Guide to Outdoor Ceremonies

Steph Greegor
Allison Srail says her September 2016 wedding to Matthew Bussard had “perfect fall weather.”

An outdoor ceremony or reception can be a romantic setting for your wedding.

A stunning sunset can light your photos with brilliant hues, while a calming blanket of glittering stars gives your big day an amorous backdrop—that is, until the mosquitos come out, the bees start buzzing, the heat makes your guests dehydrated or a sudden rain storm leaves you in a dampened mood.

“People will say, ‘It was nice last year,' or they read the Farmer's Almanac, and I'll just laugh,” says Brandon Flory, senior sales manager with Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Garden's event sales and catering. “You just don't know with Ohio weather.”

The Contingency Plan

The first question to ask about your outdoor venue is: When do I have to make the decision to move indoors?

“We can make the decision the day before, usually at the rehearsal,” says Flory of the conservatory's four indoor rental spaces; each serves as a built-in backup plan to an outdoor garden. “We find it's better [when] our clients know what's happening when they wake up.”

Other venues require a decision much earlier, however.

“All decisions need to be made two weeks before the ceremony,” says Jennifer Valenzuela, general manager at the Buxton Inn. “We can be flexible up to a week out if you need the tent or not, but once you commit to a tent, it's going up.”

One benefit of Via Vecchia Winery in Downtown Columbus is its flexibility in use of its outdoor ceremony space and indoor cocktail hour and reception area; the venue can accommodate changes up until noon the day of the wedding.

“Normally, when guests arrive, they go to ceremony, cocktail hour, then dinner,” says Michael Elmer, who co-owns and operates the unique space with business partner and vintner Paolo Rosi. “But if I can see a storm coming, we'll go to the cocktail hour inside, then ceremony [once the storm's cleared], then dinner.”

The key to the contingency plan is making sure neither of the to-be-weds are the ones who make the final call.

“There should be a point person to make that decision,” says Elmer. “Most of the time, it's a wedding planner, a mom or a dad.”

And if you must move indoors, make sure your contingency room has great outdoor views.

“Our backup is the ballroom setting,” says Ann Marie Orren of the Scioto Reserve Country Club. “It still has an outdoor feel, with floor-to-ceiling windows. So even if you must move inside, you can still feel like you're outside.”

Staying Hydrated

On the other end of the spectrum, a scorching-hot or swelteringly humid day presents its own set of problems for guests at an outdoor wedding.

“We've seen a lot of folks do troughs filled with water bottles,” says Bruce Cramer, executive director of the Bryn Du Mansion, which offers 52 acres of indoor and outdoor spaces for wedding ceremonies and receptions.

“There's nothing wrong with having a pre-ceremony drink, with or without alcohol, or iced teas, maybe cucumber water,” says Via Vecchia's Elmer. “If you have someone who's older and has an issue with heat, you can move them inside and have them watch the ceremony from a window.”

Putting extra water bottles under the chairs of guests who may need it is also an option, says the conservatory's Flory.

“We also have a juice bar,” she adds.

Cool Down, Warm Up

Ohio temperatures in peak wedding season—May through October—can fluctuate from super-hot to quite chilly.

For hot days, couples can print their ceremony program on a hand-held fan, but umbrellas or parasols are also an option.

“We have great big umbrellas that can be added the day before or day of,” says Flory. “We even had one client bring a bunch of colorful umbrellas used as parasols.”

Tents—some of which have air conditioning or heating options—are also a great way to protect guests from the elements, though they can ruin the ambiance by blocking the view. And some venues have shade built right in. At Via Vechhia Downtown, for example, a tall building next door offers respite.

“Once it's past 4 p.m., you don't have direct sunlight on you anymore,” says Elmer.

One last consideration: Couples who choose a string quartet should know that the players' instruments are very sensitive.

“They can only play in certain temperatures,” says Elmer.

Heels and Handicaps

Outdoor weddings often mean grass—and that can spell disaster for ladies wearing heels.

“I always encourage the women to buy heel protectors at a bridal store,” says Scioto Reserve's Orren. “Our garden space is all grass, where the guests sit.” These flat plastic discs slip over a heel and provide additional surface area, so the shoe doesn't sink into soft ground; they're small enough that you can set out a basket of them so guests can help themselves.

Another idea: Provide, or tell guests to bring, other shoe options.

“We try to talk to the clients beforehand, especially if it's wet beforehand; we've seen them bring flip-flops for their guests,” says Franklin Park's Flory.

The couple can also rent or request a parquet floor, which is convenient for wheelchair accessibility and those with mobility concerns.

Restrooms are another factor to consider for guests with disabilities.

“We have over 200 years of history here, so back in 1812 there was no such thing [as handicap-accessible considerations],” says Valenzuela of the Buxton Inn. “But we do have handicap restrooms in the front. And the courtyard is flat, and it does come in flat off the sidewalk. So someone in a wheelchair could come in and enjoy it.”

But if you want to really go that extra mile for a guest with mobility concerns, Bryn Du Mansion's Cramer suggests renting golf carts.

Uninvited Guests

Ohio summers are known for bees, mosquitos and other unwelcome party-crashers. And while a 20-minute wedding ceremony outside probably doesn't warrant a full-fledged bug attack, a six-hour wedding reception might.

“I've seen wedding coordinators come in and bring bug spray to fog the garden area,” says Cramer.

Check with the venue ahead of time to see if an external vendor or the venue itself will take care of bugs.

If an area-wide pest treatment isn't an option, consider setting out bottles of mosquito repellent or bringing in plants that act as natural deterrents, like marigolds, lavender, citronella or lemon balm.

Plug It In

Guests like to dance, so make sure your DJ can power up and your photographer and videographer can charge their equipment if needed.

“Our garden space has electric all around it,” says Scioto Reserve's Orren. “From an audio side, we provide an outside sound system so the officiant can be heard.”

Via Vecchia's Elmer recommends that all his couples use a mic so guests can hear them, a suggestion that any couple getting married outside should heed. Without the acoustics of a ceiling and walls to help sound bounce to the back of the crowd, vows can easily get lost in an outdoor ceremony. While DJs often handle this detail, it doesn't hurt to see what the venue offers.

“We have an outside audio system; it's a Bose system. You can hook up your iPod or iPhone for music,” says the Buxton Inn's Valenzuela. “The acoustics in the courtyard are very good, so it makes for really nice sound.”

Flory says the conservatory offers portable sound systems and in-house systems when needed.

“I do think outside is hard, even with equipment, because you've got wind, traffic, sirens,” she says. “I like it when couples utilize the DJ for sound; it's someone who has the professional knowledge to make it happen.”

Be on Time

“If you have your guests sitting out there and it's 90 degrees, you owe it to them to start your wedding on time,” says Bryn Du Mansion's Cramer. This goes for chilly spring or fall ceremonies, too.

Flory agrees. “I understand this is your day, and so do your guests,” she says. “But you have lots of people here who are attending, and you want them to be happy, too.”

Just stay focused on what the day is really about, and it'll be a memorable experience for everyone.

“The wind is going to blow, the horns are going to honk, bugs are going to land on people—be prepared to let it go,” says Cramer. “The important thing is that at the end of the day, you're married and you're going to spend the rest of your life with that special someone.”