The Perfect Garden Wedding - 6 Essential Tips
— By Raashka Mannie
11 September 2019
Garden weddings sound magical for a simple reason: they are. Surrounded by blooming rose bushes, manicured hedging and the scent of freshly-cut grass, saying “I do” within the splendour of nature is an easy win when it comes to creating a fantastical setting for your wedding day.
With planning a garden wedding, however, comes a plethora of things to consider: which season works best with nature, extra guests that aren’t on the official wedding list (after all, gardens are homes to bees before they are to us), sudden weather changes, and so much more. One of the first questions on any engaged couples’ list, however, is around the styling and planning behind a garden wedding. Is there less to do? More to do? How do you make sure your wedding dress doesn’t clash with the tulips? And how can you be certain you’ll stand out when competing with Mother Nature herself?
We talked to Athina Kaffes, Allely Estate’s dedicated wedding planner, about what goes into styling and theming a garden wedding. Allely Estate is a beloved hotspot for Auckland garden weddings and has hosted hundreds of outdoor weddings, so Athina knows all the tips and tricks when it comes to styling a beautiful outdoor ceremony and reception. When you look back on your garden wedding, you want to remember it as entirely perfect – and these tips will guarantee that.
Image by Jodie C Photography
1/ How do I pick a season?
Every season has its own unique beauty, so it’s up to you to decide what you most want from your day.
In summer, flowers are still in full bloom and you can hold a later ceremony as the days are longer with daylight savings. With summer weather, couples can take full advantage of the gardens, creating lounging areas for their guests and often holding their reception outside, too. It’s usually balmy enough for brides and grooms to have their first dance on an outdoor courtyard, dancing in the moonlight, under the stars.
Spring is when everything is beginning to bloom: trees have new green growth, hedging looks fresh and flowers emerge in full flight. The temperature is milder and guests just need to wrap up warm as night falls.
Winter gives you the chance to have a more intimate wedding, hunkered down indoors with your guests and a roaring fire, admiring the gardens from a warm spot indoors. Because it gets dark earlier, guests get to enjoy the gardens looking spectacular and all lit up as they enjoy their meal. Add some sparklers to the moment and you’ve got a prime photo op!
Our personal favourite is autumn. The leaves look beautiful with their multitude of golden tones, so wedding photos look dramatic and really pop, allowing you to get extra creative with your photography. The weather is still warm, without being too hot or cold, which is ideal for guest comfort.
Image by Jodie C Photography
2/ How do I pick florals?
To work with nature, I think the best course of action is to let the gardens speak for themselves. You don’t need to go over the top with your own floral displays! You’ve chosen to get married outdoors because it means something to you, so you don’t need to spoil it with too many distractions.
However, remember that this is your wedding day, so you do want it to look a bit special with some styling and to keep it from looking like any other day in a beautiful garden. Small posies hanging off each chair along the aisle, petals down the aisle, vases to make the start and/or end of the aisle, and a focal point behind you as you recite your vows – it’s always good to have something to anchor your ceremony spot, such as a floral arrangement, a beautiful flowering tree, or, in our case, a pergola couples often choose to stand under. Create the backdrop of your dreams with the help of nature.
If the garden is in full bloom and you want a truly flower-filled day, think about adding more of the same or other flowers in complementary tones. For example, our white roses look stunning in spring. Some brides have thought of them as being a part of their styling and let them shine with similar flowers such as peonies and lisianthus.
Make sure you look for a venue that takes pride in their garden so it looks perfect for your big day, with freshly mown lawns, trimmed hedging and weeded garden beds. Check that they offer plenty of gorgeous backdrops for you to exchange your vows.
Image by Coralee Stone Photography
3/ How do I style my garden wedding?
The best thing about a garden wedding is that nature can do most of the heavy lifting – you can simply elevate it with some clever styling tricks. Sometimes just a bit of simple draping hanging from a tree and blowing in the breeze is more stunning than elaborate flower arches.
Tying the knot outdoors means you get to play with the space that your guests wait in while you head off to get your bridal party photos. Scatter bean bags or rugs around on the lawn, leave out garden games like Giant Connect 4 for them to play, set up a drinks cart under the shade of a tree, and hang bunting from tree to tree or lanterns from tree branches. Suspend a picture frame from a tree to allow guests to capture photos and selfies in the gardens. Consider having a live musician or DJ to keep them entertained while you're away.
One bride used cow prods along the aisle, with net curtains woven through and along to create the walkway; many brides just use a few rows of chairs to “mark the spot.” A garden wedding gives you lots of scope to get creative!
At Allely Estate, we have beautiful pergolas around our property, which brides like to dress up with billowing silk curtains, or flowers climbing over the arches or linen or silk wrapped around them. One bride crafted a backdrop arch using toetoe – just make sure you use toetoe and not the pest pampas, as they look deceptively alike.
Image by Georgia McNeil Photography
4/ How do I pick a colour scheme?
Every bride has a vision of her wedding long before she is engaged – use this colour for your bouquets and for your flowers on the tables. Look at past photos from the venue and see what set-ups they have done for other couples, as at least one is sure to jump out at you. The beauty of a garden wedding is that greenery goes with any colour!
Image by Zahn
5/ How do I plan for the weather?
Weather in New Zealand is as fickle as they come. You can make the best plans, but you’re not in charge of the weather, so always have a backup! At Allely Estate, we have a historic villa and fulltime oversized marquee which is ideal for when the clouds unexpectedly open up. It’s a very brave bride that plans an outdoor wedding in NZ without a back-up plan… You need to have this plan B set up and ready to go so that if it looks like rain, you can retreat to a place that has been styled for your wedding day. We generally make a call the morning of the wedding and then work extra hard to make sure everything goes off without a hitch.
Be sure to always check the weather forecast. We consistently track the weather one week out and if we see it’s not looking great. If so, we’ll meet with the couple and give our three options for the just-in-case emergencies.
But don’t panic if rain clouds appear: there will often be a break in the weather and you can still have it outdoors – you might just need to wait 10 or 15 minutes to get your dream ceremony.
On the topic of clear weather, blue skies are all good, but don’t forget it can get very cold at night once the sun sets. If you’re not heading indoors for the reception, make sure you’ve got outdoor heaters that you can turn on to beat the chill and keep your guests toasty.
Image by Jodie C Photography
6/ How do I make sure the lighting is perfect?
Gardens looks pretty during the day, but you can make them look next level come nightfall, with some simple and clever lighting. We have fairy lights wrapped around our feature gleditsia tree and they never fail to impress – and we love seeing the creative shots photographers take of couples in front of this impressive tree.
We did an outdoor reception with fairy lights hung from tree to tree, and it looked like stars twinkling as the guests enjoyed alfresco dining and dancing in the courtyard. It made for a memorable and beautiful summer night.
Find a garden venue with established trees and you’ll be able to use fairy or festoon lights to add another dimension after dusk. Round battery-lit spheres along the lawn as twilight falls are both pretty and provide practical lighting, especially when guests need a hand navigating their way to the restrooms. Spotlights on feature trees are also very effective.
Image by Trilby & Lace
7/ Bonus tips
- Don’t use any sort of confetti that will be bad for birds – use flower petals or dried flowers instead.
- Some gardens can look very busy. For the best photos and to create a peaceful air for your vows, try to stand in front of a quiet space in the garden.
- It can be unexpectedly hot at a garden wedding – wear sunscreen and think about providing it for guests, too. Always provide shade, whether it’s nearby tree canopies or pretty lace umbrellas, and choose your time well so guests aren’t left sweltering in the midday heat. Later in the day generally works best in the height of the summer. Don’t leave guests waiting and have plenty of chairs for the older guests.
- It’s important to have snacks and drinks at the ready after an outdoor ceremony, including plenty of water – fancy it up with slices of fruit or edible flowers.
- Make sure that whoever owns the garden – whether you’re having it at a venue like ours or a private garden – books in their last-minute prep two days before your big day, to clip hedges, weed the garden beds, plant any filler flowers, and, of course, mow the lawns. You don’t want any lawn clippings left behind! Also, after mowing the lawn, you often end up with lots of little bugs flying around, so you want these to have dispersed before your guests start arriving.
If you’re looking for a beautiful garden venue to hold your wedding, check out Alley Estate here.