This article originally appeared in Equally Wed Magazine. Equally Wed is the nation's premier online same-sex wedding and honeymoon magazine, providing articles, inspiration and ideas on everything from popping the question to saying "I do" to the glorious honeymoon, as well as the latest news headlines on the fight for marriage equality. The preeminent source for all things gay wedding, Equally Wed also offers the most comprehensive directory of gay-friendly wedding vendors in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
With the cost of weddings skyrocketing, and with many same-sex couples footing the entire bill for their big day, an intimate affair in your own backyard might start to look more appealing than the three-day destination gala you'd originally planned. Opting to tie the knot in your private outdoor sanctuary saves you the hassle of touring venue after venue and allows you and your betrothed to focus your time, energy and hard-earned cash on the things that matter to you most, be it fabulous photography from your city's top artists or a killer open bar, complete with signature cocktails and the very best bubbly.
Still, just because you'll be using your backyard doesn't mean planning your wedding will be a walk in the park. The work that goes into an event so close to home can far exceed hiring people to handle everything for you. Luckily, when it comes to planning backyard weddings, you are limited only by your creativity. From including your favorite furry friends to renting a photo booth to hiring a slew of outrageous circus performers, your backyard wedding can and should be a reflection of your and your beloved's unique style and personality. Here's how you do it:
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Before you begin to plan your backyard soiree, you'll need to consider the basics: primarily, determining if your yard is suitable for a wedding. Will your space accommodate your guest list? Where will your attendees park? Will your event require any permits from the city? Does your homeowner's insurance cover third-party liability? What about noise ordinances? Once you've got all these bases covered, it's time to dive into the details.
BE A GOOD NEIGHBOR
We can think of nothing worse than having your neighbor crank his riding lawn mower just as you exchange vows, except perhaps walking down the aisle to the squeals of 20 delighted 8-year-olds enjoying a pool party just over the fence. To prevent a catastrophe, let your neighbors know of your nuptials and what you've got planned at least six weeks in advance. Better yet, invite them! If you're lucky, they might even volunteer their driveway for overflow parking.
GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM YOUR FRIENDS
No matter how meticulous a planner you are, it's next to impossible to host a backyard wedding without the help of family and close friends. Unless you've hired an assistant, every detail of your ceremony and reception rests on your shoulders. Your nearest and dearest are usually happy to help ensure your special day goes off without a hitch. Just make sure you don't rely on the same person for everything. It's poor form to request your maid-of-honor to arrange bouquets, transport your cake, set up the bar and usher guests all on top of her day-of duties. And please don't forget your manners. Whether you're asking Aunt Rita for the use of her punchbowl or soliciting able-bodied friends to string lights from tree to tree, thank everyone, and do it often.
Costs can quickly spiral out of control if you rent everything from the cutlery to the candleholders instead of inquiring as to what you can borrow from pals. Based on the vision you have for your wedding, figure out what you'll need to rent and what you have or can borrow. Plenty of companies offer glasses, plates and utensils for one night at a hefty price, but mismatched items collected from thrift stores, discount outlets and friends can lend charming sentimentality to your already special day.
When it comes to sound systems, tables, chairs and linens, get creative! Talk up your friends, co-workers and acquaintances. Local churches, businesses, recreation centers, even funeral homes often have these items on hand and may let you borrow or rent them at a reduced cost. It never hurts to ask, and it could save you a bundle of money.
WEATHER THE STORM
Neither rain, sleet nor threat of snow should keep you from taking your love's hand in marriage, but they can put a huge damper on the day. Likewise, gale force winds can wreck havoc on the delicate chiffon bridesmaids' dresses you've selected. When deciding on the date for your backyard wedding, consult the Farmer's Almanac for historic weather records for the weekend you've selected. Once you've picked that perfect day, with nary a cloud in sight, know that the weather still may not cooperate and that, in a pinch, it's best to have a backup plan. If you cannot accommodate your guests indoors, consider renting a tent for your reception that can double as your ceremony space if necessary. Tent rental companies will handle set-up and break-down of the tent before and after the event.
Don't forget to take the extra steps necessary to make your guests as comfortable, prepared and protected from the elements as possible. Ladies will likely forego the stilettos if you add a printed insert to your invitations advising them that your ceremony and reception will take place on soft terrain. Providing sunscreen, bottled water, bug spray and blankets are all nice touches depending on the season.
It's best to get your yard in tip-top shape as soon as possible. Go ahead and fertilize that lawn, plant additional flowers or shrubs, fill any holes in the ground, and make all necessary repairs to patios and fixtures. Just before the big day, mow the lawn, trim any overgrowth and, of course, pick up behind your pooches.
LET YOUR LOVE FLOW
Since you'll have the benefit of unlimited access to your venue before you say "I do," you can spend ample time designing the layout and flow of traffic during your ceremony and reception. Take measurements of your space and create a scale drawing to determine where to place your tent, tables and chairs. Keep in mind; people gravitate toward food and beverage, so place these stations away from high-traffic entry and exit points.
SET THE STAGE
One of the biggest advantages to any outdoor wedding is the splendid backdrop that Mother Nature provides. Vibrant fall color and spring blossoms will eliminate the need for elaborate preparations. Potted plants, garden hooks with hanging baskets and strategically placed fabric, ribbon or tulle can fill in any gaps or cover imperfections. Use flowers and tree branches from your backyard to create centerpieces, and let your natural landscape do the rest!
LET THERE BE LIGHT
If your reception will extend into the nighttime hours, proper lighting is essential. Candles and paper lanterns lend an air of dramatic elegance, while tiki torches or strands of clear twinkle lights laced above your guests create a warm and simple, yet beautiful effect. Determine how many outlets you'll need for any lighting that requires a power source, and keep a fire extinguisher on hand if you plan to have any open flames.
CHANGE OF SCENERY
Unless your backyard is beyond spacious, your aisle may quickly need to become your dance floor. There are a few ways to handle the transition from ceremony to reception. If you plan on keeping your vows short and sweet, asking your guests to stand shouldn't be a problem (but please, by all means, set up a chair for your sweet 75-year-old nana). Skipping the seats during your ceremony allows you to set up the reception seating in advance.
If you prefer the formality of seating your guests during the ceremony, usher your guests to an unused location -- perhaps your front yard -- for a champagne toast or passed hors d'oeuvres while family or caterers convert your space.
MUSIC TO YOUR EARS
Got a talented friend? Recruit her to play guitar or violin for your stroll down the aisle. Get your guests dancing at the reception with a play list full of you and your love's favorite songs. A tech-savvy family member can easily cue up the tunes you've selected for your first dance and other special moments. Test your sound system the day before your wedding to ensure that your guests will be able to hear the music as well as carry on a conversation without shouting, and avoid placing seats directly in front of a speaker.
EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY
What you serve at your backyard wedding can range from champagne and caviar to barbecue and beer and just about anything in between. If you plan to use caterers, find out what they will need from you and whether your kitchen will accommodate them. If you forego caterers, you'll likely need to rely on those trusty friends and family members (again) to help prepare and present the meal. If your Uncle Jimmy has offered to whip up low-country boil for all 75 of your guests, you might have it made. But if firing up the grill isn't part of your vision, buffet lines lend themselves particularly well to backyard affairs. Just make sure you skip mayonnaise-laden dishes that can take a turn for the worse if not cooled properly. Likewise, advise your cake baker that your wedding will take place outdoors so that he can avoid frostings that will melt in mild heat.
When it comes to libations, consider hiring a bartender. Many guests aren't accustomed to mixing their own cocktails, which can lead to a serious waste of expensive liquor or embarrassing over-consumption. If you prefer to keep things simple, mix up batches of a signature cocktail or stick with bottles of wine and beer chilled in galvanized steel tubs.
WHEN NATURE CALLS
Decide upfront whether or not your indoor facilities will be available to guests during the event. If so, make sure they are well stocked with toilet paper, soap and hand towels. If not, you'll have to rent port-a-potties (at least two per 100 guests and one per 50 guests after that). If images of smelly outhouses with sprinkled-on seats have you concerned, never fear. The portable loo has gone luxe. Many rental companies offer top-of-the-line restrooms complete with flushable toilets, functioning sinks, full length mirrors and lighting.
PARTING IS SUCH SWEET SORROW
Lastly, backyard weddings do not have the time constraints that most venues impose and, as a result, some of your guests may decide to linger. If an all-nighter is what you had in mind, by all means, keep the party going. But if you prefer to spend the wee morning hours in the arms of your new husband or wife, consider a staged exit. Nothing says "it's time to go" like having the guests of honor hit the road.
Photos of Dani and Kelly's backyard wedding by Tinywater Photography.