I know this whole wedding planning thing starts off so exciting and then suddenly begins to feel daunting. I remember wondering if we should just go to city hall and call off the party… but in the end I’m glad we didn’t. We had a rock’n good time and so did our guests. We really just wanted to throw a great party and have everyone we loved there.
Don’t let anyone fool you though, backyard weddings aren’t easy breezy, they often involve a whole heck of a lot of elbow grease, organizational skills, time management and delegation. Luckily we had great friends and family who helped out tremendously.
Having photographed countless outdoor weddings, backyard weddings, cottage weddings, farm weddings and lake weddings (whew), I’ve seen a huge range in the amount of effort put into details, the tasks better left to the professionals, the craftiness that Pinterest has inspired and the magic of string lights. Pinterest wasn’t a thing yet for my 2010 wedding, and I think I’m actually relieved… it would have sent me into a tail spin – seeking perfection that I could never attain! But I’ve seen brides pull a handful of beautiful ideas from it and make it work wonderfully.
For an outdoor wedding, the options are really endless but there are some simple things you definitely need covered.
Whether its your own backyard or someone else’s, a kids camp, a rented property or a combination… You’ll need to make sure there is space for everyone. Lay out where you want your ceremony and reception and be sure there is enough room for all your guests, your dinner, your dancing and your back up plan.
Planting ahead of time
If it is your own property or that of a friend’s and you’d like some stunning flowers and such, be sure to plant ahead of time! You can grow all the flowers you need for floral arrangements or just plant a backdrop for your ceremony. Or just leave it as it is and love up that queen ann’s lace!
If you’re getting married in a yard beside a hotel, no worries. Otherwise, make sure there is room for camper vans and tents or arrange for shuttle busses to and from a local hotel where you’ve secured rooms for your guests. You want them to be able to have a drink with dinner without worrying about where they will sleep that night.
Rent it. Rent your tent, tables, chairs, linens, cutlery, glasses, lighting… everything you need. You know why? It’s so easy and surprisingly affordable!! And the best part is nothing needs to be washed!!! They pick up everything dirty and wash it themselves so no-one has to stay up scrubbing plates or forks while everyone else is dancing barefoot.
Get one. Or two. You never know, so just put it on your rental list. We used one because we built a stage in a back field and could not run extension chords that far back. It was great. We set it up behind the stage and built a box for it to dampen the sound. Well worth it. Don’t forget the gas 🙂
You might need a permit. Especially within city limits… just call your local municipality office to find out!
Yes, they exist. Do your bathroom a favour. For us, our friends’ farm was on septic so we couldn’t use it. Instead we rented two luxe port-a-potties. The were white and shiny, with water for washing hands, an endless supply of paper and even a mirror! Who knew?!
Stage it Up
Where will your music be? Figure out where your DJ, your band or just your speakers will be so everyone can listen and they are sheltered from rain (fingers crossed). My husband’s bachelor party was at our wedding site and they build a stage in a field in a couple of hours.. followed by some debauchery, or so I’ve heard! We threw up a large rental tent over the stage to keep the equipment safe and sound.
The party goes late. Its dark. People need to find their way to the port-a-pottie. Make sure you have lights guiding them! I’ve seen the most beautiful outdoor string lights at weddings, hung up over the dance floor, along the dock, through the trees, inside the porch…. They are stunning. I’ve also seen candles inside mason jars lighting long paths, surrounding dessert tables, placed on the sides of porch steps, along driveways etc. You can even provide baskets full of flashlights!
Weather… it can be fickle. A back up plan is a must. We had a cluttered barn we could clear. Clients of mine usually have the house ready to go just in case or they rent a large party tent for just that reason. A loose idea of how you’d lay things out in that case is great to go over as well so everyone knows what to do if things need to be moved indoors or the dining tent needs to be re-arranged. Also pick up some umbrellas, they are great for shading sunny ceremonies and useful if it rains!
Do everyone a big favour by approaching all the neighbours in person and letting them know what’s going on. If numbers don’t matter much, invite them. If you’re at your guest limit, then bring a bottle of wine with you to each neighbour. It can make a world of difference!
Then there are the details….
The rest depends on you. What do you want? A small, intimate party with your closest of friends or a big, loud bash with bands and midnight poutine? Do you want to do it potluck style or finely catered? Or served only by food trucks? Do you want handmade signs on reclaimed barnboard? Home made pies? His and hers cocktails? Arranged seating? Centre pieces? DJ or a band? BYOB? Everything is up to you. EVERYTHING! Don’t think you have to do anything just because that’s what you’ve seen before or that’s what’s expected.
I had a potluck for my wedding. Seriously. My mother was terrified… I didn’t even tell people what to bring. But you know what? Most of our friends love to cook, and love to share the one thing they make REALLY well, so I knew it would be tasty. Even if it was a table full of the same thing! Once we decided on a potluck, we weren’t limited to a certain number of guests, so invited 200 people and we only had a three fruit trays show up. Guaranteed those three guests were either fighting for their lives to get out the door with their kids on time or they hadn’t been to a potluck, but in the end, those trays were eaten and everyone was talking about how delicious everything was. I realize I’m pushing the potluck thing, but it’s just that I’m a huge fan.
Last weekend I photographed a cottage wedding on Lake Eugenia with 60 guests. It was catered by Peasemarsh
and it was incredible. The nice thing about catering is that its completely stress free and they handle everything. I have a wedding in a few weeks that will be served by exclusively by food trucks, with homemade pies for dessert. I had another wedding where dinner was burgers and fries and everyone loved how low key it was, so really, anything goes!! Get the food you love.
One wedding I photographed in Ottawa a few years ago was the most Pinterest worthy wedding I’ve ever attended. The bride had worked on building signs, seating charts, infused liquors, etc for a year to get it all done. It was stunning and she felt it was worth all the work and weekends she spent on it. It certainly was beautiful!! Other couples I’ve worked with have put little effort into details and decor, throwing together centre pieces from the wild flowers on site that morning as an afterthought. Both weddings were stunning and both suited those individual couples.
Take on the work you want. Make sure you’re ok with plans changing. Take a deep breath. Its going to be beautiful no matter what because its outside and nature is the best backdrop.
There are so many resources out there to help you plan your outdoor wedding, but here is a great one.
Now go, plan, and be merry.