The Magic of a Garden Wedding
White chairs lined up in neat rows stretch across the soft grass, surrounding a brick path on both sides, ready for a garden wedding. At the beginning of this walkway stands a beautiful bride in a white chiffon dress, a bouquet of vibrant peonies in her hands. Her veil flows delicately behind her as she steps slowly through the Grace Arents Garden, to where her groom waits for her under a white trellis. Summer snapdragons (Angelonia angustifolia), blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii) and other flowers stretch beyond the trellis, providing a backdrop of color and optimism as the bride and her groom each say “I do” in a magical garden wedding.
I’ve always wondered what it would be like to get married at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Luckily, hundreds of people have hosted garden weddings in the Cochrane Rose Garden, at the Henry M. Flagler Garden Pavilion and the Grace Arents Garden through the years, a few who even work here that I could ask. My curiosity getting the better of me, I decided to talk to longtime garden employees, Kristen Hughes Brown, about her June 11 wedding in the Grace Arents Garden to another Garden staff member, Operations Manager Justin Brown. They met here at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden while working and began dating nearly five years ago.
“For me there was no question in my mind that we’d get married here, with our love for this place,” Brown said. “It’s where we started.” The couple considered having their wedding in the Cochrane Rose Garden and their reception in the Robins Visitor Center. But ultimately they decided on the Grace Arents Garden for their ceremony, which was paired with the Bloemendaal House tent and Grace Arents Garden for the reception. “We wanted our reception to be out in the Garden,” she said.
According to Donna Reynolds, facility event coordinator, “The Bloemendaal House venue is mainly outside, and that’s the only venue where you’ll have an outside reception.” For couples who are concerned about weather, choosing either the Henry M. Flagler Garden Pavilion, which is paired with the Robins Tea House, or the Cochrane Rose Garden/Robin’s Visitor’s Center might be ideal because the receptions will be indoors. No matter which venue you choose, to make sure you get the date you want, book at least a year to 18 months ahead.
May, June, September, and October are the busiest months for a Garden wedding because the weather tends to be best. “Being comfortable with weather is a big thing,” Reynolds explained. “Of course you envision your wedding being perfect with the weather beautiful and 70 degrees and sunny, but this is Virginia so that doesn’t always happen.” Newlywed Brown had the advantage of working closely with garden brides for almost seven years in the Garden’s facility rental office and she was comfortable with any rain plan. “If it were to be just raining, the ceremony would move under the tent where the dance floor is,” she explained. “If there is thunder and lightning, guests have to move inside the Bloemendaal House.”
When Hughes Brown chose her venue, she wasn’t worried about her wedding’s color scheme because she knew that the Grace Arents Garden would complement it. “The plantings in the Garden were just fantastic,” she said. “Elizabeth Fogel (senior horticulturist) is so cautious to provide color but without being overwhelming because she understands that every weekend there’s a whole new color scheme being brought in by a bride. She does a beautiful job of making sure the Garden goes with anything. I knew it was going to be great no matter what our colors were.”
At their wedding, the Browns had 120 guests — all people who were incredibly important to them — which made the day that much more special. “From our standpoint, it was really stress-free. We trusted everybody and knew everything was taken care of,” Brown said. One of the great things about getting married in the Garden is that we take care of the venue set-up for you, Reynolds explains. “We try to take that stress from you so you’re not worrying about it. Anything we can take off your plate, we like to do that because it is a big process,” she says.
Brown said, “Facility rental — Donna Reynolds and Sarah Neely (Assistant Facility Events Coordinator) — are fantastic at answering questions and being open to ideas that popped up and on the day of were right there to make sure anything that popped up was taken care of.” The Browns met with in house caterer Meriwether Godsey to choose their menu selections. “The food was just fantastic that night, just absolutely fantastic,” she said.
Making Your Wedding Magical
Any advice for couples looking to get married in the Garden? Facility Events Coordinator Reynolds says, “Planning your wedding is challenging. Don’t make it hard on yourself, don’t stress out about it. And have fun!”
Brown adds, “We always tell people to recognize that the Garden is beautiful no matter when you have the wedding.” Though winter weddings are less common, they are still gorgeous. “Let the Garden be its own backdrop for you because each of the three ceremony sites have their own special feel.”
“Trust the Facility Events office, Brown adds, “because they really do have your best interest in mind. They do, they really do. They get it. They do it hundreds of times every year.”
The Joy of a Garden Wedding
Every couple who marries in the Garden takes away something special. As an employee of the Garden, Brown had the unique experience of “walking down the aisle” every morning before and after her wedding day on her way to work. She was well-practiced by the time her big day arrived. “To close the loop on the story of our lives, and to get to do that here is pretty awesome.”
For Reynolds and Neely, the magic comes in watching couples start their journeys together. “We have a couple who got engaged here and then they came in for a wedding tour,” Neely told me. “Now they have a booked wedding with us, so it’s a Lewis Ginter love story. They’re getting married in 2017.”
“It’s just something that continues,” Reynolds said. “Couples come back and it’s cool to see that transition in the relationship and watching them grow and have families. It’s really cool for us to see that and be part of that, and for the Garden to get to be part of that.”
To get more garden wedding ideas, see our Pinterest pages on Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden weddings, on wedding ideas, or wedding gift ideas. Follow @LewisGinterWeddings on Instagram to see highlights from weddings here. If you are thinking about a wedding at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden contact Donna Reynolds or Sarah Neely in the Facility Events office or by phone at 804-262-9887 ext. 345 or 224. They would be happy to answer your questions and they know a thing or two about throwing a magical garden wedding.