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A Picnic in the Garden: All About Pattern

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A Picnic in the Garden: All About Pattern

September is truly the most beautiful month in Newport, a perfect outing for a small garden picnic. And under the canopy of grand old beech trees, Alice and Jim Ross celebrated this first breath of fall where pattern was the order of the day. From the large lacquered paper umbrellas to the vintage tablecloths to the guest’s attire, the well-considered details reminded us of the layer upon layer of details which Alice masterminded when decorating their home, “Berkeley House” (featured in my book, Living Newport: Houses, People, Style.)

A Picnic in the Garden: All About Pattern

Multi-colored flowers anchored the base of the umbrellas in painted tin containers that were also vintage; celadon-blue French bistro chairs paired with accent colors in each of the cloths.

As we sipped iced tea and sangrias, with their parasoled fruit garnishes, the bounty of Alice’s newly re-designed garden beckoned us through the garden gates. I was reminded of her sage and refreshing  impressions as a novice gardener…wisdom for all of us…which were recorded in a recent booklet for a visiting group of gardeners.

“When we first moved into our house, I was completely intimidated by our garden. I thought dahlias were colored daisies. Every now and then, I would pass through it and something would astonish me – the majesty of the old copper beech, the incredible loveliness of a perfect rose opening up – all of this glorious beauty, pressing forward without any direction on my part. So I started thinking, ‘If the garden does all this without my consideration, how much greater could it be if I start to really think about it…’ ”

“I stopped letting the countless variations of non-memorable Latin botanical names and the complex instructions for pruning clematis and hydrangeas daunt me, and I started imagining things. I got books and magazines about gardens. I jumped on board for various garden tours. I surfed the internet for images of gardens. When I traveled, I went to see famous gardens. I got advice from lots of people who know way more than I do. All of this exploring led to ideas!”

A Picnic in the Garden: All About Pattern
A generous quantity of peach sangria was presented in an antique blue and white ceramic bowl sitting in a trough of ice.

“The more engaged I became with the garden, the more joy it produced in me. I think it must be like the endorphins that exercise junkies get. There is just something so elemental, like a primal memory trace, that we humans get when we join in with nature. It now makes sense to me why God began with us in the garden.”

A Picnic in the Garden: All About Pattern
It’s not an accident that the motif on Alice Ross’s sun dress repeats the umbrella shapes.

Stepping stones in the center island garden invite you to take a closer look at all the plantings.

A Picnic in the Garden: All About Pattern

The gardens also include a shaded place to sit and reflect.

A Picnic in the Garden: All About Pattern

The yummy dessert – homemade lemon pound cake and chocolate brownie cookies – were presented in a flat-basket that had a clever netted cover (wise thinking on Alice’s part…those pesky yellow jackets are a sure sign it’s September.)

A Picnic in the Garden: All About Pattern

Olive was a very popular guest at the party.

A Picnic in the Garden: All About Pattern

As I said, it was all about pattern…a tablecloth and a guest’s skirt.


Happy September!

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Bettie Bearden Pardee

About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".