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How to create the perfect al fresco tablescape this Garden Day

·6-min read
 (Wild At Heart)
(Wild At Heart)

The sun is shining and with the weather (finally!) set to warm up this weekend, you’re probably plotting some form of al fresco get together with family and friends.

But if the balmy 20 degree forecast isn’t enough to get you in picnic mode, it’s also Garden Day this Sunday (May 9). In its third year, the event aims to coax people outside to get everyone enjoying nature again.

Want to really impress your pals? We caught up with Nikki Tibbles (@nikkitibbleswildatheart), table dresser to A-listers and founder of iconic British florist Wild at Heart, along with Willow Crossley Creates (@willowcrossleycreates), author and floral stylist to the likes of the Duchess of Sussex, who shared their top tips for creating a chic, nature-inspired tablescape.

More is more

Willow Crossley Creates
Willow Crossley Creates

The first rule of tablescaping? There are no rules! “I am very much a ‘more is more’ person, so I love lots of clashing prints, tying up my napkins with lovely ribbon or silk sari ribbon and I’m leaning full colour at the moment, with lots of fresh vibrant pinks, oranges, blues, lilacs, coral and white. Don’t be too strict about it, anything goes!” Crossley says.

Tibbles shares this maximalist sentiment. “My house is full of colour and texture, and I love pattern on pattern with as many colours that shouldn’t go together as you can possibly manage,” she says. “When I started flower arranging, there were lots more rules about which colours go with which but now it’s the more mixed and matched with colour and texture and fragrance on your table, the better. Everyone’s tired of rules!” This applies beyond the table, layer chairs and benches with throws and cushions to add more texture (and warmth) to the scene.

Mix and Match

Hot Pottery
Hot Pottery

Blend old antique pieces with more contemporary tablewares for a boho-chic feel. “For example, a beautiful crisp linen napkin with an old silver napkin ring is quite fabulous, or a modern chair around an old table, I like to mix things up a bit,” Tibbles adds. “I have some old upholstered chairs around my marble-topped tulip table from the 50s which sits on a really highly patterned Missoni rug that’s filled with colour.”

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The same goes for crockery. “I have a collection of plates that I’ve collected over the years, with lots of second hand ones, I found these incredible Tuscan speckled ones in a flea market (75 for £30) which come out a lot,” says Crossley. Look to London-based brand Hot Pottery, for a stunning selection of handmade Puglian ceramics in four colourways that can be mixed and matched to your heart’s content - they’re the perfect accompaniment to your next Ottolenghi-inspired lunch.

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“I love Penny Morrison for plates and fabrics, my brother Ned has a gift company called Not Another Bill that’s great for plates and napkins and my sister-in-law Matilda Goad for her signature scallop designs. Summerill & Bishop, is a shop for your table, and Daylesford is great for linen too.”

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Scatter flowers, foliage and herbs

Willow Crossley Creates
Willow Crossley Creates

Play around with flowers, foliage and herbs to create a nature-inspired tablescape that stimulates the senses.

“Nature is our biggest inspiration and it’s also free,” says Tibbles. “I grow the things in my garden that I love to have on my table. This time of year we’ve still got blossom, magnolia, wisteria, lilac and jasmine and I’ve planted so many peonies, hydrangea, foxgloves, lupins garden and rambling roses, it’s a riot of colour, shape and texture.”

Add more fragrance to your table with herbs like lavender and rosemary. “I might tie my napkins with some ivy or ribbons and then I’ll tuck herbs in them, a wisp of wisteria or jasmine, so you’ve always got something fragrant on your napkin. Bundles of herbs also look really beautiful tied up and strewn across the table, and I might have magnolia branches running along it too.”

“My absolute favourites are Solomon’s seal - I live for the three weeks of the year that they’re in bloom,” Crossley says. “I love peonies, sweet peas and tulips, euphorbia and pheasant’s eye daffodils which are still holding on. I also love winding clematis down a table, it has lovely long tendrils.”

Upcycle what you can

Willow Crossley Creates
Willow Crossley Creates

Get creative with the things you already have knocking around the house, and look for smaller vessels for individual stems rather than large showpieces. “If I collected every jam jar, olive oil bottle or glass orange juice bottle that I buy from the farm store, I’d never need to buy another vase again,” says Tibbles. “It’s not about those fish bowls or square tank vases that we used to use - that’s done and gone! I love old jugs, vintage teapots and pewter mugs because of the history and story behind them, it’s much more interesting.”

Wild at Heart
Wild at Heart

Candles add atmosphere to a table day or night, and you can mix up heights with candelabra and tea lights. “I just love the feel they create - they instantly make me want to relax,” Crossley says. “For outdoor picnics I use lots of jam jars for vases, nothing too dainty - it’s got to be something windproof with our weather - or high so you can see your friends.

“A good tip with candles outside is to have hurricane protected glass or candle sleeves that protect from the wind and I typically use a much chunkier candle,” she adds.

Customise your table linen

Cloth Collective X Interia Hysteria
Cloth Collective X Interia Hysteria

Want to really impress your guests? Customising your own tablecloths and napkins will make things look and feel truly bespoke. “I wouldn’t go to a store and buy table linen, most of mine is vintage, I like using things for what they aren’t meant to be, I love buying old heavy french linen bed sheets and getting them customised with embroidered flowers like daffodils or roses or wisteria,” Tibbles says. “I do quite like a matching napkin too - napkins should always be linen and either white or cream. Or pick out a softer shade from the tablecloth to use for the napkin.”

For something unique (and eco-friendly) look to sustainable brands like Cloth Collective, founded by Charlotte Lawson Johnston, who creates naturally-dyed bespoke fabrics using bio and botanical waste, “they are the most beautiful colours with no harsh chemicals used and she’s starting to grow her own flax to colour them,” Crossley says. “I love floral prints, I buy metres of fabric or old bits of vintage fabric and get bold prints, like clementines or coloured foxgloves embroidered all over them. I’ve just brought out a wallpaper with Barneby Gates and we’ll be turning that into fabric too.”

Create an interest point

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The devil really is in the detail when creating the ultimate tablescape - make an interest point using accessories like shells, fruit or plants for extra style points.

“I use tiny little crab apples a lot or I love a big bowl of lemons with the leaves still on in the summer. Having something as a placeholder can be really nice, like painting an oyster shell with gold spray paint or I’ve gilded pears and tied little name tags onto the storks.” Or use small plants, like strawberry plants. “People love an individual little thing on their plate. At our wedding we gave everyone forget-me-not seed sticks with their name on which they took home and planted.”

To share how you celebrate Garden Day, tag @GardenDayUK and use #GardenDayUK in your social media posts.