Kevin had the right idea. My friends Beth and Mike’s Labrador retriever mix was roaming from apple tree to apple tree, snapping off the fruit from the branches that were so heavily laden, they almost touched the ground. He made a pile of apples and started to munch.
I totally get it. At a place like Riverbend, Beth and Mike’s country home just outside of Kansas City, you can’t help but want to eat it all up at once. The spreading-wide blue sky. The orchard filled with apple, pear and peach trees — and lots of droning honeybees. And the company of good friends. It’s all so heart-filling and soul-restoring, I would spend all day in this simple paradise.
On this early fall day, a few of us played hooky and escaped to Riverbend to enjoy a picnic in the orchard, getting a cure for our Nature Deficit Disorder. Bruce and Cheri, two of our visual design and seasonal display champions at Nell Hill’s, set a fall picnic to inspire you to go outside and do the same this season.
Back in the day, Beth and Mike’s property was a youth camp. These 320 acres abutting the Missouri River were dotted with cabins, a mess hall, trails that snaked through the forest and fire pits filled with ashes from countless campfires. Hundreds of kids had explored the woodlands here, cooked over a campfire and lit the fire of curiosity within them.
Mike, a displaced country boy who couldn’t wait to have the dirt of a farm under his feet again, knew this special property was home as soon as he saw it. So the couple put in the hard work of turning the neglected property into a welcoming retreat where they always seem to be entertaining family, friends and the many people from around the world they have a chance to meet as the founders of the Global Orphan Project.
Beth loves to cook, so they planted an orchard filled with fruit trees they use to make apple cider, apple pies and peach preserves. The beehives give them fresh honey to slather on bread. And pancakes served up to the 17 grandkids when they spend the night are dripping with maple syrup the family makes themselves from the sap of their own maple trees. As someone who never cooks, I find all this homemade goodness shocking, and sensational. When I am at Riverbend, I never want to leave.
For our fall picnic, we commandeered one of the old wooden picnic tables and covered it with a patchwork of plaid throw blankets from Nell Hill’s. I really like to use blankets as tablecloths because they are large enough to cover a table, are easily laundered and give you a chance to pull in great patterns and colors.
I have an unquenchable fire for plaid that burns year round, but in the fall, it becomes a bonfire as I add this old familiar pattern to my home’s décor any way I can. This sweet vintage-inspired metal plaid basket was perfect for transporting our simple feast of sandwiches, apple pie, fresh apples and cider to the orchard.
When you entertain outside, it’s fun to mix the rustic and refined together. The tiered wooden server, one of my favorites for the season, is earthy and organic, yet gives you a way to show off your harvest of food with a touch of drama. We have it loaded with orchard apples, just screaming to be dipped in hot caramel.
Another tool I could not live without is a big, versatile bowl, like the one holding apples on our picnic table. Fill it with a wonderful salad or slices of crispy bread for dinner, or with apples or fall gourds for a simple centerpiece. The lantern on the table’s edge will give us a soft glow to see by as this perfect fall day slips into dusk. No need for an elaborate centerpiece when you have all this beauty surrounding you and on the table. We just tossed in some sunflowers and pinecones and called it good.
One of the things I admire about Beth’s entertaining style is how effortlessly she introduces elegance. Her personality is warm and gracious, reflecting the southern hospitality she learned from her momma growing up. But unlike her sweet mother, Beth isn’t afraid to pull out the family china every time she entertains, even when it’s the grandkids, even when it’s outdoors. She knows precious things are meant to be enjoyed, not hidden away.
Here, we’ve set our table with my dish-heartthrob: Spode transferware. The dinner plate features a pheasant, one of my favorite icons of fall. The salad plate? A hunting dog, in honor of Kevin, our apple-eating canine assistant (I want to steal this dog!). The place settings are finished out with a wicker charger, amber glassware and faux antler-handled silverware, some of my all-time favorites for fall entertaining.
Next Week …I’ll show you cleaver ways to use benches and ottomans to add seating, style and space to your home.