Rachael Crutchlow, the wedding and events co-ordinator at historic Caversham House in the Swan River region of Western Australia, says the idea of a religious service in a non-traditional setting is growing in popularity.
“There are quite a few priests who will come and perform ceremonies in the gardens because they understand that people want to have something a bit different these days,” she says.
This allows couples to enjoy the best of both worlds – to take advantage of Australia’s beautiful climate while still receiving the religious blessing so many hold dear.
It also ties in beautifully to the increasing appeal of outdoor weddings in London.
Rachael, who overseas two reception and three ceremony spaces within Caversham‘s almost five acres of grounds – catering for up to 250 people sit-down – says Australia’s gorgeous climate is tailor made for garden weddings, which can offer a more romantic and informal ambience than traditional ceremonies.
“With most outdoor weddings, couples won’t have everyone seated,” she says. “This means that the people who are standing up can move that little bit closer to the action and really feel the emotion of the ceremony as the couple become husband and wife.”
It’s an air of personalisation and celebration that can flow throughout the entire day, helping to create a celebration like no other. And it also gives rise to a wealth of great garden wedding inspirations …
Play with the timing of your big day
Mention the phrase ‘wedding breakfast’ and most people start counting backwards to wonder what time the poor bride would have to be awake and in the make-up chair. But according to Rachael, receptions held earlier in the day are growing in popularity, especially among couples who hold a separate ceremony.
“Quite often with a wedding breakfast, you’ll find the couple has already married, so the ceremony is irrelevant as the actual wedding may have happened up to a year or two previously, especially if it was held overseas.” So this day is not about creating a big reception, but about wanting to celebrate your marriage with family and friends. Because there are no official proceedings, the mood is more mellow and celebratory, and this feeling is perfectly enhanced by a breakfast menu.
Lunchtime receptions are also growing in favour, both for people who wish to say their vows under the warmth of the daytime sun and also for people drawing on their family’s longstanding traditions.
“With a lot of different cultures, for example with Chinese couples, they prefer to have lunchtime weddings receptions in London,” says Rachael, who points out the advantages of such a celebration include more time for photography, with options near Caversham including vineyards and beautiful fields of long grass. As with everything, it becomes about celebrating your day your way.
Make a production out of the gap between the ceremony and reception
There’s one big question that occupies the mind of many a bride and groom. What do we do with our friends and relatives while we have photos taken? At an outdoor wedding – especially where one site hosts both parts of the celebration – the options are myriad.
For starters, there are readymade gardens to explore. And since no two are ever the same, it’s an opportunity that is both lush and new. So whether your guests are keen gardeners or not, encourage them to set off for a wander through Mother Nature.
At Caversham, for example, they could admire the craftsmanship that went into artfully crafted wrought iron gates, cast an eye over the precision of formal hedging, embrace the colours of seasonal flowers, rest for a minute on a beautiful love swing, or take a path that winds among lush trees.
To go a step further, you could make their garden promenade as informative as it is enjoyable, perhaps with a map or even small chalk signs telling guests a little about the different plants and flowers they come across. The ultimate idea is to create a beautiful sense of mellow before the day’s great party gets under way.
Of course if bubbles and action are more their style, there’s plenty of options here too. “Our bar is always open,” says Rachael, who says provides couples with a comprehensive welcome and planning pack when they book.
“So even if the couple doesn’t want to provide alcohol straight away, guests can always get a drink after the ceremony without needing to disappear to a local pub.” Garden games are another big hit at garden affairs, with options ranging from jumbo chess and lawn croquet to a Big Connect 4 ideal for children.
Other ideas for pre-reception entertainment include bringing in musicians or magicians, setting up a coffee-lounge type area or even curating displays for people to view, such as a photographic timeline of your relationship or a massive infographic about how your lives began, evolved and then entwined. This is all about acknowledging the romance of what’s gone before and whetting the appetite for the fun still to come.
Turn the venue’s space into your space
Rachael, whose packages ensure all ceremonies have wet weather back-ups, says more than just lush greenery, modern gardens present beautiful tableaus that showcase everything from the work of artisans to natural delights. Caversham’s Hidden Gardens, for example, offer a formal renaissance enclave on the banks of the Swan River, with features including a spectacular four-storey waterfall – which is turned off for ceremonies – hand-carved statues and sandstone balustrades. Yet features such as these are just the start when couples say “I Do” outdoors.
The beauty is that as Mother Nature evolves through the seasons, so do the opportunities for couples to put their own stamp on things, from flower-filled mason jars to something a little more extravagant. “It’s very easy for people to bring in their own bits and pieces for decoration to make a space personal,” says Rachael, who also points to available necessities such as a shade marquee. “Whether it’s chalkboard easel signs, a dove release or even a butterfly release, it’s all about making it their garden for the day.”
Here’s 10 other great inspirations for putting your stamp on an outdoor garden venue…
- Hang small bells from tree branches with lengths of silk ribbon.
- Create a wonderful backdrop or aisle entry from two vintage ladders joined by handmade bunting.
- Alternativel,y make a natural arch from tree branches shaped together and then festoon it with beautiful, colourful and season flowers.
- Define an aisle with petals, pebbles or lanterns.
- Have the bridesmaids carry beautiful paper parasols instead of bouquets.
- Run lengths of ribbon in your wedding colours vertically down the back of chairs to catch any breezes.
- Print your ceremony programs as fans so guests can keep cool if it’s warm.
- Hand out milk bottles full of refreshing punch or Pimms before the ceremony.
- Make a feature of the journey from the car park to the ceremony, for example, by routing it through a garden full of fragrant seasonal blooms or setting up a series of chalkboards with arrows for directions but also a selection of favourite love quotes.
- Create a photo backdrop for official guest shots out of a grove that is perfectly set up to hold a group of people. A few extras such as paper lanterns in the tree, giant paper mache flowers or beautiful pom poms will add to the mood.
Make a production of your entrance
Weddings are all about defining moments, and the greatest one of all is the arrival of the bride. A garden ceremony offers infinite opportunities to ensure the first impression is one that will linger long in the memory of your guests – and your groom.
Beautiful limousine and horse-and-carriage combinations remain an ever-popular classic, as does a musical herald to announce the bride’s arrival from the garden surrounds. But an outdoor setting also opens up a fair share of more dramatic options.
At Caversham, for example, Rachael points to popular options such as a red carpet that descends down a sandstone staircase to an arrival by boat, which sets down the bride at a purpose-built timber jetty. It’s all about doing what you feel comfortable with, and seizing a moment that says: “I’m here and I’m ready.”
At the end of the day, Rachael says a garden wedding offers the chance to celebrate your love story in a highly personal way. You can build a mood around soft pastels or vibrant colours, carefully select touches such as seating for a mood of romance or sleek sophistication, pick your ceremony time to ensure cheerful sunshine or a soft afternoon glow and create a playlist that can be classic, kitschy or both. The end result will be, dare we say it, blooming lovely.