Why exchange vows in a garden? In many ways, these nuptials are the very definition of a fairy-tale wedding—a mix of earthly delights, sunny smiles, and heady romance. But like all good fables, there's a catch before you get your prince: Mother Nature. Alfresco affairs require a lot of foresight, but with planning, your day will be all beauty, no beast.
Going Public (or Not)
If you don't mind prying eyes, a public garden or park may be the venue for you. "Everyone loves to watch a wedding, so you'll likely have a few uninvited people hanging around, but their enthusiasm can be infectious," says Wendy Kallergis, a wedding consultant and outgoing general manager of Miami City Club. You'll also have to put up with any surrounding noises, such as loud-playing radios or barking dogs. The upside of public spaces is the price. Most simply require a permit (you'll pay a nominal fee) from your local city hall.
If you prefer a more discreet setting, consider a private estate or garden. Such sites often come with a hefty price tag, however. "These locales are expensive," Kallergis says, "but they're all yours, and in ready-to-go condition—you won't have to clear away garbage." Such sites also tend to have on-site catering capabilities and experience hosting events. For a public space, the set-up process is more arduous—you'll have to hire staff and bring in everything to prepare a meal, from portable stoves to place settings.
Downpours and Heat Waves and Bugs, Oh My!
The biggest concern at outdoor weddings is, well, the outdoors. "You absolutely must have a contingency plan," says Kristi Amoroso, a wedding consultant and owner of Special Events in Sonoma, California. What if it rains? You'll need a backup locale such as a tent or visitors center. "I've had brides insist on continuing on in the rain," says Kallergis, "and it's a disaster." At the first sight of dark clouds, push past your disappointment and get everyone indoors.
On sweltering afternoons, Amoroso greets guests with cool drinks and handheld fans (they double as favors). She also erects huge beach umbrellas to provide shade. Your guests won't be the only ones wilting—so, too, will your flowers, says Linda Howard, of Linda Howard's Sensational Celebrations in Los Angeles. "You need a staging area—a garage or tent—to protect them from sunlight," she says. "Have your florist put out the arrangements at the last possible moment."
To ensure your wedding is more best-day-of-your-life than A Bug's Life, Howard recommends hiring an exterminator to spray for insects two days in advance (check with your location—you may need permission), and using citronella candles during the event (you might also invest in a few rechargeable, portable bug zappers).
Food for Thought
The menus at garden weddings require special attention. Unlike at air-conditioned, sun-sheltered galas, food may melt and spoil (nix the cheese display, seafood, anything with mayo) in the heat. Though it's counter-intuitive, Kallergis recommends "serving as much hot food from carving and cooking stations as possible. Preparation is easier, and you don't have to worry about spoilage." Steer clear of buttercream-iced cakes, adds Amoroso, which may melt before your photo op.
For Comfort's Sake
Achoos! Be smart: Move the ceremony away from pollinated blossoms or bushes. Allergies? Keep your medication nearby.
RV Hospitality Your garden doesn't have an indoor facility? Consider renting a motor home (about $500 a day) for relaxing before the ceremony. You can also use it for doing hair and makeup.
Slip it to them High heels don't mix well with grass and uneven ground; you might provide the female guests with mesh slippers to prevent a broken heel (a great favor idea). Try pearlriver.com.
Gone with the… If your florist brings in trees for decoration, be sure to have her wire them down or weight them with big rocks.
Gown with Love
Your dress needs to be in sync with the other elements of your wedding—for instance, a beaded princess gown may overpower the garden setting. For outdoor nuptials, Howard suggests silk shantung (the fabric is wrinkle-free), and tea-length dresses—a full-length train will prove cumbersome and likely end up filthy. Other options: gowns made from light lace or organza, or with tiers of tulle. She also keeps chalk on hand to cover up smudges.
"Let guests know that they'll be walking on grass so they can wear appropriate shoes," says Howard. The same logic applies to the bride: To avoid sinking with every step, leave the stilettos at home and opt for a lower, more practical heel, such as a kitten or wedge. You might also consider ballet flats or jeweled sandals, depending on your dress.
Music to Your Ears
If you want sweet ceremony music, be sure to seat your string musicians in the shade. "The heat and sun can actually warp and damage instruments," states Amoroso. If you are setting up a dance floor and having a band or DJ, make sure the location has an electrical source. To prevent the tunes from fading into the background, be exact about where you place speakers. "You may not necessarily require more amplification for outdoor spaces, but you do need to spread speakers farther apart and place them more precisely," advises Kallergis. "For dancing, you'll need speakers at all four corners of the floor so that music is piped toward the crowd from all angles."
Many outdoor venues lack adequate parking, while some private estates require parking off-site, so you need to map out a plan well in advance. "Two months before the wedding, do a walk-through—figure out how many cars are expected, the direction of the traffic flow, whether there's enough parking space," says Polly Onet, of New York's Ober, Onet & Associates. Onet recommends hiring a valet service—valets ensure that guests won't have to traipse for miles to get to your ceremony, and also alleviate the problem of seeking out hard-to-find parking spots.
If there's no obvious space for the number of cars expected, Amoroso arranges for shuttles to pick up guests from nearby lots. Since a public garden may not have a street address, it's critical that you provide detailed, accurate directions. Send out maps with your invitations or in a separate mailing; cite landmarks and other indicators as guidelines. If the venue allows, consider posting signs (Jane and Jon Say "I Do" 100 Feet Ahead!) on trees and posts.
If your site doesn't have enough facilities—Amoroso suggests one toilet for every 35 guests—forgo construction-site-type stalls, and, instead, rent elegant rest room trailers (blacktieservices.com). Onet likes to spiff them up by adding candles, flowers, monogrammed paper guest towels, and toiletries.
So you don't have to deal with the frizzies on your big day, opt for an updo. And if your budget allows, ask your stylist to stick around for a few hours to revive any droopy tendrils.
Making Up Is Hard to Do
Here, some tips for looking great in the daytime:
Don't scrimp Sunlight will amplify every blemish, so you'll still need carefully applied makeup, but tone down the glitter and go for soft shades.
Picture perfect When doing a test run, step outside and snap a Polaroid to check your photo finish.
Big day touch-ups Tuck a lip gloss and powder in your purse so you can easily freshen up as the day wears on.