SUMMER ENTERTAINING AT ITS FINEST

I recently read a brilliant article in National Geographic magazine about how humans are wired to be outside. In it, Simon Worral writes about ‘The Mappiness Project’ which was developed in the UK by a happiness researcher called George MacKerron. Simon explains, “It’s a brilliant idea, which tries to capture in real time what people are doing and how it makes them feel. I downloaded this app onto my phone and used it for about a year. The way it works is, it pings you at random times a couple of times a day and gives you a list of options. Are you driving, doing childcare, cooking, hanging out with friends? Are you outside or inside and how are you feeling? Like, ‘I feel happy, not so happy.’ At the end of the year I got my data, which showed how I was spending my time and which activities made me feel a certain way.”

One of the things Simon found out was that most people are happiest when they are on holidays, with friends, making or listening to music. One of the surprising finds was that they’re also very, very happy when they are outside. And it got me thinking…

Spring table

Cigar Press Vase, by JamJar Edit 

We know it’s been proven that being in nature helps reduce anger, stress and fear and improves feelings of mental wellbeing. There is a book by Florence Williams called ‘The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative’. In it Florence uses research to uncover and explain the powers of the natural world to improve health, promote innovation, and ultimately strengthen our relationships. 

So why are we still spending so much time indoors? Why aren’t we making the most of the parks, gardens and picnic areas around us? In lockdown, these became a godsend to us. According to the ONS, “Around 9 in 10 people surveyed by natural England in May 2020 agreed that natural spaces are good for mental health and wellbeing.”¹

HortWeek also reported that UK online garden sales rose by 162% during the pandemic.² Now as the cost of living crisis really kicks in, I think it’s likely many of us will return to making the most of our outdoor spaces, in lieu of costly holidays, as we all tighten our belts — but that doesn’t mean we can’t make it fun does it?

We can join forces, invite family and friends, and make this the year we take responsibility for our own happiness. So from picnics on park walks, to grinning at garden parties, here are some fresh ideas to do it in style. Let’s make this The Year of the Great Outdoors…

Pink and yellow throw by the Conran Shop

Orun throw, by Yinka Ilori, from The Conran Shop

Talk about bringing the sunshine, have you seen my new favourite picnic blanket? In celebration of London Craft Week 2022, The Conran Shop has collaborated with artist Yinka Ilori to make this stunning Orun Throw in his signature bright, bold, geometric style. It’s handcrafted in Portugal and is every bit as lovely in real life as it looks here.

I’m a big believer in the motto, “If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, dress her beautifully.” This vibrant butterfly attractor from East London Parasol Company is just the ticket. All their pieces are handmade in the most stunning fabrics and you can read lovely stories about the provenance of them on their site. I’m not surprised that Vogue described them as being, “A sustainably conscious brand that reimagines the colourful parasols of India and Bali and brings them to our own gardens.” I defy anyone to get one of these and not get adoring comments from family and friends. Don’t mind if I do…

Personalised picnic table

Personalised portable picnic table wine holder, by MijMoj Design

Now you know as well as I do that balancing a wine glass on bumpy grass is no mean feat. So how about this for a clever idea from the brilliant small business, MijMoj Design? It’s lightweight and folds up so is super easy to carry, and is handcrafted in the UK (so made to keep). I think this table would add a dash of decorum to any outside gathering.

Candles in the shape of strawberries

The leafy strawberry candle set of two, by The Waxness

Being out and about can be anything but ordinary and it’s the little touches that make it special. I like to think of a place locally that means a lot to a friend or my partner and me, and make an evening of it. How about sending out an end-of-the-week invite for ‘Cocktails on the Common’ perhaps? Perfectly shaped little strawberry candles, a daiquiri or two and some bar snacks on a blanket? All the ingredients for an unforgettable evening that turns a regular Friday night into a brilliant one.

Woman holding a plant in a pot the shape of a disco ball

Disco ball planter, by My Planter

Looking for a novel way to add a touch of disco to your open air soirée? How cool are these planters? Handmade in a choice of colours and sizes, you can get hanging ones to reflect mini flecks onto your floor or sitting ones that make spectacular centrepieces. Just what every good garden party needs…

Scalloped plates by KH Cossack

Scalloped edge plates, by KC Hossack Pottery

Doesn’t founder Karin just make entertaining sooooo easy with plates and dishes as pretty as these? They just shout, “GET THE FAMILY OVER FOR A DO IN THE GARDEN” to me (or is that just me? Lol). Just look at them though. After studying pottery in New York, Karin didn’t return to it for many years until her daughter, Izy Hossack — the food blogger, stylist and photographer — needed one-of-a-kind ceramics and tableware for her imagery. And thank heavens she did because now we get to enjoy these.

Cocktail sticks in the shape of cacti

Handmade glass cactus swizzle sticks, by PIOTR Shop goods

I always find these to be wonderful conversation starters so if you’re having a gathering where not everyone knows each other, I highly recommend these kind of unique touches — perfect for a Mexican themed garden party, too btw (I mean, you know I love a theme. And Frida). Plus who says you can only use them as cocktail stirrers? These are great to tuck into plant pots as decoration afterwards or even to wear in a bun if you’re that way inclined.

Handpainted floral trug

Large, hand painted, floral trug, by Edit58

I mean, what a way to take an everyday item and elevate it to being something extraordinary! Edit58 is superb at this — and I for one can’t imagine a better serving dish at an outdoor event. Imagine these filled with canapés or treats, or even just as a way to carry your smaller picnic items to the park. This is exactly the kind of accessory you’ll keep forever and will bring you joy (and happy memories) for years to come.

Napkin rings in the shape of cherries

The cherry napkin ring, by The Table Love

If it’s a bit of a special event that you are hosting outdoors, take a look at The Table Love. From one-of-a-kind napkins to inviting tablemats, every element is beautifully designed and handmade with care. With that in mind, they’re not easy to get hold of but it’s table dressings like these that will be handed down for generations to come — well worth the wait.

‘Perfect Day’ blanket, by Bianco Perry

Why have an ordinary picnic blanket when you could use this vintage, hand knitted one and set yourself up for a truly ‘perfect day’? My thoughts exactly! It also makes a rather superb wall hanging or throw when you’re not using it for sausage roll-based dietary requirements…

There are many ways to make the most of our outdoor spaces and I really hope you get to enjoy some soon. For more ways to spread some positive vibes, take a look at my ‘Hosting an I love you brunch’ post or how ‘Having an attitude for gratitude’ can refill your cup. 

Sources:

  1. ONS research on lockdown and our relationship with nature
  2. HortWeek on rising garden sales

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