How to plan an outdoor wedding, from venue ideas to garden decor and best dresses

·7-min read
How to plan an outdoor wedding 2021 ideas best venues dresses garden decor
How to plan an outdoor wedding 2021 ideas best venues dresses garden decor

Whether you imagine a micro-wedding in your back garden or walking down the aisle in a woodland glade, the idea of an outdoor wedding has evergreen appeal. Since the coronavirus pandemic and the resultant restrictions for weddings and receptions, its popularity has soared. According to Pinterest, searches for ‘small back garden wedding’ have risen 160 per cent.

Given that restrictions around weddings are due to gradually lift in the months ahead, it’s tricky to get plans for your wedding day set in stone. But, good news brides and grooms-to-be – there’s no reason you can’t start planning ahead for your dream outdoor wedding in the months to come.

First thing’s first – weather. In the UK, you’ll be spoilt for choice on beautiful venues, but there’s always the possibility that rain may stop play. “Always have a plan A and B, with plan B being the wet weather option,” says wedding planner Katie Slater, founder of Songbird Weddings, which specialises in unique outdoor weddings – from themed forests to secret gardens.

“If a couple has hired a marquee, ensure the ceremony can take place in the marquee if the weather’s bad. Or, you could reserve some budget for a stretch tent.”

If you’re not sure where to start, the first step is to set a clear budget with your other half. “I tell all my couples to have a figure in mind right from the start, so they can work back and decide how much to spend on each element,” she says. This is especially important for outdoor weddings, where costs on the practical elements – for instance, refrigeration, lighting and parking – can quickly stack up.

“Everybody forgets about power,” Slater says, “plus toilets and a fridge trailer to hold all your food and wine in.” If you have a guest list of 50+ people, an amplification system or speakers will be necessary for everyone to be able to hear, she adds.

From dreamy outdoor venues to inspiration for decor, flowers and the all-important dress, we’ve compiled this guide to planning an outdoor wedding to tell you everything you need to know.

Best outdoor wedding venues

The sky’s the limit (literally) when it comes to outdoor wedding venues. From wonderland woodland settings to festival fields, beachside ceremonies, a rustic barn or a garden marquee, there's an nuptials space to suit every taste. But it's essential you remember the logistics.

In order to have your legal wedding ceremony outdoors, it needs to take place under a licensed structure. “Many venues will have outdoor ceremony areas, such as a gazebo, that you can get married under,” says Slater.

If that option isn’t for you, there’s no reason you can’t head to a church or registry office for the legalities and then a reception to follow. “You can go to a registrar the day before and then have a heartfelt, meaningful ‘ceremony’ on your wedding day,” she says.

Here are some of our favourite outdoor wedding venues to add to your moodboard:

Cripps Barn, Gloucestershire

Cripps Barn Gloucestershire - Rob Tarren
Cripps Barn Gloucestershire - Rob Tarren

Undoubtedly one of the best (and most stylish) woodland wedding venues in the UK. Cripps Barn will provide you with the winning combination of a rustic woodland ceremony followed by a luxury barn-conversion reception with heaps of greenery-inspired decorations and a BBQ feast.

The Wellbeing Farm, Manchester

The Wellbeing Farm Wedding Venue
The Wellbeing Farm Wedding Venue

This quirky wedding venue on a former farm offers outdoor ceremonies for up to 170 guests in a pavilion with rolling views of Lancashire countryside. They even have bow-tie-wearing llamas on hand to join in the celebrations. Prices for 2022 start from £4,500.

Tunnels Beaches, Devon

Tunnels Beaches Devon
Tunnels Beaches Devon

A truly unique seaside wedding venue with a private beach, accessed through a hand-carved tunnel in a cliff (yes, really). Tunnels Beaches offers outdoor ceremonies in a thatched gazebo, plus exclusive use of their contemporary beachfront venue, which boasts panoramic views out to sea.

Best outdoor wedding dresses

An outdoor wedding is a good opportunity to throw out the rule book when it comes to traditional wedding gowns. Whether it’s chic tailoring, a colourful dress or a relaxed style (think wedding denim jacket - yes, it's a thing), it’s entirely up to you how glam you go for your alfresco nuptials.

“While in the past, people might have felt pressured to wear a big gown, now jumpsuits, midi and mini dresses have become a lot more popular,” says Jess Kaye, co-founder of London-based wedding wear label OWN Studio. “Practical considerations like hemlines come into play, as if you’re getting married outdoors you’re probably going to be walking across grass.”

Here are a handful of our favourite outdoor wedding dresses for inspiration:

Whistles Eve Silk Wedding Dress

£599, Whistles

Whistles wedding dress
Whistles wedding dress

This modern, ruffled dress from Whistles’ bridal collection is the perfect match for a summer outdoor wedding thanks to its relaxed fit, floor-skimming length and subtle cut-out detail.

OWN Studio Wide Strap Bias Slip Dress

£270, OWN Studio

OWN studio
OWN studio

OWN Studio offers a range of breathtaking bridal designs, but for a versatile piece that you can wear again, opt for one of their silky slips. This bias cut dress comes in 11 gorgeous colours and would make a brilliant dress for a contemporary bride or a particularly stylish tribe of bridesmaids.

HALSTON Draped Chiffon Mini Dress

£300, Net-a-Porter

Halston wedding dress
Halston wedding dress

Who says wedding dresses have to be full length? Whether it’s a second outfit for your evening reception or a non-traditional wedding dress, this airy chiffon mini is worthy of a place on your wish list.

Outdoor wedding invitations and save the dates

Your ‘save the dates’ and wedding invitations are the first thing your guests will see ahead of your big day, so why not make them extra special? These fun outdoor-themed wedding invitations will set the tone:

Garden Studio Crafts Carnival Wedding Invites

From £22.50, Etsy

Carnival wedding invites
Carnival wedding invites

If you’ve gone with a carnival, big-top or circus theme for your outdoor wedding, these handmade invites from Garden Studio are the perfect choice. The colours are adjustable based on your wedding colour scheme.

Confetti Designs Eucalyptus Wedding Invitation

£2.80, Not On the High Street

Eucalyptus wedding invites
Eucalyptus wedding invites

Botanical-themed wedding invites will get your guests ready for a chic celebration in the great outdoors. Confetti Designs has loads of gorgeous floral and plant designs, but we especially love these bohemian eucalyptus-printed invitations.

Wedfest Festival Wedding Invitations

£5.20, Not On the High Street

Festival wedding invites
Festival wedding invites

If you’re having a festival-themed outdoor wedding, it stands to reason that you’d want invites to match. These fun ‘wed-fest’ invites will be a lasting memento for your guests long after your wedding day.

Outdoor wedding flowers and decorations

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Once the logistics of the venue, guest list and practical considerations are out of the way, you can get on with the fun stuff. Cue gorgeous flowers and decorations. Lighting is key – and, in an outdoor setting, getting this right can be more of a challenge. Consider covering your venue or outdoor area in festoon lighting (£35.99, Amazon) for a warm, romantic atmosphere. Scattered hurricane candles will bathe your venue in twinkling candlelight.

When it comes to decorating your tables, Slater says a few, larger centrepieces or installations make a bigger impact if you’re strapped for cash: “I advise my couples to do a few high impact items rather than lots of little table decorations, which can easily get lost,” she says. Etsy sell a range of flower arches which would make a picture-perfect backdrop for your nuptials (from £154, Etsy).

Best outdoor wedding favours

The dancing is drawing to a close and your guests are awaiting their taxis (or, in some cases, heading back to their tents). What should you give them as a wedding favour? You could choose a gift based on your theme. For instance, in keeping with the outdoor celebrations, you could order personalised packs of flower seeds for your guests to take home and plant as a memory of your big day.

If you’ve gone with a festival theme, you could gift your guests sparklers, which are cheap to buy in bulk and can be personalised with these gold labels. Alternatively, edible wedding favours always go down a treat – you could opt for boxed Krispy Kreme doughnuts or personalised pick’n’mix.

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