Wedding Planning Guide
backyard wedding ideas
Photo: Connie Whitlock
For an event as intimate and special as a wedding, it’s no wonder many couples don’t travel far. A backyard wedding is a sweet, sentimental, and still very stylish way to go—not to mention potentially cost-saving. But pulling off a wedding at home isn’t as easy as clicking your heels three times. It’s still a wedding, and there are some crucial things to consider when planning a backyard wedding that go beyond your Pinterest board heaven. Traditional wedding venues take care of a lot of unseen logistics that you’ll need to handle yourselves (or delegate to your hired professionals).
With that being said, don’t start rethinking your wedding-at-home fantasy just yet! We’ll break down how to plan a backyard wedding—and give you some home wedding ideas to bring your dream wedding to life.
Backyard Wedding Logistics
Don’t let the realities of a backyard wedding give you the wrong impression—we absolutely adore the charm and intimacy that comes with getting married at your home (or the home of a loving friend or family member). And it is that love that compels us to make sure you are prepared for this unique wedding setting, so your day can be filled with bliss, not blindsides.
Don’t take everything on yourself.
Chances are, you’re very familiar with the home you’ll be getting married at—you may have even grown up there. However, this doesn’t mean you will know all the ins and outs of setting up your own wedding there. Since you’re saving a bit (er, likely a lot) by not paying for a venue, you may want to invest in a wedding planner, either full-time or month-of, to give you a fresh perspective on the space, offer some guidance and new ideas, and spare you from having to make tough calls or give guests information they absolutely need, but may feel awkward to give yourself (e.g., please don’t climb the gazebo).
Beyond a planner, you’ll need help with other aspects that any traditional wedding venue may have built into their plans:
- Setting up and cleaning up, from tables and chairs to the ceremony backdrop and flowers to dishes and linens.
- Parking cars
- Cooking, preparing, and serving (if you aren’t going buffet-style)
- Cleaning—trust us, you won’t want to worry about scrubbing the floors and removing cobwebs from the patio before your big day (ditto for the day after)
Mind the paperwork.
You may need a city permit to host the party, have the fire department come in for an inspection, ensure you’re up-to-speed on local noise ordinances, find out if you need a parking permit for that many cars on your street, etc. Nothing kills a wedding like the cops showing up at the start of your reception.
Be clear with guests.
It’s great to have a wedding planner (or assertive friend) on hand to guide guests on the actual day, but it’s good practice to set clear expectations and rules with guests before they arrive, particularly when it comes to lodging. If this is a family home, many of your guests may have already been an overnight guest at your home. Don’t let anyone assume they can stay at the house. Our advice is to not let anyone stay there—you’ll want the house to yourself as you and your wedding party get ready, and you probably won’t want guests filtering into the house during the wedding...this often leads to people just coming inside to drink and chat, and that’s just another area you’ll have to worry about.
Don’t forget about neighbors.
And speaking of guests, you’ll want to inform your neighbors of the event well in advance. If you have a good relationship with them, it might be best to invite them—if they’re at the party, you won’t need to worry about the party bothering them. If you’re on less than stellar terms, or are keep your guest list intimate, giving them a heads up is still a good way to go, and informing them of the proper permits you’ll have and outlining the noise ordinances you’ll be following, so there won’t be any trouble.
Check with your officiant.
If you’re having a religious ceremony, you’ll want to make sure your officiant is comfortable performing the ceremony outside of a church or other religious institution.
For your consideration: portable restrooms and generators.
Chances are, the home in question is not accustomed to hosting this many people all at once (whether your guest list is 50 or 150). Portable bathrooms are a great way to ensure everyone can use the facilities as needed without spending a lot of time in line—and clogging up the pipes. Besides, porta potties come in a variety of styles these days, and you can dress them up with a little decor and comfort (a bowl of mints, some tissues, chapsticks, tampons, face mist, potpourri, etc.). Generators are also a necessity to ensure everything runs smoothly—literally. Both are easy to rent.
Have some greenery or flowers (or even trees) in mind for your outdoor wedding? Start planting early! Be mindful of the season you start planting in and the season in which you’ll wed—both will play an important role in what will plant well and on-time.
Backyard Wedding Ceremony Ideas
The first step in planning your backyard wedding is determining where you will say your “I dos.” Once you’ve nailed that down, you can build the ceremony (and reception) around that. Obviously, every backyard is different, so it’s important to work with your specific space. If you have a huge tree, that’s a great place to exchange vows—the pictures will be great, and your guests will be comfortable in the shade.
Keeping in mind that not every one of these will work for your own home, here are some of our favorite backyard wedding ceremony ideas.
- Garden-inspired ceremony arches to complement your surrounding greenery.
- Or, ditch the arch entirely and make your own backdrop—a rustic door or barn doors, hanging flowers or beautiful, lacy fabric from a tree branch, or stand in front of good, old-fashioned streamers in your wedding colors.
- Have guests blow bubbles as you exit with your newly minted spouse.
- Parasols in a nice basket for your guests to provide shade.
- Cover bales of hay with fabric to use as bench seating instead of chairs to emphasize your intimate, casual wedding vibe.
- Or, go full-on picnic and provide blankets for your guests to sit with their loved ones while you say your “I dos.”
Backyard Wedding Reception Ideas
Chances are, if you’re having a backyard wedding, you’re not looking for a super-traditional, hour-plus-long ceremony. That means that the reception will be the lion’s share of your big day, and there are a ton of fun, fresh, and fabulous ways to throw a beautiful backyard bash. Here are our top backyard wedding reception ideas:
- Wooden signage goes great with almost any backyard setting, and will help orient your guests to wherever your different festivities are taking place.
- Have fun with the bar—put beers and other cold beverages in wheelbarrows, canoes, aluminum tubs.
- If picnic-style is a bit too casual for the reception, blankets and stumps with candles and/or flowers for the reception make for great outdoor wedding decorations.
- Backyard doesn’t have to mean no dancing—mark out dancing territory, or rent a traditional dance floor for the day.
- Go big on games: cornhole, oversized Jenga, piñatas, etc. Incorporate your initials, wedding hashtag, or wedding colors to make them fit in with the wedding reception decorations.
- If there’s a sentimental spot in the backyard (or home), be sure to get a picture of you and your beloved there.
- Miniature potted plants or succulents as escort cards (they also double as take-home favors!).
- Food trucks are a great and tasty option that goes well with the casual nature of a backyard reception.
- String lighting makes any outdoor wedding reception picture-perfect.
- S’mores station! Bonus points for creating your own fire pit.
- Seeds, homemade jam or honey, or other more earthy, home-grown favors are a great complement to your backyard nuptials.
- End the night with sparklers or fire lanterns—a reception at home means fewer pesky rules and the photos will be stunning.
- Two words: dog-friendly. Sign us up!
- And finally, the pool: If you have one, you need to first decide whether it’s open for swimming or not. If not, you can really use these waters to your advantage, with floating candles or lit orbs for a spectacular evening look—or big, colorful balloons for the daytime.