Summer days call for overflowing picnic baskets and afternoons whiled away under the shade of a tree. Try these idyllic National Trust gardens for family-friendly summer picnics.
Playwright William Somerset Maugham wrote that “there are few things so pleasant as a picnic lunch,” and who could disagree with the joys of a blanket tossed across the lawn and freshly-cut sandwiches eaten al fresco?
A quick look through the history books proves that people have been picnicking for centuries. The French aristocracy introduced the trend in the 18th century, although their picnics were indoor affairs. In 1801 the ‘Pic Nic Society’ formed in London, where members were required to bring a dish and six bottles of wine to enjoy alongside singing, gambling and a lavish theatre performance.
Today, our picnic baskets are more likely to be filled with kombucha and gourmet cheeses, but a peaceful outdoor location, and a good smattering of sun and shade are also vital ingredients for the perfect picnic. You can find both in spades at the following National Trust gardens, which are filled with heritage trees, lush lawns and the added charm of a historic backdrop.
South of Sydney
Nestled in the green hills of Bowral is showstopping Retford Park. Former owner James Fairfax used this country residence to entertain guests and the grounds still convey a sense of fun, with their pink Italianate mansion, 1960s pool pavilion and an extensive collection of heritage oak trees that provide ideal canopies for picnickers. There’s an art trail for children and for extra picnic points, you can bring your dog on a leash.
Not too far away is another charming picnic garden at Harper’s Mansion in Berrima. This has the added spectacle of one of Australia’s largest hedge mazes. The cool-climate garden is bursting with perennials and shady spots for lazing away the day.
Only one hour away in Goulburn you’ll also find Riversdale, a Colonial Georgian home surrounded by gorgeous gardens that guarantee a peaceful day out.
In the 19th century, the White family at Saumarez Homestead near Armidale often held family picnics around the farm and down by the local creek – sometimes bringing along a complete china tea set.
In the Ladies Kitchen of the homestead, visitors can still see the family’s original portable fireless cooker, which used hot stones to keep picnic food warm. Sometimes, a cannister was even filled with cake batter and the cake left to bake in the cooker!
These days you can make your own modern picnic on Saumarez Homestead’s east lawn, which is bathed in dappled shade. While you’re there, tour the famous rose garden with its 600 heritage roses.
For another romantic picnic location, explore Miss Traill’s House – a hidden heritage gem in Bathurst, with lovely lawns and a rear garden planted with older flower varieties. Picnic on Sunday afternoons under the shade of the 1845 pear tree then take a guided tour of the house.
There’s no need to be dainty about picnic crumbs at Dundullimal Homestead in Dubbo, where fresh country air and rural views are the highlights. The park-like grounds are fantastic for picnics, with the extra rustic charm of stables and outbuildings to explore. If you run out of food, make a second stop at the on-site cafe for Devonshire tea.
Views of another kind are on offer at Norman Lindsay Gallery in the Blue Mountains, where you can take in the whimsical nude statues by famous artist Norman Lindsay that are dotted around the grounds. The wisteria vine pops with blooms in spring, and there’s even a short scenic bushwalk with views of the Grose Valley to enjoy after a long lazy lunch.
Just a bit further into the Blue Mountains is Everglades House & Gardens in Leura, where there’s no shortage of picnic spots in the terraced gardens. Heritage trees provide lots of dappled share, and children will enjoy wandering down to the fern-filled grotto to see the waterfall. On weekends, stop for a delicious Devonshire Tea in the Everglades House & Gardens tea rooms.
The National Trust has lots of other gardens around New South Wales to explore. Opening hours may vary during summer, so please check individual property opening hours. Explore more places.
The National Trust would like to thank the many volunteers who help care for these special places. We also thank our members. With your support we’ve been saving and maintaining much-loved heritage gardens since 1945.
Become a member of the National Trust and gain exclusive savings and benefits, while also helping to conserve irreplaceable heritage around New South Wales. Become a member.