It doesn’t matter whether you choose a beach, a garden, a vineyard, or a desert canyon; the most important thing you can bring to your outdoor wedding is a contingency plan. Unlike controlled indoor conditions, nature presents a host of unpredictable things like heat, cold, rain, and snow. It also offers more breathtaking views and settings than any window can provide. With a little planning and consideration, you can enjoy an outdoor wedding in whatever setting best fits your romantic dreams.
Consider the Temperature
Every setting has its ups and downs, especially along the thermostat. Although you’ve done your research and picked a time of year suitable for your location, carefully avoiding hurricane season, cicada breeding season, and the first frost, it’s likely that the temperature will still stray somewhere outside of optimal at some point during your celebration. Think ahead and plan an easy solution so you can customize your event on the fly.
If your locale tends toward the hotter side of the spectrum, hold an evening wedding. You can cool guests by renting a tent to protect them (and your wedding cake) from melting. Choose white or lighter colors to better reflect the sun. Steer clear of adding sides to the tent, since these trap heat, creating a mini “greenhouse effect.” If you want tent walls for aesthetic effect, look for breathable fabrics or patterned netting. Serve cold drinks or iced treats as a special gesture.
For cooler locations, hold daytime weddings and heat up your guests with space heaters placed evenly throughout your tent or celebration area. Tents with walls trap the heat well. Include cozy blankets in your décor choice so guests can wrap themselves if they get cold. Serve steaming mugs of tea, coffee, or cocoa so your guests have something warm to hold.
Consider the Weather
Rain on a wedding day supposedly brings the couple good luck, but if you feel “lucky” enough already, escape the weather by arranging a backup venue. You can also hand out umbrellas as favors, or rent a waterproof tent.
Wind is a factor worth considering, especially on beaches and for sunset weddings. Not only will your hairdo suffer, but everyone will be squinting in the wedding album. Create a windscreen around the ceremony by renting decorative barriers made of fabric or delicate wood, or locate your ceremony next to a building, grove of trees, or other natural windbreak. Choose ceremonies that don’t depend on lighting candles, as a guttering flame could be an embarrassing symbol of your future.
Even winter weddings can be successfully held outdoors. Be sure to let all your guests know ahead of time if there will be a cold snap or if there is a chance of snow, so they can dress appropriately. Be sensitive to older guests or anyone with delicate health, as the weather might prevent them from attending. Remain extra vigilant to safety hazards, such as ice on the ground, and thoroughly inspect your location to make sure all potential dangers have been dealt with. Consider giving party favors of warm clothing, such as hats, socks, scarves, or mittens, embroidered with your names and wedding date.
Do a walkthrough of your location as close as possible to the time of day and season that your wedding will be held, to check for factors you might not expect. Pretend you’re the least physically able member of your guest list. Are there exposed tree roots that could trip someone? Uneven turf that could turn an ankle? Does the location require a long walk from the parking area? Are any parts steep or muddy?
Even if you and your fiancé are rugged, adventurous types, not all of your relatives might be up to the task. While your wedding doesn’t have to be 100% ADA compliant, you will need to work out solutions ahead of time to make sure everyone is safely and comfortably able to attend. Don’t give up your dream location; get creative, instead. You can layer wood or carpeting over uneven surfaces to transform your favorite spot into a safe one as well.
If you will be serving food, safety is of the utmost concern. Unless you have a professional catering company taking care of the details, you’ll need to find a way to keep the hot foods hot and the cold foods cold; otherwise, you could be looking at making your entire social circle sick at once.
Assign someone the task of taking the food’s temperature with a thermometer every 15 minutes or so, and have plenty of ice and heating elements on hand to adjust as needed. You’ll also need to keep all foods covered to prevent bugs from snacking on your carefully-chosen entrees. Be extra-aware of foods with easily-spoilable ingredients, like mayonnaise or seafood, and try to plan your menu to avoid these when possible. Keep your wedding cake refrigerated until the absolute last minute to preserve its perfect decoration.
Keep your guests well-informed about what to expect from your location. Not only should you mention any special environmental factors in your invitations, but follow it up closer to the wedding day with weather reports and extra reminders. Even if your great-uncle swelters in his favorite fur hat at your July wedding, at least he won’t be able to blame you.
Watch out for bugs at dusk, especially if you’re near a lake or stream. While some parks spray pesticides to prevent insects, there are other methods to repel bugs (and you might prefer these if you will be inviting small children or pets who tend to stick things in their mouths). Citronella candles or gauzy netting can give a fairytale atmosphere at the same time as they prevent unwanted flying visitors from crashing your wedding.
The outdoors can be noisy, which hampers guests’ ability to hear your ceremony. Tour your location ahead of time with a friend to test how easy it is to hear spoken words from as far away as your furthest guests will sit. Notice whether you are near any major roads or whether planes often fly overhead. If you’re near a body of water, watch for motorboats. Check for any homes with barking dogs nearby. Also, ask the location’s management whether there is any construction or maintenance planned around the date of your wedding.
Where will the sun will be? A sunset wedding on the beach sounds divine until you realize all the guests are squinting at two black silhouettes. While you don’t have to avoid any time of day, you should consider it when planning the orientation of your seating arrangements.
If you’ll be out in the elements for more than an hour or so, steer clear of fragile decorations. Use sturdy flowers, like roses, that won’t wilt in the sun or wind. Better yet, use potted plants, especially local ones; live decorations will thrive in their natural environment. Also be aware of decorations that cause litter, like confetti or popped balloons, and come armed with a cleanup plan.
Before you set your heart on any outdoor space, check with not only the location’s management, but also local regulations. Dry areas will usually not allow open flame, for example. Many public parks and beaches require permits for more than a certain number of people gathered at once. There are sometimes tiered permits depending on the number of guests, so factor this into your overall budget.
Other permitting issues include whether or not pets are allowed, whether you serve alcohol (sometimes rules are different for hard alcohol specifically), and whether you play amplified music (the definition of “amplified” can be surprisingly strict).
Will you be having a religious ceremony? Be sure to check with your officiant before reserving an outdoor site, as some religions cannot perform a wedding outside an official place of worship. Catholicism, for example, requires special dispensation from a Bishop in order to get married outside of the church, which is extremely hard to obtain. It may be easier to have the reception outdoors, instead.
Even though outdoor locations can be unpredictable, they offer huge advantages in beautiful scenery and romantic settings. Enjoy a wedding surrounded by brilliant blooms in a flower garden, or on a grassy hill under the stars. Go barefoot on the beach or snuggle under autumn leaves. Just do your research and make sure you and your guests are prepared so everyone can enjoy the experience.
Lisa is a special needs teacher and a hugger. She always makes time for everyone and lightens up everybody’s lives with her presence. When she is not chasing her students around the yard, she finds time to write about what she truly loves, and you guessed it, its people and relationships.