Think most brides and grooms are planning beach weddings? Not so fast, beach bunnies. The new destination of choice is the garden. When brides and grooms want to 'take it outside,' they're looking for roses, camellias, magnolia trees, and lush green lawns. They want a fantasyland, complete with babbling brooks, gardenias, and an Eden of butterflies.
A backyard wedding, surrounded by your mother's rose bushes and the apple tree you used to climb, is beautiful for a small, quaint wedding. Most couples take their outdoor weddings to a masterfully- designed botanical garden complete with waterfalls and aviaries, award-winning separate gardens and tree groves, perfectly manicured lawns, indoor ballrooms, and marble terraces. The lure of the botanical garden is its breathtaking natural beauty, elegance, and its perfection, with endless flowers and inspiring topiaries, charming borders, and a perfect-picture opportunity at every angle.
The image is quite the same at bed and breakfasts, so we include these intimate and sometimes sprawling establishments as equals to the botanical garden in our guide to helping you plan your exquisite garden wedding. You'll find out the inside details here -- what's allowed and what's not allowed on the grounds, which questions to ask, which rules may be applied, extra fees, weather considerations, and where to find gardens in the city of your choice. Remember, you're not limited to the gardens in your hometown. Every major city is home to a nearby botanical or historical garden, a bed and breakfast, or a park garden, so the choice of wedding style opens up tremendous travel opportunities and wedding weekend activities.
Just think about the vacation possibilities when you hold your wedding at a tropical botanical garden in Hawaii. Lush tropical plants, orchid collections, water features, birds of paradise, and hibiscus abound. Visit www.hawaii.edu/sciref/botgarden for contacts and educational details on the many botanical gardens that are open to the public. The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden (http://www.htbg.com/) is just one of many dream destinations for an oasis of calm and exotic beauty that combines the island getaway wedding with the natural beauty of a garden ceremony, reception, or simply photos in paradise.
Samantha Oehl of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, originally dreamed of having her wedding on a beach, but once she set foot in the award-winning Fairchild Tropical Garden in Miami (http://www.fairchildgarden.org/), she changed her entire vision. "Once I walked through Fairchild, (an 83 acre botanical garden, one of the largest in the country with 11 lakes, trees, florals, and open garden spaces) I realized this was the perfect setting for an intimate garden wedding for our 80 to 90 guests."
Kathryn DeNovo of Chattanooga, Tennessee, chose the Knoxville Museum of Art for its sophistication and elegance. The gardens are modest, with a sense of sophistication and elegance. "It's a smaller garden, designed in a circular shape so that our wedding will seem slightly enclosed and more intimate. It's so pretty, not overdone, not overwhelming, and it overlooks the site of the Knoxville World's Fair Park -- which adds an interesting twist because I was born during the Knoxville World's Fair in 1982."
Both brides chose picturesque botanical gardens for the style and feel of their wedding spaces. (Keep in mind that many botanical gardens and bed and breakfast gardens have different 'areas' where weddings can be held. You'll work with a special events planner to choose your favorites for the ceremony, reception, and photos.)
The question of money may be waving veritable, brightly-colored bouquets at you right now, but fear not. While some botanical gardens do charge exorbitant fees for the use of their grounds; others are accessible through far more budget-conscious steps. Oehl tells us that she joined the Fairchild Tropical Garden as a member, paying a modest membership fee and thus didn't have to pay a site fee for her wedding. She also gained valuable members-only perks, such as free admission to the gardens and additional literature and discounts on sales. When you're not a member of a botanical garden or arboretum, you most often have to pay a site fee. So consider that Tip #1 when you're looking at gardens: Join as a member and enjoy its privileges and advantages.
If money is no object, you may look to the larger and most elaborate botanical gardens, such as the New York Botanical Garden (http://www.nybg.org/) which does charge a site fee to non-members, as well as additional fees for simply having photos taken on their grounds. At the time of this writing, the photography site fee was $450 for a one-hour session, available only between the hours of 2pm and 5pm, from the second week of April through the 3rd week of October. Wedding catering at the New York Botanical Garden is done solely through the catering of legend Abigail Kirsch (http://www.abigailkirsch.com to see sample menus). You have several indoor ballrooms to choose from: The Garden Terrace Room holds 100 to 300 guests, and a tent in the conservatory can hold between 300 and 1,000 guests. There is a wealth of elegant and upscale botanical gardens to discover for those of you who think nothing of extra fees when compared to having the wedding of your dreams. The United States National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., is another well-known and in-demand botanical garden, and their site invites you to contact its wedding coordinators, as well as provides an impressive, comprehensive list of other garden wedding venues in the D.C. area.
We also encourage you to visit the Web site for the National Garden Clubs (http://www.gardenclub.org/), and look to their 'Helpful Links' icon for a list of thousands of state garden club Web sites. Not only will you find the names and locations of botanical and historical gardens for tours and wedding consideration, you'll also find that most publish an invaluable chart of which kinds of flowers and trees are in bloom during each month of the year. Most have photos and virtual tours of the gardens and are happy to send you wedding detail brochures. There is also usually a list of their specialty festivals, such as the Orchid Festival in March and April at Fairchild, or the fact that June is Rose Month at the New York Botanical Gardens. These sites are your goldmine for pre-touring the gardens and getting in contact with wedding coordinators on site.
Garden Wedding Q & A
Speaking of wedding coordinators on site, you'll work with them not just to tour the grounds and select the perfect parts of the garden for your Big Day, but also to manage the more intricate details of planning your event. We've listed your top questions, and supporting details here:
1. What are the site fees? Never take a Web site's written description as gospel. Many gardens do require a fee for use of their grounds, although as mentioned earlier, you may be able to bypass these rules by becoming a member or making a modest donation to the garden.
2. What is NOT allowed on your grounds? With good reason, the curators and landscape artists make it a high, high priority to preserve the grounds. So you might not be allowed to construct a tent -- or the site may not construct a tent for you -- due to the resulting holes and stakes in their perfect lawns. Tables and chairs may be on the no-no list, with specified areas and indoor ballrooms designated as the only places where heavier items may be placed. Ask too about aisle runners. Many sites fear trampled down lawns, so they'll nix the aisle runner and arrange for a rose petal border to line your aisle.
3. What are your indoor facilities? Many botanical gardens and bed and breakfasts are well-versed in the knowledge that you can't control the weather. They have a trusted Plan B in place, such as moving your event to their indoor ballroom or canopy-shielded terrace. DeNova and her fiancé, Chris, worried about the unpredictable hot August weather in the south, so they asked to tour the indoor rooms. First, they were shown an indoor auditorium that could be decorated for their ceremony, but their joy quickly grew when they were led to a lovely atrium with all glass walls overlooking the grounds and fountains of the Knoxville World's Fair Park. It suited their dream, and their Plan B was all set. Oehl's Miami wedding during hurricane season doesn't worry her, now that she knows the site's well-oiled plan for moving the celebration indoors, having backup generators and candles, and instructing staff to mobilize all elements of their wedding plans. A botanical garden with both outdoor and indoor facilities for your use is a winner in our book. A bed and breakfast too will have experience with weather interference, and your party will be moved indoors.
4. What else do we have to rent? The site managers will instruct you on rentals of extra tables and chairs, any pedestals or extra décor you don't already find at the garden, and any air conditioning/fan units the site doesn't have on hand as well. One of the most important rental items for an outdoor garden wedding: wireless microphones to attach to the officiant, bride, and groom so that all guests in attendance can clearly hear the wedding vows, readings, and even music.
5. Do we have to use your caterer and florist? Be careful of this one, as some sites require that you use their sole experts: caterers, cake bakers, floral designers, and other experts. They may be strict about one choice (as the New York Botanical Gardens are with their renowned chef), or they may hand you a list of approved experts you must interview and meet with for tastings and samples. Ask if you'll be allowed to bring in some of your own food items like home-baked family specialties or even your own cake. Many site managers will look favorably upon such requests. If you are allowed to bring in your own caterer, as many sites do permit, ask if the caterer can come tour the on-site kitchen, check the size of the refrigerators and ovens for the all-important issue of platters fitting into non-professional appliances and having enough room to work.
6. Is alcohol allowed on your grounds? An important one, as many botanical and historical gardens do not allow liquor on-site.
7. Can we see your list of what's in bloom at the time of our wedding? If you can't get to the garden a year before your wedding date in order to see it as it will appear on your Big Day, ask to see sample photo books or pictures online, and visit their Web site for a list of what's in bloom during each section of each month of the year. Yes, they do break it down like that. For example, visit http://www.arboretumfriends.org/, for the Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Morristown, New Jersey, and you'll see detailed lists of which type of flowers will be in bloom, a description of their color, and the location of where they're planted on the grounds. Most of the other garden club sites share the news of their annual orchid festivals or lilac festivals - and the timing of these favorite flowers in bloom might just help you choose your wedding date.
8. What about wildlife? You'll see plenty of butterflies, exotic and unusual birds, perhaps deer, and Oehl amused us with her concern that one of the garden's hundreds of indigenous iguanas might just walk down the aisle with her. Ask the site manager for a list of animal sightings, particularly if you live in a region of the country where some wildlife poses risk.
9. What won't we need? This is more for your own consideration. Given the natural beauty of your site, it's unlikely you'll want to spend money on extra décor. Your bouquets and boutonnieres may be understated as the perfect silhouette to the grandeur around you. If you'll hold both your ceremony and reception at the botanical garden or bed and breakfast, you probably won't need to hire a limousine or any wedding day transportation. Keep in mind that some botanical gardens do have existing trams that could make for a fun entrance.
10. Can we bring musicians onto the grounds? The answer, most often, is yes, provided that they don't need a stage and won't bring heavy equipment. So the most popular choices are string quartets, flutists, guitarists, singers, even sitar players and bagpipers, whatever suits the couple's personalities and backgrounds. One of the loveliest entertainment options I've heard of is a couple that brought in ballet dancers to perform a pas de deux in the garden right before the start of the ceremony. Just breathtaking.
11. Is there first-aid on hand? Most sites are well stocked with bee sting kits, extra sunscreen, bandages, and other basic first aid supplies, but these are things you should bring in your emergency bag.
12. What is our time-to-be-out? Gardens enforce their closing times, so be aware that after the sunsets you may have to close down your party at the stated hour. It's not a hotel, so you can't pay to party for an extra hour.
13. What is the parking situation? Most sites offer free parking in their lots. For bed and breakfasts, ask about nearby parking lots with affiliate vouchers for free parking.
14. What is the restroom situation? Ensure there are adequate facilities for all, at an indoor spot nearby, accessible to any elderly or handicapped guests.
15. What is your power situation? This one applies to botanical gardens, which often have that backup power source and hundreds of candles, but more so to bed and breakfast establishments that may not have such elaborate plans. If you find the site isn't quite covered, invest in a rented generator for your event. Visit www.ararental.org for your generator needs.
16. What is their insurance policy? It would be hard to find a botanical garden or bed and breakfast (as well as its wedding professionals) that isn't insured, but ask to see their certification anyway.
A Look at Bed and Breakfasts Bed and breakfasts range from a small 'Mom and Pop' operation that's cute, quaint, and beautifully decorated, with a lovely small garden out back, to the large, formal B&B with a staff of gardeners and a professional events-planning staff. Suzanne DeJohn (www.suzannesfarm.com), who runs a small bed and breakfast in Asheville, North Carolina, and also planned her own garden wedding at her home in Vermont nine years ago, says, "If precision and predictability are important to you, go with an established place that has experience planning and hosting the size and scope of the wedding you want. If you want a simpler backyard wedding but don't have a backyard, then look for a smaller B&B with a charming space and an instant rapport with the proprietors so that you can work together to plan your day, and make your guests feel right at home." The B&B garden wedding is gaining appeal, in part because guests who have traveled far for the wedding may welcome the chance to stay right at the site of the wedding. During the festivities, they can retire to their rooms for a brief rest. Brides and grooms often rent out the entire bed and breakfast, or several close to each other, so that their guests can relax, stay on a budget, and enjoy the hospitality, dining, and gardens of each B&B in the area.