Weddings and family gatherings held outdoors are wonderful ways to commune with nature and each other. Close your eyes and picture yourself facing a long wooden table laced with fresh garden flowers, candles and unique vintage (or colorful modern) dinnerware. Ah, bliss!
Eating together around the table is incontrovertibly important for child development, family unity, mental health and even improved digestion. In these dark times of pandemic, it’s even more important since we cannot easily eat in community with strangers and casual acquaintances.
The thing is, these tablescapes are fun and easy to create in your own back yard. This summer, bring your patio table out to the lawn or into an area with trees and greenery. Then, consider some of these ideas for natural and eye-catching design. Your family is going to love the extra attention to the table — it will feel like dining in a gorgeous winery or at an outdoor wedding, only more intimate.
Stylist Hillary Black created the look of these luncheon tables, for a going-away party that took place pre-COVID in a gorgeous California regional park. She uses some very simple elements that turned a very basic picnic area into a photo-worthy bower where friends gathered to wish Rebecca farewell.
Daydream, Don’t Plan
We’re always told that we must plan, plan, plan. Not this time. For the back yard, your best strategy is to stand still and look around. What do you see? Hopefully, you see color, blossoms, interesting leaves and branches. All of these can be used in your tablescape. Don’t see anything but crabgrass and concrete? This is when you pick a theme that will enhance the surroundings. Cottage in the country, farmhouse, tropical, beach house, bohemain, Shakespearian, mid-century suburbia … whatever appeals. Then add a few important elements that evoke your vision.
Look Around You
Hillary is an avid reduce/reuse/recycler and always looks through what she has before purchasing anything new. “The trick is to really see and understand the items you already possess and not get stuck seeing them for a single, traditional purpose,” Hillary says. Ordinary household items, from pretty books to watering cans, sheets, fabric shower curtains, storage baskets and scarves are fair game for your tablescape. Tin food cans with the paper labels removed make great rustic flower holders along the center length of the table.
If you have trees, lucky you! Festoon the branches with colorful long scarves so that they flutter in the breeze. Hang paper or glass lanterns and insert battery-operated candles inside.
Lay the Groundwork: Table Coverings
These picnic tables, made of solid wood that has weathered over time, would have been pretty enough on their own. But most of us don’t have that luxury. For complete “tablecloth” coverings, burlap is a good choice. This might be something you will have to purchase so roll it up at the end and use it again. Burlap is great to have around for a quick dress-up anywhere; a quick look at Amazon shows 10 yards (5 ft. wide) can be had for about $40.
Then she added feathery stems of California Pepper tree branches as a runner. For late afternoon parties, here is also a great place to add light with battery-operated tealights or a string of lights. Smoothly polished river rocks from Hillary’s own back yard were scattered around the metal bouquet pots.
For a harvest theme, use fresh carrots with their tops still on, aromatic herbs like mint and sage, purple kale, artichokes, colorful potatoes and peppers. Or go the fruit route with oranges, lemons, peaches and grapes. To keep fruits and vegetables fresh and more inviting as edibles, place narrow trays underneath. You could make these using scrap lumber pieces lined with parchment paper or floursack towels.
For a second table, change things up with a second fabric or a combination of two textiles. Layer a pretty square of fabric on the diagonal or use that as the base and burlap as the accent. Here Hillary used ticking fabric, simply folding the raw edges under for a cute topper. She found these natural pinecones in her stashed holiday decorations.
Small side tables are great for holding food items or gifts, and also to reinforce the party’s theme. This side table cemented the “aloha/happy trails” theme of Rebecca moving into a new house and state. “The lei is the beautiful Hawaiian symbol for hello and goodbye,” Hillary says. “I thought a fresh lei would be perfect for Rebecca to wear during her party.” A fabric-covered box adds needed height (and is handy for storing extra things like paper towels, lighter etc.)
Fill in with Vignettes
If the tablescape is looking a little lonely out there in the middle of your yard, here’s a neat trick: Design a small sitting area off to the side of the main table.
Using your prettiest wicker chair or even an upholstered chair from the house you don’t mind setting outside for a few hours, create an environment that invites. Potted plants, a small table covered in cloth and even a little outdoor rug will fill the stage with visual interest. Bonus: An extra sitting space!