Wedding Venues

How to Have a Garden Wedding

All the details on throwing an outdoor wedding.

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.

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