How to plan a stress free back garden wedding at home [a guide]
How to plan a stress free back garden wedding at home
I love, love, love a back garden/at-home wedding. They're chilled, unique and mega personal. Usually, if you're planning a back garden wedding you're looking for a big stress-free party, with an emphasis on fun.
But...they come with their own challenges.
Planning a wedding at home means that you're responsible for everything - from arranging catering, styling and planning the timeline, to figuring out the toilets and parking.
So, here's a quick rundown of all the bits to think about when you're planning your at home wedding and protect yourself against disasters.
Creating a back garden wedding timeline
Without a venue telling you when things usually happen, setting up a timeline can be a bit challenging.
In fact, I would say this is the biggest issue with at-home weddings. Why is this an issue? Well, missing the sunlight for photos, food getting cold, your guests getting too drunk because nothing is soaking it up and your band only getting an hour to play because the dancing started so late...!
Your other suppliers can definitely help with this - us photographers, for example, always have a great grasp of how long things usually take. I usually provide my clients with an example timeline and we go through it when we meet.
Be sure to ask the caterers how long they need for everything. The band or DJ how long their set up is. And factor in things like turning the room (if the meal and dancing is happening all in one place, do you need to schedule time to move the furniture and set up a dancefloor?), how long your speeches will actually take, not your dream that they'll all be done in 15 minutes or less. Think about travel time if you're have part of the wedding off-site, like a church wedding - and factor in the fact no one will just get straight in their car and how long parking will take them.
Oh and while we're at it...think about when the sun goes down...and anything else that might interfere. I once covered an outdoor wedding where the best man had to pause his speech to let a plane go overhead...three times...so give that some thought.
Who will be in charge on the day?
DIY-ing it is a whole lot of fun, but, take it from me...you need someone in charge. You know, a responsible, sober adult.
You might think your Mum is mega organised, but, is she as exacting when she's had a couple of glasses of wine and some happy tears? And, more importantly, isn't it a whole lot of pressure on her when she should be enjoying herself?
If there is one thing I would recommend investing in to pull off a back garden wedding (that you don't necessarily need at a more traditional wedding), it's hiring a planner or MC. Lots of planners offer on-the-day only services so you can organise everything before and then have them manage the day.
They'll make sure that all your suppliers are looked after, that you sit down for your meal when you're supposed to, that the speeches start on time and well...at all...that your guests are where they should be when they should be, drink and food in hand, that the band/DJ is ready to go to kick off the evening properly. And if something does go wrong? You'll likely not even hear about it because they'll be on it.
The boring practical bits
OK...let's just list these boring things out so you can go off and think about them...
Will your house be open to guests, or will everything be outside?
Do you have pets that need to be looked after or taken off-site? See my post on how to involve your dog at your wedding over here for some tips and inspiration.
Where will your guests stay if they're travelling? Where will you stay?
Where will everyone park? Should you give your neighbours a heads up that the road will be rammed? Or maybe even ask if your neighbours can lend you their driveways? Or will your guests need to park in a carpark further away? Would arranging transport make sense?
Do you need a temporary licence for selling alcohol or for the additional noise?
Toilets! I have seen some weddings where guests used the toilets in the house, but, it turned into quite the queue when only the downstairs loo was open to guests and there were 80 hard-drinking revellers fighting for the toilet. Most back garden weddings go for some posh portaloos. They're pretty nice. If you're getting these, think about where they'll go, having toilets looming in the background of all your photos probably isn't ideal.
It's also worth thinking about how accessible they will be - if it rains, will you be running across the garden in heels? Do you have anyone who can't make it up the pretty steep steps coming?
How are you powering the wedding? I have done more than one wedding where the generators couldn't handle everything going on. Including one where the DJ's lights tripped the whole thing and the party was plunged into total darkness. I don't pretend to understand how this stuff works, so, maybe ask someone who knows?!
Venues will have adhered to some pretty stringent health and safety requirements. Your house? Probably not so much.
Remember, logic goes out of the window when you've had a few drinks or you're a small child. So, maybe do a quick walk around imagining you're several drinks in and look for anything you're like to trip over.
Do you have a pond that a kid (or jolly guest) is liable to drown in?
Is there lighting outside to avoid sprained ankles?
Are you having fireworks or some other fancy, flammable thing, that someone responsible should be put in charge of? I still have anxiety over a wedding about 5 years ago where a very tipsy father of the bride lit fireworks, knocked them over and then wobbled back to them to balance them upright.
Preparing for bad weather at a back garden wedding
So, let's say your wedding is 100% outside. What's your contingency if it rains? Is there enough shelter or indoor space?
Some celebrants or bands will refuse to work outside in the rain, so, make sure there's dry space for them and ask them what they need ahead of time.
I recommend loading up on umbrellas. And making sure there is a bar/lounge area that isn't full of tables for guests to gather in, or setting up some shelter outside. A couple of gazebos would work well for this.
Also...while we're at it, I've covered weddings in a heatwave and let me tell you, that can be just as challenging as a downpour. What will you do to keep your guests cool? Because I doubt your marquee/tent/tipi comes with air conditioning (in fact, it's probably 10 degrees hotter than it is outside). Having lots of water available, shaded areas, suncream and a paddling pool for people to cool their feet in is a great idea.
Let the neighbours know
You're throwing a pretty huge party and it will put a bit of strain on your street. Let the neighbours know about extra noise and cars around. And maybe invite them to keep them sweet. They probably won't come, but, they won't feel like they can complain if they turned down your invite...
Making your back garden wedding legal
Chances are your back garden isn't legally sanctioned for weddings (in the UK anyway). So, you're not going to be able to have a legal ceremony there. Although, there are proposed changes to the law, so, it's worth keeping an eye on it!
You have a lot of options here - go to a wedding venue just for the ceremony, hit the registry office or get married at a church (or you know, the religious building of your choice).
But, what I've seen done most often is a blessing at home. That means you can do your ceremony your way on your home turf. And then go do a sneaky mid-week registry office legal thing before/after the day itself.
If you're doing that, will you set up a different area for the ceremony? Think about having something decorative to designate the space. I've seen some beautiful archways, ceremonies under trees and flower ladders. And who will do the ceremony? You can go for a celebrant or for a more personal touch, ask a friend/family member to carry out the ceremony for you.
How to get great photos at a back garden wedding
Oh yes, of course, we were always getting to the photos. How do you pull of great wedding photos at a back garden wedding?
Traditional venues will normally have obvious spots to take group and couple photos. Your back garden may not.
Group and couple photos play a fairly small role in our overall candid coverage of a wedding. But, pretty much all couples want a few of these for posterity (and to keep the family happy).
When you're picking where to set up your marquee/tipi/tables/bar/all the things, give a thought to if it leaves space for your family to crowd together somewhere.
Reserving a corner with a nice tree, a lovely doorway, or just a bit of green for photos, means that you won't have group shots with the loos/caterers van looming behind you.
If this is a bit of a struggle, consider public places nearby - is there a field, green or park near you that would make for great photos? Remember that the time to travel there and back will take away from your time with guests, so try to balance the two. I would rather have to be a little creative with a photo location than see you spend your entire drinks reception roaming around to get a couple of posed photos.
Oh and you know those "everyone shots" where all your guests pile in? Typically us photographers will need some height for those to work. An upstairs window to shoot out of, a hill, a staircase, or I've been known to climb on furniture/walls (and a couple of times couples have even provided me with a ladder). While your photographer will be good at spotting opportunities for photos, it's lovely when you can point them in the right direction.
Are you getting married at home?
Are you getting married in your back garden or at home? What are you doing to make sure you have a fun, stress-free wedding?
If you are, I want to hear about it! Send me a message to talk about getting some mega fun and chilled photos of your wedding and also ask me any questions about pulling off your wedding without any stress.
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Wedding Photographer Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire wedding photographer, based in St Albans. Covering London, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire and all over the world!