Since Richmond has tons of great parks for summer picnicking, we've tried to discover a few not-so-
obvious places for spreading a tablecloth under a towering shade tree, plus nearby places to fill your basket.
After arguing the famous Parson's Cause case, Patrick Henry probably would have liked celebrating his victory with a picnic on the grounds of his boyhood church in Mechanicsville — Polegreen Church (6411 Heatherwood Drive; for information, call the church's foundation, 730-3837). The church is long gone, destroyed in the Civil War, but its vast grounds have been preserved, providing "a secluded getaway" that's ideal for picnicking, says Chris Peace, Polegreen's executive director."We call it lunch and learn," he says. If you haven't brought food, Peace suggests the Mechanicsville Drugstore, (8077 Mechanicsville Turnpike, 746-5168), serving great limeade from its lunch counter since it opened in the 1950s. Manager Jessica Powell suggests tuna, egg or chicken-salad sandwiches and coleslaw or macaroni salad; the recipes are throwbacks to the pre-Sputnik era.
Less than 15 minutes from downtown Richmond is Meadow Farm Museum at Crump Park in Glen Allen (3400 Mountain Road, 501-2130), with acres of wooded trails for hiking, towering shade trees for napping, and rolling hills for somersaulting (the kids, not you). Also on the site is the antebellum home that Dr. John Mosby, a farmer and country doctor, shared with his family. Picnicking is allowed anywhere on the grounds, and grills are available. Not far away is the Glen Allen Super Market (3007 Mountain Road, 672-1003), where stepping inside is like stepping back to the 1950s. There's a refrigerator full of nostalgia-inducing, ice-cold bottled sodas. Rhonda and Jeffrey Abernathy, the apron-clad owners, will pat hamburgers into shape or cut your steak to order if you plan to grill. Plus, the macaroni and chicken salads are homemade.
Jamestown may have been America's first English settlement, but Henricus, founded in 1611, is the site of one of the country's most famous romantic rendezvous. Here, colonist John Rolfe won the hand of Indian princess Pocahontas. (We think that he probably wooed her over a romantic picnic on a shady spot overlooking the James River — the area now known as Henricus Historical Park (251 Henricus Park Road, 748-1613). Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for children 3 to 12. To sate the appetites of passersby on their way to historic sites, Half-Way House (10301 Jefferson Davis Highway, 275-1760), circa 1760, hosts Saturday and Sunday barbecues, noon to 5 p.m., with to-go chicken, pork barbecue and baby-back ribs.
It's hard not to pass picnic spots if you walk more than a few blocks in the urban forest that is Richmond. But we absolutely must point out Meadow Park (at the intersections of Meadow and Park avenues), because it's so small you might miss it otherwise. A mere half-block in size, it's pure Fan District charm, surrounded, as it is, by lovely homes and impressive churches. The park is within huffing distance of museums on the Boulevard and Confederate sentinels on Monument Avenue. And the park itself is an attraction, with live music on occasion. Garnett's (2001 Park Ave., 367-7909), a quaint, popular neighborhood restaurant, is across the street from the park. It's so close that Garnett's owner Kendra Feather considers the spot of well-tended land "our outdoor dining area." Garnett's makes picnicking easy, offering to-go baskets packed with your choice of sandwiches, salads, pie for dessert, as well as patchwork tablecloths. After you finish, says Feather, "you throw your trash back in the basket and bring it to us."