It was love at first sight when Taylor Whiting and Jennifer “Jen” Kelly met one lovely morning in 2016. At the time, Taylor was starting her first year of teaching at a school in Chicago, where Jen had been working for four years. Once the two locked eyes in Taylor’s new classroom, it felt like no one else was in the room. “I was teaching a social studies lesson, and Jen walked in, and I forgot everything I was supposed to be teaching,” Taylor admits. They kept it friendly for a year until Jen finally took the plunge and asked Taylor out on a date.
After a blissful year of dating, both Jen and Taylor were planning a proposal—without the other’s knowledge. That fall, they decided to attend a lantern festival in the Mojave Desert, which they both thought was the perfect opportunity to pop the question. “Taylor had already written on her lantern, ‘Will You Marry Me,’ and was preparing to send it up into the air,” the couple recalls. “Jen’s plan was to wait until the sky was filled with lanterns to ask Taylor.”
At that moment, the event coordinators announced that they had to cancel the festival due to rain—an unlikely occurrence in the middle of the desert! “We both immediately started coming up with a backup plan, trying not to let the other figure out what was happening,” the two reveal.
Once they got back to the hotel, it was time for plan B. “Taylor, being very determined and a little impatient, couldn’t wait one more second and dropped to her knees to propose,” Jen remembers. At the same time, “Jen bent down to ‘pick something up’ and proposed to Taylor in the exact same spot.” The coincidence was telling of their relationship—they always seemed to be on the same page.
Although their original plans fell through, they couldn’t have imagined a more meaningful proposal. “We knew from that moment on that no matter what came our way, we could always handle it as long as we found each other in the end,” the couple remarks. That outlook guided them throughout the wedding planning process and kept them grounded despite having to postpone.
The duo initially planned their wedding for August 2020, but once a global pandemic hit, it was back to the drawing board. With their positive attitude and the endless support they received from event planner Kirstin “Kirsty” Basch and their families, they managed to pull out all of the stops and actually savor the experience. “Having an extra year to plan gave us this beautiful gift of time, and we got to truly enjoy every second of the planning process,” they share.
The end result? A whimsical garden wedding full of natural touches at the Chicago Botanic Garden with over 200 guests. Keep reading to see how their special day unfolded, as planned by Kirsty Basch of LOLA Event Productions and photographed by Alex Marquardt of Alexandra Lee Photography.
For their original 2020 wedding date, Jen and Taylor chose navy as the focal hue in their color palette. But, once the pandemic hit and forced their plans to change, they decided to incorporate wine, blush, champagne, and sage into their color scheme. “We shifted to lighten the décor as the wedding date was so close to the Fourth of July,” they explain. “We used dusty rose as the starting point and filled in with deeper tones of reds and burgundies.” They introduced the theme of their big day by sending out floral invitations in shades of red, pink, and purple.
The duo kicked off the festivities at their rehearsal dinner. Jen rocked a tailored white suit with a fun twist: a pair of bold red heels. Taylor sported a white two-piece set, featuring a maxi skirt, a sleeveless blouse, and rainbow drop earrings for a pop of color.
The rehearsal dinner was all about personalization. Once guests arrived at the site, they were greeted by welcome bags, which each contained chocolate covered pretzels that Taylor’s aunt made. As for the centerpieces, Jen and her father built the structures using wood from a tree that they cut down in her father’s yard. From there, it was a team effort to assemble the centerpieces. “Jen, her brother, her maid of honor, and her best man created floral arrangements to sew on top of the wood for each of the tables,” they describe.
On the morning of her wedding day, Taylor got ready in a white waffle-knit robe, which displayed their wedding date and an illustration of two interlocking rainbow rings to represent their union. While getting glam, Taylor selected nude shades for an effortless look. “I just wanted it to be natural and still feel like me,” the bride shares. “Tricia, our makeup artist, was so amazing at really fitting the makeup to who we are.” As for her hairstyle, Taylor pulled her long locks back into a low bun. “I wanted it to be loose with some falling pieces to make it look more delicate and to accent the romance of the venue,” she explains.
Jen shared an intimate moment with her father while getting beautified. Like Taylor, Jen also showcased a minimalist beauty look. “I wanted everything to feel very ‘me,’” Jen expresses. She also kept it simple with her updo. “Having dreadlocks, I knew I wanted them to be up and in an elegant bun,” the bride adds.
I wanted to feel comfortable in what I was wearing and be sure it represented who I am as a bride.
Both brides selected a unique wedding dress that aligned with their own personal style. Jen donned an ivory lace gown by Randy Fenoli, which had beaded embellishments around the plunging neckline. “I knew I didn’t want a large dress that was out of character for me,” Jen says of her outfit choice. “I wanted to feel comfortable in what I was wearing and be sure it represented who I am as a bride.”
Taylor also dressed herself in a lace dress, but hers was a Rue de Seine number with a high neck, an open back, and long sleeves that billowed. It was the very first dress she tried on when shopping with her parents. “When I first saw myself in the mirror, I couldn’t help but begin to tear up,” Taylor shares. “It just felt like it was made for me.” Just to be sure, the bride attended the other appointments she had scheduled that day, but she couldn’t stop thinking about the first dress. “I came back and tried it on again that afternoon and knew it was the one,” she elaborates. The bride accessorized with lace shoes, her grandmother’s pearl ring, a Tiffany & Co. bracelet her parents gifted her, and a silver bracelet from her grandparents.
The youngest members of the bridal party looked precious in their attire. The flower girls dressed themselves in delicate pink dresses, and the ring bearers wore navy blue pants, white dress shirts, floral-printed bow ties, brown leather belts, and suspenders.
The brides surrounded themselves with a large support team on their special day. Each bridesmaid selected her own dress as long as it fell within the color scheme. “We gave the girls a picture of a flower with the color swatches next to it and told them to wear any of the colors shown,” the two illuminate. The bridesmen all wore a variation of a navy suit and a floral tie.
We toured a few places that were absolutely beautiful, but none of them gave us the feelings that the Botanic Garden did.
When searching for the perfect wedding venue, the brides wanted an outdoor site surrounded by nature. After visiting several different locations, the two kept coming back to the Chicago Botanic Garden. “We toured a few places that were absolutely beautiful, but none of them gave us the feelings that the Botanic Garden did,” they disclose. “We couldn’t stop thinking about the rose garden and English walled gardens after we walked through them.” To them, the locale felt like a true reprieve from the bustling city of Chicago. They enhanced the natural setting by lining the aisle with white and pink floral arrangements on wooden urns, which led to a birch tree arch.
Before the brides said “I do,” guests kept cool by sipping on infused water.
Once it was time for the ceremony to begin, Taylor walked down the aisle next to her father while a string quartet played “Blackbird” by The Beatles. For Jen’s grand entrance, both her father and grandfather accompanied her as they processed to “Life Is Better With You” by Michael Franti.
Taylor’s brother, Alex, officiated the ceremony. “We didn’t want any readings or anything,” the duo notes. “We just wanted [Alex] to talk about our journey, who we are as a couple, and then, for us to read our vows.”
After the brides were officially married, they took a moment to share the good news with Taylor’s grandparents, who weren’t able to attend the wedding. “Seeing them and having the time for them was so special and meant the world to us,” they convey.
When everyone arrived at the reception, guests found their seats on a timeless seating chart and grabbed a refreshing beverage. The brides served two signature cocktails—a smoked old fashion from Jen and a spicy margarita from Taylor.
A combination of round wooden tables covered in blush linens and long banquet tables filled the reception space. Jen and Taylor had greenery garland and string lights draped from the ceiling, along with one statement decoration. “The highlight of the room was the floral rings that hung over the dance floor and dining tables,” the couple mentions.
For another organic touch, a greenery runner and white votive candles lined the center of the table. Tall and low floral arrangements, which were composed of pink and white hydrangea, peonies, and roses, sat in the center. The duo had each seat set with pink velvet napkins, gold-rimmed chargers, and floral menu cards.
A custom neon pink sign augmented the dance floor. The couple admits that they couldn’t have decorated the space so beautifully without the help of their planner, Kirsty. “Working with Kirsty was an absolute dream,” they exclaim. “I don’t know how she did it, but she made everything we could have ever imagined come true for our wedding day.”
Taylor changed into her second outfit for the day for the reception. She swapped her high-neck lace gown for a two-piece Rime Arodaky set with flutter sleeves and floral detailing.
The newlyweds danced to “Danny’s Song” by Loggins and Messina for their first dance.
“I’m biased, but I think our cake was the most amazing cake,” the couple gushes. Their colorful three-tier cake included watercolor designs, rose gold leaf, and fondant flowers. When they cut into the cake, a rainbow appeared. As for the flavor? “We were so obsessed with all of the flavors from our trial that we picked multiple combinations,” they illustrate. They chose almond cake with cream cheese filling, lemon blueberry cake with honey lavender buttercream filling, banana cake with cream cheese filling, and chocolate cake with passionfruit and raspberry buttercream filling.
For dinner, guests had a choice of beef filet mignon on a bed of risotto, lemon chicken paired with mashed potatoes, or portobello mushroom smothered in red sauce for the vegetarian option.
Then, it was Jen’s turn for a wardrobe change. The bride sported a sharp white suit jacket, custom white shorts, and Christian Louboutin sneakers.
Both brides wanted a special moment on the dance floor with their fathers. Taylor and her father did the Friends dance routine for their father-daughter dance, and Jen danced to “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison with her father.
While looking back on their wedding weekend, the brides couldn’t have asked for a better experience. They attribute the success of their wedding to their carefree attitude and ability to remain present throughout the planning process. “Don’t get lost in the details,” the newlyweds advise. “Remember that at the end of the day, it’s going to be absolutely perfect because you get to marry your best friend.”
Venue Chicago Botanic Garden
Planner Kirstin Basch of LOLA Event Productions
Officiant Alex Whiting
Taylor’s Bridal Gown Designer Rue de Seine
Jen’s Bridal Gown Designer Randy Fenoli
Taylor’s Bridal Salon Alice in Ivory
Jen’s Bridal Salon Bella Bridal Gallery
Makeup Tricia Clarke Makeup
Taylor’s Second Bridal Gown Rime Arodaky
Jen’s Second Bridal Gown Custom; Christian Louboutin
Floral Design Fleur
Invitations & Other Paper Products Steracle Press
Music BeatMix Music; DJ Matt Roan
Catering Chicago Botanic Garden
Cake Flourish Cake Design
Transportation Windy City Limousine
Accomodations Courtyard by Marriott Chicago Highland Park
Videography Smiling Toad Productions
Photography Alexandra Lee Photography