– Hosting a wedding? Plan and plant early to get your backyard ready for that special day
– Written by Helen Newling Lawson –
– Photography by Brandy Angel –
From the bridal bouquet to the table arrangements, most weddings are enhanced by the beauty of flowers. If you plan to host a wedding at home, why not turn your entire yard into one lovely – and living – flower arrangement?
The key is planning ahead. When Candy Sturbaum’s parents of Whitehouse Station, NJ, decided to host her wedding in their backyard, they began planning – and planting—in April for her October wedding.
C.L. Fornari, author of “A Garden Wedding,” agrees. She writes, “Even when planning a year in advance, it’s not too early to go to the garden center.”
Deciding what to plant depends on several factors. What are the conditions in your yard – full sun, or shade? Does your soil tend to be dry, or do you have a soggy yard? Happy plants look best.
Then think about the time of year the wedding will be. What plants bloom during that time?
Fornari recommends long-blooming plants like hydrangeas and annuals over perennials, which typically have a shorter bloom window. “The longer the typical flowering period is, the better the chance of having that plant in bloom for the wedding.”
A good garden center can help you find the right plants. If you can, bring them pictures of your yard so they can recommend what and how much to buy. Fornari recommends talking to the nursery as soon as possible can also help ensure they have the plants you need – they may need to place a special order with their supplier.
Another factor is the time you have until the ceremony. If the wedding is in a few months, you’ll want to depend on annuals and other fast-growing plants. This is not the time to start establishing a boxwood hedge.
But if you are planning a year or more out, take a hard look at how your garden looks now, and think about what you’d like to improve. If you plan to call on a landscape designer for help, this is the perfect time to bring them in.
Finally, you’ll need to think about color palette. While you may be tempted to go with “wedding white,” remember that white doesn’t always photograph well. Brandy Angel, a wedding photographer in the Lake Oconee area, says, “White flowers can wash out brides who are already decked out head to toe in white. Pops of bold colors have a lovely contrast in photos, especially if you choose colors that have meaning to you.”
Jenny Hardgrave of Simply Flowers, a landscape design company specializing in seasonal color, agrees that bold color can be a stunning choice. She also recommends picking flowers that coordinate with the bride’s wedding colors. However, she warns that blue and purple flowers often do not photograph well.
Don’t forget flowering shrubs. While the individual plants may cost more, you can get more impact from digging fewer holes. Again, you will want to pick shrubs that flower at the same time as the wedding. Azaleas are a classic choice for spring, but reblooming azaleas can also give you a second flush of color for a fall wedding. Hydrangeas are a long-blooming shrub, especially if you pick a reblooming variety like “Mini Penny.” Gardenias are another southern classic, and have fantastic fragrance as well.
Finally, remember green is a color, and an evergreen hedge makes a fantastic backdrop for photos. A fast-growing evergreen like Emerald Heights® Distylium can also help screen an unsightly view and help direct foot traffic.
Taking a careful look at the light in your garden can help guide your plant choices, keep guests comfortable, and make photos more flattering. Angel especially recommends you pay attention to the lighting at the exact time and place you plan to hold the ceremony. “Not only is it uncomfortable for everyone to have sun in their eyes, it also makes your photographer work overtime when they have to move in and out of lighting that is drastically different.”
If the event will be in the evening, Angel recommends ample lighting. “Not only is it safer for everyone, but having more available light helps your images turn out better.”
An arbor or chuppah can be an opportunity to incorporate some meaningful touches as well. Brandon Matney, general manager of the Harbor Club, described how their family used barnwood reclaimed from their family farm in Tennessee to create an arbor for his stepbrother, Ben Barker, and his bride, Amelia. His stepmother, Becky Matney, an accomplished painter, added decorative touches. The arbor, which has been used in a number of weddings since then, now graces the Southern Living Inspired Home on the property.
Arbors also lend themselves to being draped with vines. Depending on your timeframe, you may need to choose a quick-growing annual vine like black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata). If you have more time, white jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides ‘Madison’) will add a lovely fragrance to a late spring wedding, and the glossy evergreen leaves are beautiful year-round.
As lovely as they are, arbors can pose some potential problems. Angel remembers, “A poor bride had a whole layer of lace ripped off her dress after it was snagged by a vine sticking out of an arbor.” Make sure yours is wide enough for the couple to pass through safely.
Drew Sorrell with Goodwin Events in Greensboro can sum up his most important piece of advice in two words: New sod. “People want their homes to look perfect, but they’re putting their sod in way too close to the event.” His crew has run into this problem so many times, asking clients about plans to re-sod is now part of his site visit checklist.
As he explains, newly-laid doesn’t drain as well as established turf, and that can make for very muddy conditions if there has been rain in the days leading up to the event. “We can tent for rain. It’s the drainage across the site that’s a problem.”
For the same reason, Sorrell warns you shouldn’t water your lawn that morning. You’ll also want to do the final mowing a few days before the ceremony, with the mower blades raised slightly higher than normal. This will ensure the grass is evenly green, with no brown or scalped patches. Doing this will also minimize clippings on the lawn. However, while leaving grass clippings to decompose is a good gardening practice, this is one time you might want to consider bagging them to avoid them sticking to the bride’s dress or guests’ footwear.
What else can you do if it rains on the big day? Angel always has clear umbrellas on hand for the bride and groom, but you may want more on hand for guests to avoid blocking views. You can also ask your rental company if they provide plywood planking – Sorrell always loads some on his truck, but not all companies may be this prepared.
Angel has an important warning for southern brides. “Tulle skirts are basically a bug trap.” She’s seen skirts catch everything from ants, flies, mosquitos, ticks, and grasshoppers. Her best advice is to spray every layer of tulle with bug spray (“Not the best perfume, but it works.”). Still, she has occasionally had to photoshop out a bug or two when all else fails.
You’ll have to make your own decision about whether you want to spray your yard for chemicals, which are as deadly to beneficial insects like bees and butterflies as they are to mosquitos. However, if you are holding your event at another property, you’ll need to check with them about their policy. Even if they are not an organic farm, they may have an issue with you spraying chemicals that eliminate pollinators.
For a more garden-friendly approach to controlling bugs, make sure you’ve eliminated any sources of standing water in your yard (even a saucer under a container can become a breeding ground), and consider installing some electronic controls.
Most wedding expenses are only enjoyed the day of the event. But turning your backyard into a bridal bouquet is a wonderful way to create a lasting memento of a very special day.