Beneath twinkling lights or towering umbrellas, while being surrounded by embellished charcuterie boards and decorative pillows, local picnickers are now getting an Instagramable experience with luxury picnic setups right here in Tucson.
If you’ve scrolled through Instagram or TikTok in the last year, chances are you’ve seen luxurious picnic setups for every occasion from across the country. The trend became more popular in Southern Arizona throughout the pandemic, as people began looking for outdoor activities to remain socially distanced from others.
Despite COVID-19 restrictions lifting recently and people beginning to comfortably return to indoor social settings, the outdoor trend remains popular for birthdays, anniversaries and even marriage proposals. In the last year, local luxury picnic companies were tasked with creating stunning arrangements while taking extra sanitary measures to ensure their clients felt safe and comfortable.
Now, two local luxury picnic companies find themselves facing a new challenge this summer: Arizona’s relentless heat.
“Right now, picnics need to be in the evening or indoors,” said Brittny Washburn, the owner of Lady Bird Picnics. “It's still wonderful, but for the summer months, it's kind of not the best time to do it (during the day) if I'm being honest because it's miserable here to be outside.”
Guadalupe Zepeda, the owner of Palafox Projects, encourages her clients to book picnics between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. or at 8 a.m. due to the extreme heat in the summer months.
“I’ll call the customers and say, ‘Are you sure you want to do it at 12 o'clock? Because it's very, very, very hot.’ Then I will offer a big umbrella and more water, or look for shade (at the park) for the picnic,” Zepeda said.
To local picnic planners, Tucson’s occasional unpredictable weather is the most challenging part of running a picnic business. Some of Washburn’s picnics are planned at least a month in advance, which she says makes it difficult to gauge what the weather will be like on the day of the event.
Zepeda came face-to-face with unpredictable weather this past spring when she was setting up a large luxury picnic for about 30 people and a storm rolled in and “destroyed everything,” she said. Because of the storm, she lost two large umbrellas and some wicker furniture.
Instead of packing up the remaining setup, Zepeda told her client to give her 30 minutes and she would start over and reset the arrangement for the event. Zepeda says she ended up losing money that day because of the destroyed items and although she’s not rich, she feels rich with the opportunity to create beautiful picnics.
After leaving her hometown of Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico, 20 years ago, Zepeda moved to Tucson and became a cosmetologist, a career field she still works in today. Last September, she started Palafox Projects and began doing tablescapes on the side with the help of her daughters.
Similarly, Washburn started her luxury picnic business as more of a hobby in May 2019 and later turned it into a side business of her company, Glover Ranch Events. For Lady Bird Picnics, Washburn is a one-woman show who plans, assembles and takes down each picnic herself.
“I've always just really loved picnics,” Washburn said. “I know, it sounds silly, but I just enjoy being outside and relaxing and having some snacks and you know, hanging out with friends or family. And so I guess (Lady Bird Picnics) was kind of just a natural extension of what I already do.”
Washburn’s picnics feature a luxury farmhouse-chic look with fresh flowers in mason jars and golden silverware on a low wooden table adorned with fresh fruit and other small snacks. When picnics are held at her venue, Glover Ranch, in Marana, she also includes lights and private bathrooms for her clients.
“Everybody has kind of their own style of how they do it, but I think what makes mine different is that I have a place for people to go if they don't know where to go. It's just a really great spot,” she said.
Zepeda’s picnics have a signature bohemian style featuring decorative pillows, large umbrellas and her absolute must-have item: pampas grass.
She encourages her clients to trust her with the picnic design because she wants to create a new, customized arrangement for every client year-round, even during the summer months.
Although Tucson’s heat isn’t going anywhere any time soon, luxury picnics are here to stay. Local picnic companies like Palafox Projects, Lady Bird Picnics and other smaller businesses such as Desert Glow Events and Splendid Picnic Co. continue to bring a unique picnic experience to Southern Arizona.
“Tucson is such a beautiful place already and picnics are one great way to be able to appreciate it by being able to set up at a place that has views like no other place in the world other than Arizona,” Zepeda said.
Elvia Verdugo is a University of Arizona journalism student apprenticing with the Arizona Daily Star.