisions are listed as including pigeon and grouse pies, pressed tongue, blancmange in mould, plum-cakes, lemonade, cherry brand, tea, and remember, "it is useless to attempt to make coffee on an occasion of this kind". Nowadays, the picnic is a considerably less formal affair, although the cuisine can be just as complex.

Planning:
Picnics may seem like a slapdash affair, but they’re more likely to succeed if you plan properly for them.

  • If there’s a lot of you, make a list of what you’re all bringing (food, drinks, plates and cutlery) to avoid ending up with a hundred-weight of sausages and no forks
  • Tailor your food to the place and to the people attending: a beach party, games day and outdoor concert will all suit different fare
  • Make sure you’re catering for everyone: vegetarians, choosy children, and carnivores included
  • Avoid fizzy drinks, which can get shaken up in transit
  • Consider decanting glass-bottled drinks into lighter containers to lessen their weight
  • Use cool bags and freezer blocks to keep food cool on the journey
  • Avoid foods that will sweat or go off
  • Take a bag for rubbish, and a bag for dirty plates and cutlery
  • Make use of a hamper or basket, which will help you pack properly and prevent breakages and crushing

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  • Take something comfortable – and waterproof (just in case) – to sit on, that’s big enough for all of you
  • Take napkins and a tablecloth that can be cleared away after eating
  • Take some string in case you’re near a river or stream and can dangle a bottle (of white wine or refreshing soft drink) in the cooling water
  • Separate the load, so everyone shares the carrying
  • Don’t forget the suncream and hats, if you’re going to be out in the sun
  • Keep insects at bay with citronella candles (but make sure you position and use them sensibly)
  • Take a torch, in case you’re out late
  • Think of an enjoyable way of getting to your chosen location
  • When you’re there, choose a relatively horizontal plot for your meal, with some shade nearby

    Places:
    You might choose to have a picnic in your garden, or travel further afield. We’ve got more than 200 entries in our Gardens to Visit database that welcome picnickers. Here’s a selection of just a few of them:

    Avon: American Museum and Gardens
    Bedfordshire: The Lodge, Woburn Abbey
    Berkshire: Basildon Park, Cliveden, Englefield, The Savill Garden
    Birmingham: Botanical Gardens and Glasshouses, Cannon Hill Park
    Buckinghamshire: Waddesdon Manor
    Cheshire: Tatton Gardens
    Cornwall: Carwinion, Heligan, Pencarrow, Trebah, Trelissick Garden
    Cumbria: Acorn Bank Garden and Watermill, Hutton-in-the-Forest, Rydal Mount and Gardens
    Derbyshire: Lea Gardens
    Devon: Bicton Park Botanical Gardens, Marwood Hill Gardens, Tapeley Park Gardens
    Dorset: Athelhampton House and Gardens, Sherborne Castle
    Essex: RHS Garden Hyde Hall
    Gloucestershire: Batsford Arboretum, Owlpen Manor, Painswick Rococo Garden, Sudeley Castle
    Hampshire: Exbury Gardens, The Vyne
    Hertfordshire: Benington Lordship, Hatfield House Gardens, Knebworth House Gardens
    Kent: Goodnestone Park Gardens, Hall Place, Port Lympne Mansion and Gardens , Scotney Castle Garden
    Lancashire: Rufford Old Hall
    Lincolnshire: Belton House, Doddington Hall Gardens
    London/Surrey: Cannizaro Park, Fulham Palace, Kew Gardens, Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park
    Newcastle-under-Lyme: Gibside 18th Century Pleasure Ground
    Norfolk: Blickling Garden, Felbrigg Hall, Hales Hall, The Plantation Garden
    Northamptonshire: Canons Ashby House, Coton Manor Gardens, Cottesbrooke Hall
    Northern Ireland: Carnfunnock Country Park
    Northumberland: Belsay Hall Castle and Gardens
    Oxfordshire: Blenheim Palace, Broughton Castle
    Scotland: Cawdor Castle Gardens, Blairquhan, Culzean Castle and Country Park
    Shropshire: Hodnet Hall Gardens
    Somerset: Dunster Castle and Grounds
    Suffolk: East Bergholt Place, North Cove Hall
    Sussex: Borde Hill Garden, High Beeches, Michelham Priory
    Wales: Erddig, Glansevern Hall Gardens
    Worcestershire: Burford House Gardens
    Yorkshire: Burton Agnes Gardens, Duncombe Park, Newby Hall and Gardens, Norton Conyers

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