Backyard weddings boast an immediately familiar, comfortable, warm and relaxed atmosphere that is tough to replicate in any other setting.
And, in recent years, these home-grown celebrations have been enjoying a resurgence in popularity and refinement thanks to the quality and availability of small-scale but high quality catering with food trucks and carts, new furniture and marquee/tent/tee-pee hire options and mobile entertainment packages with DJs, MCs, photo-booths and the like.
The HUGE positive of having a backyard wedding is the unlimited degree of personalisation you can achieve which makes your celebration unlike any other.
“We had our wedding in our backyard because it gave us flexibility and choice. We were 100% in control of the decor, the vendors, the timing, everything. There were other places I loved, but they had specific caterers or restrictive drinks packages, and it just wasn't what we were after. Food was such an important thing to us, so being able to handpick our caterers and work around that was our number 1 priority.” Natasha
"Our family and friends still talk about our wedding. It’s personal and so true to you both. There are no restrictions or time limits; it is the best! If we did our wedding over again I would change nothing!" Hannah
"When we looked at our daughter under the arbour in our own backyard, where she spent her entire life growing up, it truly made it so worthwhile. An incredibly special opportunity we are thankful for." Kathryn
“From a planning perspective having the reception at home was so handy because we could go try things out (like lining up all the chairs on the lawn to make sure all our tables would fit or setting up our festoon lights in advance and enjoying a beautifully lit backyard). " Natasha
As with all great ideas, a backyard wedding often requires a lot more work and planning behind the scenes than first anticipated.
While it can seem like a cheaper and more relaxed option, when you consider that you have to clean and tidy your whole house, yard and then set up a wedding too it can get overwhelming quite quickly. What surprises many couples is the high degree of organisation and attention to detail required in lots of different areas all at the same time.
Depending on the country the wedding is in, the season, number of guests and complexity of the event, everything from hiring furniture, tableware and tents to council permits, the safety of lighting installations and council parking/noise restrictions needs to be anticipated, planned for and contingencies put in place.
This advanced level of planning can be exhausting and a bit of a downer for some soon-to-be-weds.
Particular points to weigh up are:
- Who will set the tables, organise the decor and do the cleaning up?
- Who will coordinate the collection/return of hired items the morning after?
- How's your relationship with your neighbours? Will they be okay with the noise/traffic/cars parked down your street?
But even with all of these considerations, you're undeterred and still have your heart set on a backyard wedding, don't you?
Okay, let's do this!
To help you start to piece together a comprehensive to-do list for your very own homely nuptials, we asked wedding planner and stylist, Nicole Bailey of Your Party Plannery and some newlyweds who have recently planned their backyard wedding, for their top tips and advice.
Also, be sure to download or Pin the DIY wedding drinks guide so you know exactly how much alcohol to buy!
An extra tip: some bottle shops allow you to return unopened cartons of wine, beer and pre-mix drinks, so check your local store's return policy first.
- Start with measuring your backyard and/or verandah space to ensure you’ve got lots of room for the number of guests you want to invite.
- Keep in mind that you may need extra space for the ceremony, a marquee/tent and any anchoring it may need, tables and chairs, dance floor, bar, food service area, toilets etc.
- Check out the grass/pavers/concrete from a safety and practicality perspective - you don't want to set anything up on an uneven/poorly drained surface.
- Seated receptions (that require tables and chairs for your guests to enjoy their plated meal) need more space per person than cocktail-style receptions because in addition you will need some space for your guests to mill around and chat too.
- You may need to consider hiring extra lighting, a generator, refrigerators, preparation/service benches, a bar etc.
- Check your property from an accessibility point of view for both your guests and your vendors. Will you have any differently abled guests with special requirements? From a logistic standpoint, will you have enough space for vans or trucks to deliver hire items. If you are planning to have a food truck, spit roast or BBQ setup, is there enough room to have access to the backyard?
Vendor site visits
- Ask for professional advice and recommendations upfront. Experienced wedding suppliers of hire items including tents/marquees/tee-pees, furniture and dance floors can work out whether or not your backyard is feasible as a venue and be able to advise as to what precautions may need to be put in place for health, safety, comfort or aesthetic reasons.
- Your other vendors (caterers, florist, band) may also benefit from a site visit to determine the most optimal set-up.
"Get your photographer over to have a look at your garden so that they can offer suggestions of how to set things up for the best lighting/background etc. Depending on how you schedule your day, you may not have a chance to go elsewhere for the creative portrait side of things, so you'll be thankful for guidance on how to get the most of the photos on the day. For example, it may seem lovely to have your ceremony in the bright sunshine, but your photographer will curse you. LOL" Simone
- Make the most of and embrace what you've got to work with. Do you have a gum tree, a sprawling lawn, or a spectacular city view? Try to look at the backyard with fresh eyes and work your design around its natural highlights.
- Take note of how the garden looks (what's flowering etc.) at the time of year you're planning your wedding for. Certain plants may be at their peak, while others may need to be strategically masked by a hire fridge or two.
- If you plan to use a combination of indoor and outdoor space, you’ll need to have a backup plan for all of your guests should the weather turn.
- As icky as it is to think about, you'll want to account for 2-3 bathroom trips per guest. Most septic tanks can't handle that many flushes, so a portable bathroom or single stall port-a-loo is a must. A general rule of thumb is to have one toilet for every 35 guests.
- Know what you’re covered for in your home and contents insurance policy upfront. Third party damage may not be included – have the chat early.
2) Plan & prep
- Whether you choose to DIY and get busy with the hedge trimmers, or hire a pro, you'll want your garden to look it’s best. It is ideal to start looking at planting and landscaping at least 6 months in advance.
- Talk to your wedding planner, rental company or caterer about the event layout before you (or anyone else) starts work in the garden. Sometimes there are tables, access and prep areas that need to be taken into consideration or a different layout idea they will recommend to maximize the use of space.
- Make sure there’s plenty of places for people to sit keeping in mind older relatives, who might prefer a ‘proper chair’ to feel comfortable.
- Protect your garden (think excessively aerated areas that will look like a well-worn horse racing track afterwards) and your guests ankles (should they choose to go against your advice and wear high heels) by hiring a dance floor.
- Consider creating different areas or zones in your backyard. A casual, seated chill out area away from the dance floor and tables will allow your guests to relax and chat.
“Plan the flow of how people will move through your garden. The risk is that everyone will cluster in one area as they arrive, so have seating, or games or a photo booth set up to attract people to a different area." Simone
- Take a good look at your guest list and work out how many children might be attending. It is well worth considering a small tent or game area away from the main festivities to keep them occupied and happy and safe while giving their parents the day off too.
- Check that you are complying with your local council/city event requirements and find out if local noise ordinances require a permit. Bring in an electrician to check that everything is up to date, tested and tagged and safe; the last gate crasher you want to entertain is the police, ambulance or fire service.
- Whether it’s loud music after hours, or the number of cars parked outside your home, your neighbours, especially if they’re not aware what’s going on, may make complaints, or worse, call the police. Consult with them well ahead of time, let them know what you have in mind, and make compromises wherever you can.
- Some of your guests may try to stay at the house before or after your wedding – make sure to recommend local accommodation to encourage your guests to book in advance.
- Make sure that any pets are taken care of either off-site, or somewhere safe and a little more quiet at home, by a neighbour or wedding pet attendant. The extra people, noise and activity that a wedding generates is too much stress for most animals to cope with and the last thing you want is to be doing the morning after is searching for your runaway fur baby.
"Ask everyone to wear flat shoes! Your gorgeous garden will thank you. :)" Simone
“Make the use of local suppliers and vendors as it may save you a lot in travel fees/extra charges and make the most of op shops!”
"Make sure that you have complimentary blankets for everyone if you have outdoor seating." Diana
“Book somewhere to stay for the night. This really depends on what kind of party people you are, but we were so glad we booked a hotel for the night. We organised for a friend to stay at the house with my nieces (to make sure everything got locked up), but we had a hotel room booked and left at 11:30pm. We found out the next day that a group of our friends stayed dancing till about 3:30am and having long conversations with our parents while we were fast asleep in bed. We loved that people were just relaxed and could enjoy their night, without having to rush out the door as soon as we left the building.”
"Get bugs under control. Our wedding is in the evening, so we're paranoid about mozzies! We're trialling the mozzie patches that people can put on their clothing, but we'll also have a serious look at where they're coming from and hoping to solve it in the next few months." Simone
3) Delegate & hire
"It's a time to bring in favours from friends and family, a small job so people don't feel like they are missing the wedding and instead they feel like they are being helpful." Kathryn
- Hiring a cleaning crew may be the best decision you'll make. In the days leading up to the wedding, the last thing you (or your parents) want to have to do is a massive house-scrubbing.
- For the day-of, you will need helpers, waitstaff, bar staff and/or a wedding coordinator to cover all the basics of setting up, cooking, serving, and cleaning up. Talk to your caterer or planner about how many staff you need to ensure the smooth running of your day. Will they stay as long as the food is served, or can they work until the end of the evening?
- Choosing to have a serviced bar is optional - you may decide to set up a drinks table and let your guests serve themselves. This is particularly handy if you’re planning a late-night celebration that will go on long after an 11pm/12am finishing time.
- Even if you want to plan your wedding and do the bulk of the set-up yourself, consider hiring a day-of (and maybe day-after) coordinator to look after setting up and taking down your party.
“Hire a stylist. We did everything ourselves in the lead up to the day, but there's so much work that goes into setting up for a wedding at home, and we didn't want to worry about that on the day (or have our friends and family worrying). We had an on the day stylist, and she completely got my 'vision' for everything. She turned up the morning of the wedding and set everything up exactly as I'd pictured in my head. Venues have so many people working behind the scenes, but you don't have any of that at home and so having a stylist just means you get to enjoy the whole day. Our stylist (Laura from Minty Mary Pea) was honestly the best decision we made about the day.” Natasha
- We highly recommend hiring/renting a tepee, marquee or a tent. Not only will it be a life saver should you have less than ideal weather on the day, but it will also protect you, your guests, your tables, lights, decorations and flowers from too much sun or a light breeze.
- Light it up in a big way for maximum impact. Consider renting hanging lights, string lights, diffused spotlights, Chinese lanterns or electric candles (thinking about safety). There are so many options to create a beautiful atmosphere with lighting in a backyard wedding; the entrance, pathways, signs, food and drinks tables, marquee/tent, trees, bushes etc.
- Rent your tables and chairs from a rental company who will deliver, setup, take down and pick up too.
- Depending on the time of year and your location, will your guests be more comfortable with heaters or fans?
- Go through the plan for your day from start to finish to make sure you’ll have more than enough tableware and glassware to cover every course, drink and toast. Don’t forget any serving cutlery, salt & pepper shakers linen etc. that you might need too.
- Talk to your rental company about clean-up (some are fine to take them back unwashed) and collection. Washing, counting and carefully wrapping up 150 plates, pieces of cutlery and glassware the next morning is a real downer.
- Outdoor games like giant Jenga, bocce and badminton are great ice breakers for your guests. Hire a couple of your favourites, sign them well and watch your family and friends light up.
- For port-a-loos, keep in mind that the area will need to be well lit too. There are single stall toilets and more upscale portable bathrooms available with lighting, sinks, heated water, and even air-conditioning.
- Make sure you stock up on more drinks that you think you’ll need using the free DIY wedding drinks guide PDF. Keeping in mind that, if it’s a hot day, you might find your red wine drinkers opt for white wine or beer. Many drinks stores allow you to over-order and return unopened cartons that you don’t use.
- Whether your bar is manned or not, don’t forget drinking water, ice, garnishes and soft drink options too.
Nicole Bailey of Your Party Plannery has these additional expert tips to help you to plan your very own backyard wedding:
- When you hire your port-a-loos, stock them well with toilet paper, hand towels or paper towels.
- Have everything ready for your guests to access without having to ask you 100 questions or go inside the house.
- Make sure you create space - leave pathways clear for your guests to be able to move about freely.
- Have the bar set up and well stocked so that your guests can get what they want and head back to enjoying your wedding. For self-service drinks stations think re-usable glassware, bottles of beer, ciders, stubby holders etc.
- Get help where you need it. An on the day coordinator is perfect for at home weddings. They supervise the setup of all of the services you have booked. That way you can get ready in peace without them interrupting you with questions while you're trying to get ready.
- Make sure the caterers have enough space to spread out; it'll need to be undercover or in your kitchen, so be prepared.
- Have some bar staff to monitor your guests’ consumption and collect and clean up the glassware. You can hire bar staff from a range or places and it'll save you time later on with clean up.
- Guest parking - be aware of your local restrictions and inform your guests on the invitations, an insert or online where you want them to park.
- Organise a bus to drop them off guests and pick them up from a central location; it allows your family and friends to enjoy the night and causes less chaos on your street too.
Phew - did we cover everything?
If you've got any other tips to share, we’d love to hear about them in the comments section below!