Exchange your vows surrounded by a fabulous view, your favorite friends, and beloved relatives. You can have it all at an outdoor wedding. As with any special event, the key to making it work is in the planning.

June 09, 2015
This wedding location was enhanced with color and flowers.

An orange-and-green palette sets a dramatic tone for this outdoor wedding. "I think color is really important," wedding consultant Sasha Souza says. "Weddings these days are no longer all white. They tend to have more flavor."

The natural beauty of an outdoor wedding is alluring. Imagine a gentle breeze teasing your veil, a gorgeous sunset timed to your vows, and guests dancing the night away under the stars.

The opposite could also be the case -- gusts of wind blowing away your place cards, blazing heat, or an uninvited thunderstorm crashing your party. But with careful planning, your big day can be as lovely as you imagine it.

"Season and weather are number one" priorities, wedding consultant Sasha Souza says about an outdoor ceremony. "You don't want to have an outdoor wedding during the rainy season, and keep sweltering weather in mind."

You may have issues with pests -- bees and mosquitoes -- too. And whatever you do, don't seat guests so they face directly into the sun.

Since you can't control the weather, "absolutely, have a backup plan," Souza says. Renting or purchasing tents is an easy, though expensive, option.

Orange Japanese lanterns greeted guests at this outdoor reception site.

The terrain is important, too. Remember that high heels can sink into wet grass and sand, and that some guests might not be dressed appropriately (or be physically fit enough) to hike to a forest clearing or across the sand to an ocean-front venue.

City parks, the grounds of an estate, poolside at a hotel, or the roof of a building with a fabulous view may be easier for everyone to maneuver, and may also have better access for such things as chair delivery, gift tables, and restrooms.

No matter where you conduct your outdoor wedding, you'll have to arrange for nearly everything to be hauled in. "Even if it's private property, all furniture must be brought to the site," Souza says.

Besides the obvious -- tables and chairs, for example -- consider heat sources (if the temperature might drop as you kick up your heels) and portable restrooms. You may also need to rent a large trash receptacle and an electric generator. And be sure to hire a caterer who is familiar with setting up an outdoor kitchen.

Finally, don't forget about the dark. You might even want to consider hiring a lighting expert. "You need lighting not only for safety, but for ambience," Souza says. Lighting possibilities include placing candles near the food so guests can see what they're eating, hanging lanterns around the dance floor, and stringing lights to lead the way to the restroom.

It's the little details that make everything run smoothly. If parking is limited, for example, hire a valet service or arrange for a shuttle bus to transport guests to the site.

For the bride and groom who say "I do" in a public place, Souza suggests having a friend greet your guests to weed out party crashers or curious onlookers.

What is Souza's final piece of advice for a bride who's planning an outdoor wedding? "Hire professional vendors for a professional job," she says.

And check into whether you need a permit for any outdoor location. The last thing you want is to be kicked out of your wedding!

For the wedding pictured here, guests sat under old trees, which provided natural shade.

Creating a focal point is one challenge many brides face when planning an outdoor wedding.

"I like to use the setting to create the ceremony, whatever that natural environment might be. That's why people are outside." Souza says. "As beautiful as this property is, it just craved something dramatic."

Souza made a striking backdrop for the ceremony by covering an iron gate leading to the stables with bands of orange roses that form the bride's and groom's initials. An array of orchids -- including miniature green cymbidium florets strung on fishing line -- dress up the top of the brick pillars.

An orange silk runner and copper troughs filled with miniature and standard cymbidium orchids add more color.

After the ceremony, guests moved to the front of the house for cocktail hour -- complete with fruity martinis and shrimp appetizers served from a stunning table made of ice. Dinner then was served at colorful tables surrounding a lap pool.

Table Tips

"Whatever you do, make sure your decorations don't block the view," consultant Sasha Souza says. (See more centerpiece and table decorating ideas on the next page.)

A Colorful Reception

Orange Japanese lanterns greeted guests at this outdoor reception site, the Tamber Bay Estate in California's Napa Valley. Floral balls and paper lanterns were hung from the leafy branches overhead.


Orange tulips, orange dahlias, orange 'King's Pride' roses, green cymbidium orchids, and lime-green button chrysanthemums decorate the tables.

Place Cards

Anchor a place card by threading it with ribbon and tying it to the back of a guest's chair.

Menu Card

Slip the menu into a folded napkin, so it won't blow away.

Flower Arranging Tips

Making striking flower arrangements is easy with the right materials.

For clear vases like the ones shown here, fill with presoaked water-absorbing crystals (allow the crystals to sit in water according to the manufacturer's instructions). This will give the vase that "crushed-ice" look. Add flowers, then fill the container with water.

For opaque containers, use water-soaked florist's foam (also known as "oasis"). Cut a piece of foam slightly larger than the container, leaving about 1/2 to 1 inch of foam sticking out of the top of the container. Slice off the foam's edges to create a more rounded top. Cut flowers to the desired length (here, just a few inches long for most arrangements), and push the stems into the foam. Gently fill the vase with water.

Ice Table

This appetizer ice table cost approximately $1,200.

This 5-foot-tall table of ice left was sculpted before the wedding by a professional and delivered to the site an hour before the guests arrived. "Sculptures make a huge statement," says Jeff Foley of Clear Memories.

To prolong the life of an ice sculpture, keep it out of the sun and wind. Drainage tubes and trays or buckets should be set up to collect runoff.

Wheatgrass Table

Wheatgrass-covered display table.

Nature inspired the wheatgrass-covered table displaying table cards. Screw plastic garden edging to the table edge and use spray glue to adhere moss sheets (available at floral supply stores) to the tabletop.

Plant the tabletop with wheatgrass and adorn with flowers. The centerpiece floral ball is adorned with green cymbidium orchids. (Be sure to start this project a few weeks early so the grass is at the desired height for your wedding!)

Vase Food Display

An outdoor venue is the perfect place to celebrate with fresh fruits and vegetables. Make-ahead tips turn this flavor-rich reception menu into a doable feast.

Add some fun to the table with clear vases filled with snacks. Cheese straws, mixed nuts, jelly beans, and vegetables are just a few possibilities.

Jumbo Shrimp

Jumbo shrimp appetizers in shot glasses.

Jumbo shrimp appetizers become little conversation pieces when they are cleverly presented in shot glasses sitting atop an ice sculpture. A bit of crushed ice, a dab of cocktail sauce, and a colorful garnish finalize the effect.

Fruity Martinis

These martinis bring colorful, outdoor-fresh taste to your drink selection. Sugar-coat the glass rims to complement the taste of pomegranate martinis, or try versions flavored with orange and apple juice.


Traditionally garlicky aioli gets a zesty twist of lemon in a crabmeat cocktail. Black or red caviar and pairs of spiky chive stems garnish Crab Cocktail with Lemon Aioli.

California Heirloom Insalata

Tomatoes of all sizes and colors make a vibrant side dish perfect for alfresco celebrating. Fresh mozzarella chunks, called bocconcini, temper the basil seasoning.


Pork tenderloin is easy to serve at a large party. It gets a measure of festivity from a sweet fruit chutney.


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