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A Garden Wedding

Preparing your landscape for that special day.

wedding picture

A young bride and groom sit amidst their fairytale wedding backdrop: nature. Photo by Stacey Hedman

In all seasons, a garden is one of the most life-affirming places on earth—so of course you want to get married there! Some choose a home landscape for their wedding site for this reason alone—others because it’s more personal or sentimental. Other brides decide on a garden wedding because of financial considerations. Those on Cape Cod often select a garden ceremony or rehearsal dinner because the outdoors are special here. Getting married where you can feel the sea breezes just seems appropriate for a Cape event.

A Garden Plan There are several practical considerations, of course. From parking to Porta-Potties, from lighting to lawn-repair, a garden wedding takes as much planning as any large event. For this reason, many brides and their families hire a wedding planner to help with all the details. But although professional event organizers are very skilled at choreographing the nuptials, they may not know how to prepare the garden itself, especially when it comes to landscape problems.

Freshen up your landscape When planning for an event that will take place in the yard, we quickly begin to see everything with new eyes. Those sheared shrubs that have thin green tops and bare stems suddenly look like oddly formed, living coffee tables instead of foundation plantings. The partly browned evergreen out by the street now appears more dead than alive, and the large shrub you’ve walked around for years is now visible for what it truly is: way overgrown.

How such eyesores are dealt with depends on when the wedding is scheduled. If there is sufficient time to remove them and plant something else in the same location, that’s probably the best solution. If the wedding is just around the corner and the last thing you need is a trip to the garden center to shop for shrubs, then consider a touchup job instead.

flower vases

Table centerpieces are the perfect way to bring in a pop of color to a more neutral palate. Photo by C. L. Fornari

Removing any and all dead leaves and stems will immediately improve most ugly plants. Be sure not to make any cuts that leave bare stumps, however. Cut dead limbs all the way back to one inch from the trunk and take away all dead foliage. Do this for both trees and shrubs.

If the plant looks worse once this is done, you know it’s time to cut bait completely. Ugly shrubs can always be cut off at ground level and the stump covered with a thin layer of mulch. If doing this creates an odd looking, empty space you can easily fill the area. You might group three or more large pots planted with flowering annuals, or even use a birdbath or other garden ornaments to fill the spot.

Benches can also be used to attractively fill large areas—even in places such as foundation beds where it isn’t the norm to have a bench. These can actually be a pleasing way to transform a gap into an area for rest.
In the face of an overgrown landscape, some might decide to cut their shrubs back hard. This is the Marine Corps barber approach. This type of renovation pruning can sometimes be effective, but it’s more likely to create butchered looking plants for the short term. Cleaning up larger, overgrown shrubs by pruning from the ground up, or by simply removing dead growth may be the percentage play – especially if you’re close to the wedding date.
Fresh cuts are always more noticeable on shrubs and trees as well, so for many reasons it’s probably wise not to do any major pruning right before the event.

Punch up garden color Looking at your yard as the location for a wedding, you might notice that you have a good amount of green foliage but not much else. Some properties are filled with serviceable evergreens and not many flowers; others have plants in bloom, but only at certain times of the year.

wedding shoes

A bouquet of white and blush colored roses pairs well with the champagne tones of the bride’s accessories. Photo by Stacey Hedman

Here’s the good news: all of those green plants make a great background for photos of the wedding party. More good news: adding flowers for the big day is relatively easy. From April through October, most garden centers stock large pots of flowering annuals. These can be planted in the ground where it’s easy to dig holes and plop the plants in.

wedding cake

Flowers cascading down the wedding cake tie in the nature theme. Photo by Stacey Hedman

If the containers are attractive, another option is to leave the flowers in their pots. Or consider a halfway approach. Dig a hole around three inches deep and place the pot in that shallow cavity. Push the dirt around the pot which will prevent the container from blowing over and hide the bottom of the pot.

Creative solutions It happens: two weeks before a big event the small tree that has been a focal point next to the driveway suddenly turns brown and sheds all its leaves. Maybe you’re at the end of a long dry spell, the tree was attacked by a fungus, or some well-meaning person over fertilized. Perhaps a passing hurricane blew all leaves from the plant.

Diagnosing the cause is almost beside the point. A plant has either been disfigured or died and you need to decide what to do about it. There are a couple of quick fixes for situations like this. The first involves speedy removal and the second uses the old lemons into lemonade strategy.

flower dog

An outdoor ceremony contributes to the comfortable, natural wedding vibe. Photo by C. L. Fornari

If the plant that suddenly departed for plant heaven isn’t very large, the best solution might be to cut it down and have it hauled away. Be sure that any stump or stem is cut right to ground level. This makes it easier to hide and prevents any remnants from becoming tripping hazards.

On the other hand, when a large tree suddenly dies there may not be time to cut it down—especially because doing so can disrupt the landscaping around the dead plant. It’s almost better to leave a dead tree in place than to have the lawn strewn with fresh tire ruts and sawdust on the day of the wedding. Besides, dead trees can be decorated and made into a garden asset.

Paint a smaller tree bright blue, wind a larger one with strings of white fairy lights. Hang large, white paper lanterns on the branches or display origami birds, paper flowers, ribbons, banners, or other ornaments appropriate to the season or wedding theme. Treat dead trees as if they are structures for your décor, not deceased plants.

Although a deceased tree can be turned into something decorative, dead shrubs or lifeless smaller plants should probably be removed. If there isn’t time, don’t worry about digging the plant completely out of the soil. Cut it down to ground level and throw it away.

wedding alter

Homemade details like this wooden arch make for a rustic but romantic touch. Photo by C. L. Fornari

Setting the scene

When the eyesore is a group of meters, air conditioners, or other equipment, it’s not possible to haul them off or decorate them with lights or paper birds. These visual problems are usually best hidden by fences or folding screens, not plants. Screening can either be permanent, as in a fence that’s installed before the wedding and left in place, or it can be temporary.

In addition to equipment or other items that need hiding, you might notice places where the house itself needs attention. Chipped paint or rotten wood, for example, might suddenly stand out. It’s always possible to repair these areas before the wedding. But should you decide that a total fix up isn’t in the budget, know that you’ll see these things far more readily than anyone else will. A happy bride and groom in a pretty garden will have everyone’s attention. The guests will be unlikely to notice the flaking paint.

No amount of screening or visual distraction can cover up hazardous situations, however. You may be aware of that large patch of poison ivy next to the lawn and take care to avoid it, but you can be sure that this is exactly where a wedding guest will drop something or fall down. You may know to stay away from the rotted wood on the well cover, or the really wobbly fence, but your guests can’t be expected to either know or remember such perilous locations. These unsafe conditions should be fixed well in advance of the wedding.

wedding appetizer

Containers are a creative way to cover up an eyesore or add decoration. Photo by Stacey Hedman

The Creative Use of Containers

Containers filled with flowers aren’t just beautiful: for a garden wedding, they can be functional as well. Urns of flowers or branches can be used to create a frame around, or archway over, the bride and groom. Large pots and urns can be used to attractively block areas where you don’t want guests to walk, drive, or park. Pots can also delineate paths, cover tripping hazards, and decorate the entrance to Porta-Potties.

Containers can either be planted well in advance of your event, or assembled just days before the wedding. If you’ve had good luck with container plants in the past, by all means pot up annuals using colors that will compliment the garden, and then tend them until the big day. If your thumb tends to be more black than green, however, purchase your boxes, urns, and pots as close to the wedding day as possible.

In general, larger pots of flowers are more attractive than smaller containers so think big. It’s also a good idea to have a few extras that can be used for last minute décor or disguising visual problems.

C.L. Fornari is the author of A Garden Wedding. This book and her blog can be seen at www.GardenWeddingExpert.com



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