8 Tips for Planning an Outdoor Wedding

updated May 5, 2019
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(Image credit: Kim R. McCormick)

On a humid Saturday around this time last year, I married my husband on an 330-acre organic farm in eastern Pennsylvania. (That’s us above.) It poured for part of that day, but thanks to careful planning — and, you know, being really excited — I barely noticed.

As a girl I didn’t daydream about my wedding, but once I’d been proposed to, I knew I wanted the event to happen somewhere very green. Skip ahead a year and a half, and the farm was booked and my family and I were glued to the weather report. Below is a non-exhaustive list of things I learned about planning an outdoor wedding.

1. Have a backup plan, and know when to implement or drop it. Given that I wanted our ceremony to be open air, I was vehemently opposed to the idea of exchanging vows under a plastic tent. Besides just being costly, the plastic tent was completely unromantic. I also knew our cocktail hour and reception would be in covered areas (a pavilion and a barn). My parents booked a tent as a last resort, and a few days before the big one, we had to confirm or ditch it. After checking forecasts relentlessly, I went with my gut and told them to ditch the thing. In a serendipitous turn of events, it did not rain until after the ceremony.
2. Rain doesn’t have to be a terrible thing. There are any number of small, unpredictable things that can go awry on your wedding day. Keeping a positive attitude (plus having that backup plan) is the best way to avoid becoming a bride- or groomzilla. In my case, the weather lent the day a special atmosphere. Two of my strongest memories of the day are the feeling of the humidity causing my wedding dress to cling to my calves and the dense mist surrounding us on the ride back to the hotel. The rain also made for a lot of cute photo ops with umbrellas.

3. Let the scenery shine. As far as inspiring wedding images go, Pinterest’s cup runneth over. I decided to concentrate on finding the right outdoor site and focus my DIY projects on things other than an arch or backdrop. Behind us as we married were the barn, house, and silo of a Mennonite family. In what was another serendipitous, idyllic, too-good-to-be-planned turn of events, guests later remarked that the family had just put their laundry on the line to dry before we came down the aisle. While you want the scenery to shine, you don’t want it to blind: don’t forget to consider the angle of the sun to avoid making guests stare into it.

4. Consider how people will get to, from, and around the event. Think about how guests will flow from one part of the day to the next, and pick your spots logically. Also, if you’re getting married in a remote location, like I did, invest in a shuttle bus. It will keep guests sane and safe. (In our case, I believe the cost was about $900 or $1,000.)

5. You can do guests a favor by advising about footwear. This step isn’t necessary, but it keeps ladies from stumbling and aerating all the grass. With our invitations we included an information card, which gave details about the venue, the hotels, and footwear. I think the wording we used was “lawn-friendly shoes,” and when anyone asked we suggested flats or wedges.

6. Brides, know that your dress most likely will get dirty. If you want to get married outdoors, you’re probably OK with that reality, but it can affect things like resale.
 The series of photos from my wedding that includes the one above left the inside hem of my dress dusty black. Fortunately, that image is one of my two favorites from the day. Oh, that weeping willow tree.

7. Think about bathrooms. The barn where our reception was held had no bathroom, and, considering my point about flow, the other closest one was not close enough. We invested extra money in fancy rental bathrooms that looked like regular ones, with nice sinks and mirrors. My maid of honor’s boyfriend later remarked that he had never before adjusted his tie in a port-a-potty.

8. Be mindful of these additional costs. I’ve mentioned tent, shuttle, and toilet rentals, which can add thousands to your grand total. They are extra things to consider in a long line of things to consider when planning your wedding.