Spring Means Outdoor Weddings
It’s that glorious time of year again! The snow is melting, the days are getting longer, and everyone is coming to life after a five-month hibernation. The sun is so warm this week I can hardly contain myself. I’m excited for what’s to come: the Spring/Summer season. Because I almost always think with my wedding planning brain, I can’t help but associate these seasons with outdoor ceremonies and receptions. Outdoor weddings are a lot of work, made even more difficult with the ever-changing weather. However, it’s undeniable that a ceremony by the lake on a sunny day is about as lovely as lovely can be, which is why they continue to be in the dreams of many a bride.
You might not think planning an outdoor wedding is that big of a deal. Just order a tent in case it rains, and it’s fine. Yes, securing some sort of structure to keep guests dry during inclement weather is a wise move. It seems obvious to us in the profession, but I have to tell you I’ve met more than a handful of brides who had no rain plan at all. Yikes! But what other considerations are there when planning an outdoor wedding ceremony?
Heat and Sun
Even with a short, 20-30 minute civil ceremony, guests can be out in the sun for quite a while. Most of your guests will arrive early, sometimes the ceremony starts late, will take half an hour to complete, and then with a casual meet and greet to follow, you’ve already reached about two hours in the blazing heat. Often there’s a cocktail hour afterward on the lawn, adding another hour, and suddenly it’s becoming quite the afternoon! There are many things we can do to help keep guests comfortable in the heat:
- Parasols and hats for guests can provide welcome shade and reduce the temperature by a few degrees. Offering inexpensive wraps for women can be a wonderful gesture to protect their shoulders from the sun’s rays.
- A tent can act not only as a rain plan, but also as a hot weather plan in order to keep guests cool and away from the hot sun.
- Host a lemonade/punch station so guests can have a cool drink as they’re waiting for the ceremony to get underway. Even just a couple tubs of bottled water on ice can do the trick!
- Fans for female guests can help to create a breeze. The bonus is that they can be fashioned to reflect the decor of the day!
- Try to plan the ceremony site under a large tree so that the foliage creates some shade over the congregation.
- Pay attention to the type of chairs you use. There’s nothing worse than sticking to a sweaty chair cushion when you go to stand up!
- Keep the length of the ceremony in mind. It might not be a great idea to include three readings and two performances. With a short ceremony, everyone will stay comfortable.
- There’s nothing lovelier than bridesmaids carrying bouquets of hydrangea, but in 95 degree temperatures, they’ll wilt before you can blink an eye. Keep flowers fresh with a periodic water spray, including the bouquets.
- Have sunscreen on hand, and set up an essentials table for your guests. You can also include little spritz bottles and cool, wet cloths to provide relief when the temperatures start to rise. I don’t know about you, but heat can give me a horrible headache, so keep pain relievers in your emergency kit. I rarely get through an event without someone asking for one!
- As you’re planning the ceremony, pay close attention to where the sun will be at the appointed hour. Make sure your guests and your wedding party aren’t facing the sun.
- Above all, inform your guests what they should expect BEFORE the wedding on the invitation or the wedding website. If they know ceremony is going to be outdoors, they will prepare accordingly.
Once you’ve attended to your guests’ comfort, don’t forget about the bride and groom, the wedding party, and the vendors. Whether it’s during setup, photo sessions, or the ceremony itself, keep them fresh and happy even in the worst temperatures. Build break times into your itinerary for those with demanding schedules that day. Nothing feels better to your clients and your supplier team than being able to take 10 in the shade with a cold bottle of water and a refreshing snack. I always pack water and fruit snacks in my vehicle so that I can attend to those people while they’re on the move. You’ll be the hero when you walk over to the wedding party during photos with an armload of cold water and a basket of energizing snacks – especially the men in layered tuxedos!
Wind wasn’t one of the things I considered when I first started planning for outdoor wedding ceremonies. But all you need is one windy day to learn what not to do! Here are a few things to think about in advance:
- When the wind catches them, linens can be sent flying through the air. As the linens set sail, flowers can be sent flying, and marriage licenses can float to the ground. Unless you secure your linens in an outdoor ceremony, the likelihood of their staying put is slim at best! Use table clips or weights to keep linens in place. You can also use decor as a weight, but beware – it better be heavy. I once thought vases with flowers would be enough to hold the linens down, and boy was I wrong. One gust of wind and the vases came crashing onto the patio stones below! Avoiding linens completely is an easy solution if you use beautiful wood tables that don’t require covering.
- There’s nothing like a gust of wind to mess up even the most beautiful hairdo! Hair stylists do use a ton of spray, sometimes enough to keep a hair helmet in the craziest of winds. In case they don’t, I pack personal items like combs, a mirror, bobby pins, elastics, and hair spray in my emergency kit.
- Make sure your tent is well secured to handle strong winds. I’ve seen tent walls that were not properly tied to the poles resulting in flaps fluttering in the wind, and knocking things down in the process!
- Remind your clients to keep wind in mind when choosing the bride’s gown. Very light fabrics such as chiffon and light silks can become revealing if caught by a gust at the altar.
- Secure anything and everything that might be caught by a breeze. This might include the aisle runner, musicians’ sheet music, programs, marriage license, & serviettes.
Have you ever been to an outdoor ceremony where you can’t hear a darn thing? There can be so many competing sounds that it’s near impossible to hear readings, vows, or music. You may want to consider:
- Microphones for musicians, the officiant, the groom, and the readers so even the guests at the back hear everything clearly.
- At your rehearsal, have your participants practice speaking louder than usual and more slowly than they normally would.
- When scouting out possible ceremony locations, consider noise level carefully. Are you near a street where traffic might be an issue? Or near a busy waterway where boating or swimming might compete? Tourist areas are popular for weddings since they’re often in beautiful, manicured settings. But with that comes increased foot traffic, so taking into account sounds like competing voices is a really good idea.
- Then there are the extra considerations like whether or not there will be a jet flight overhead at the exact time that the ceremony is to take place. Will there be motor boats whizzing by? Maybe the wedding is hosted in the backyard and Neighbor Joe decides that the perfect weather dictates finishing that deck. Hammer, hammer! You can’t cover for every possible noise during the planning process, but you sure can minimize the risk by considering many of the possible scenarios.
Our beloved crawly guys can be a pain at your outdoor ceremony location. Mosquitoes, bees, wasps, ants, flies, you name it, they’re coming to enjoy your flowers, your sweet drinks, and your guests! So think about how to combat them in advance:
- Provide bug repellant spray on that lovely little essentials table you’ve set up. Carry some in your emergency kit, too!
- Citronella candles may help if mosquitoes are the top concern.
- When choosing the ceremony location, try to avoid thick wooded areas and boggy/marshy locations where mosquitoes are going to fly rampant.
- Keep your sweet sticky beverages (and foods) well enclosed so Mr. Ant and Mrs. Bee can’t get at them. Trash cans for plastic glassware should be placed away from guests since they will attract pests looking for leftovers.
- Consider the time of day when pests might be the biggest issue when choosing your ceremony time.
- Stay away from lilies and other bell shaped, highly fragrant flowers for the bouquets.
When choosing the ceremony location, there are hundreds of things you’ll need to consider. Sometimes the location is already dictated, such as your client’s family cottage, so you have to work with what has been given to you. But even within a pre-determined setting, you can often move things in order to make the ceremony site as guest friendly as possible. Here are a few things to consider:
- Ground slope is a huge one. Have you ever tried to set up chairs on uneven, sloping ground? It’s no fun! You also don’t want grandma’s chair tumbling over by seating her on sloping terrain.
- Try to find a space of lawn that is fairly bump free. It makes setting up much easier, and it is also a lot kinder to female guests in high-heel shoes!
- Clear any debris away from the site before setting up. Sticks and rocks present a hazard to your guests and garbage is just plain ugly.
- Look for obstructions when choosing your location. Stand at the back of the space looking toward where the altar will be placed. Is there anything obstructing views? Reconfigure your angles until every guest is going to get a great view of the happy couple!
- As pretty as that perennial garden is, do you really want to set up within inches of it? Allergies (bring those antihistamines with you!) and pests might become more of an issue than they would have had you set up further away from the garden.
- Nothing is nicer than a unique, out-of-the-way spot for the ceremony. But is it easy to find and accessible to your guests, or are they going to get lost trying to find you? Post signs along the road, and provide guests with a map to make navigation easier.
- A final consideration is parking. Make sure there’s enough space for all of your guests.
I hope this helps you give your clients and guests the beautiful experience they deserve. Remember that even when you plan for everything you can possibly foresee, now and then something totally random will come in and wreak havoc on your plans. Back in August 2009, a hurricane system decided to roll into Ottawa on the day of my clients’ outdoor ceremony. We had covered all the angles we could in advance. Even though the resulting monsoon made for a VERY wet day, it was still a beautiful ceremony that my clients and guests talked about for month.
Be prepared, and enjoy to the fullest. Happy planning!
Written by Lynn Lee
Lynn Lee has over 10 years experience in the event and wedding planning industry. These days, she’s focusing her attention on her growing wedding planning business, Weddings Unveiled. Her weekly blog posts include business tips, wedding trends, and expert advice.