Tips for a Perfect Garden Wedding or Outdoor Party
from Bas Van Leeuwen
A great day starts with great planning
Get expert tips on organising the perfect outdoor wedding or garden party:
1. Selecting the Site
When looking around for a place to host your garden wedding, reception or grand party, some practical considerations will help you get the most out of your location, no matter where it is.
The garden should be big enough for amenities (preparation, generator, toilets) and marquee plus plenty of room outside the marquee for guests to mingle.
Try to find a site with enough slope to ensure adequate run-off in case there's heavy rain before the big day. Drainage should move excess water away from the main garden area and away from any access points, buildings and possible photo locations.
The site should have at least two places for the photographer to take photos. Ideally, these should be on opposite sides of the garden to provide lighting and background options.
Have the lawn cut a day or two before set-up as it will help with drainage, marking out and set-up.
Access to the garden for your suppliers should be easy to find and easy to use. Marquees, toilets and generators are normally delivered in trucks and they need room to move. Most trucks need access 3m wide by 4m high. Try to avoid very steep driveways, low hanging trees and any roadway or bridge that has a weight limit of under fifteen ton.
Position the preparation area as close as possible to the supplier access point. This will reduce tyre tracks and foot traffic on the lawn. It's amazing how much damage one supplier vehicle can do and how long it takes to disappear.
You will also need to organise a water supply for the amenities area.
- Take the time to look around for the best location.
- Drainage is the most important thing. No one likes wet feet.
- Suppliers will be more cooperative if access is made easy.
- A water supply is essential.
2. Selecting a Marquee
So you've selected the location for your garden party or wedding reception and now it's time to think about the marquee.
Before you start ringing around, you'll need to know how many guests will be attending and whether you'll need a dance floor, bar area, stage or kitchen area.
Once these are decided, it's time to find a supplier. Good ways include Google/Facebook reviews and talking to people who have had marquees in the past. But if you have the time, and you want to have some fun, visit a local outdoor event.
You can expect that organisers of council events or other big outdoor events like fun runs have already done due diligence on marquee suppliers. By visiting the event, however, you can personally check:
- Is it clean and tidy?
- Has the supplier used pegs or concrete blocks to hold the marquee in place?
- If concrete blocks, are they covered and how are they covered?
- Is the marquee straight in all directions?
Company logos for marquees are normally found at the bottom of the marquee walls. You could find a catering, skip bin or toilet company this way, too.
When talking to suppliers, ask if they can do a full service that includes tables, chairs, table coverings, cutlery, plates, glasses etc. This should save on transport costs and get you a discount. Also ask about options like centre pieces, lighting, flooring coverings and any other accessories you might need.
If you're hosting more than sixty guests you'll need a preparation area at the back of the marquee. In the industry this is called a "back of house" area and it's where the cool room, generator and rubbish waste are located. The area needs to be well lit at night, big enough and easy to access during and after the event.
There is nothing worse than having an under-supply of power. Work with your marquee supplier, caterer and entertainment provider to work out your power needs and to help with selecting a generator, if needed.
- Marquees cost a lot of money, but there is no such thing as a cheap marquee.
- Research prospective suppliers. Get reviews or visit events in person.
- Try to get the marquee, tables, chairs and tableware from the same supplier.
3. Hiring portable bathrooms
If you're hosting an event in a private garden, you may require one or more portable bathrooms. More commonly known as portable toilets or portaloos, these come in many types from single stand-alone units to portable buildings and trailer mounted units.
If you have a toilet available inside a building near your garden location, by all means think of using it. But beware. If you have more than 20 guests this facility will be over-used and there'll be a lot of cleaning work to deal with during and after the event.
The following formula for bathroom provision is roughly based on industry recommendations (Queensland operators) and Gold Coast City Council guidelines:
- If alcohol will be consumed, 1 toilet for every 50 guests per 6 hours.
- If no alcohol at the event, 1 toilet for every 100 guests per 6 hours.
These are guidelines only, but will help you avoid paying for more toilets than you really need because suppliers always try to up-sell.
A single portable toilet will cost between $180 to $240 per weekend, normally delivered on a Friday and collected on a Monday. There will be extra charges for drop off or pickup during the weekend.
Next, make sure you have sufficient space and a reasonable location. Most suppliers won't place portable toilets more than twenty meters away from the limit of truck access.
Having determined the number and location of toilets required, it's time to find a supplier. The best ways are through word of mouth and online reviews. Reviews should be less than a year old and be no less than four stars. (See also Part 2, Selecting a Marquee)
Give prospective suppliers a call and ask if they can supply a wedding portable toilet. This question is important as the answer will tell you if they know what a nice clean toilet is or if they deal mainly with construction. You don't want a construction site toilet at your lovely party.
The next question to ask is, what consumables are included in the hire? Some won't supply toilet paper, soap or hand towels.
Many portable toilets these days have hygienic hands-free flushing and hand washing. If you have a lot of guests, consider portable ablution buildings. Facilities may include more cubicles, urinals, mirrors, hand basins and hand towels. These units need a water supply and 15 amp power supply.
Then there are the 6-star rated trailers that have been used in the film industry for the last couple of decades. These units include air conditioning, music, cotton towels, stone vanities and walnut cabinetry.
These last couple of options are great for big parties or wedding receptions and can greatly improve the experience for your guests. Costs range approximately $1500 to $4000 per weekend per unit. They may need to be set up a couple of days before the event.
- Use the guidelines above to calculate your toilet needs.
- Always ask which consumables, if any, are included in the hire.
- Keep an eye on the budget, but the cheapest is not always the best.
4. Generator Hire for Outside Parties and Weddings
Generators are costly but they are a necessity when there is no power at your location. Fortunately, they've have come a long way in the last ten years. Modern generators are cleaner, less noisy and easy to operate.
Before you start ringing around for prices and availability, you'll need to know how much power you'll need.
First ask your marquee supplier (lighting), caterers and entertainment providers what their power requirements are.
Then, add 20% on top of this for certainty. You don't want your day ruined by power outages because the generator has been overloaded due to a forgotten deep fryer or disco lights. (I've seen it happen and it's not pretty!)
Generators come in many sizes. Some can be delivered by crane truck. Others are trailer mounted and can be delivered by ute or small truck. Please make sure you have easy access for whichever vehicle will be delivering the generator.
Mark out your power areas before the marquee goes up. If you need to run power on the opposite side of the marquee from the generator, then speak with the marquee supplier about running the leads under the floor. If you can run the leads across before the floor goes down, you'll save some money. But you can only do this if you already know your power requirements.
Distribution boxes are great and make power layout simple. They're rain-proof, which means safer connections close to where you need the power. Each contain several 10 amp and 15 amp power sockets. The latter are required to run some commercial equipment such as deep fryers and ovens.
In a marquee setting, you'll find three main areas that need power of some sort: entertainment, kitchen and lighting. To get power to all these different areas, the generator suppler will run a 3 phase lead from the generator to the first distribution box. A 3 phase lead is a big cable that can handle large amounts of power. They'll run another 3 phase lead from the first to the second box and then another from the second box to the third box.
This means all three boxes are powered by the one generator. Once the distribution boxes have power, you can plug all the lights into the box in that area, all the kitchen equipment can be plugged into the kitchen distribution box and so on. This avoids having a lot of messy extension leads which are potential trip hazards.
Pricing on generators differs greatly depending on size. You'll find there are extra charges including delivery, fuel for the generator, distribution boxes, 3 phase cables and standard extension leads. Discounts can be obtained if you get the one supplier to supply all the leads and boxes.
Most generator companies have qualified electricians that can solve any problems that may arise. Qualified electricians are not required to hook up the power leads to the generator or distribution boxes as it's all plug in and go. The supplier will show you how to operate the generator when it's delivered.
Calculate your power requirements then add 20% more too avoid power outages.
Use distribution boxes for simplicity, neatness and safety.
To save money, find a supplier that specialises in generators and accessories and hire all your power equipment from them.
5. The Aftermath from a Garden Party: Rubbish
What is the one thing that is forgotten about during and after a garden party or wedding reception? Everyone says they'll "clean up in the morning". But tomorrow morning comes and goes and no one wants to clean when they're all nursing hangovers.
These simple tips will save a lot of time and effort after the event is over.
Squashing the remains of a large party into your household bins (or even sneaking them into the bins at work!) probably isn't going to be very easy, or pleasant. Instead, you may need to hire a skip bin or rubbish trailer. Each has advantages and disadvantages.
The skip bin costs more can but can hold more waste than a rubbish trailer. However, the skip gets delivered by truck and can damage your lawn if you have a careless operator.
The rubbish trailer is cheaper than a skip bin and will cause minimal damage because it's on wheels and is normally delivered by car or ute. However, the rubbish trailer doesn't hold as much as a skip bin.
So what should you use?
For up to 100 guests a rubbish trailer of 3 cubic meters should do the job.
More than 100 guests a skip bin up to 6 cubic meters in size would be the best option.
Always look for online reviews of prospective skip bin and rubbish trailer businesses as there are a few dodgy ones out there. Always get a quote and never pay the full amount until the item is delivered to your location and you're happy with the size.
On the Day
Before guests arrive, clear out whatever rubbish has been made during setup, then stay on top of the rubbish during the event.
Have a few bins with bin liners around the marquee and high rubbish areas like the kitchen area, doorways and smoking areas. If you have a bar, have two lined bins in this area and change the bag every hour or two. Try to bag all your small rubbish as this saves space in the skip or trailer and it cuts down on smells and spillage.
Have a couple of areas for smokers and place a bucket filled with sand for cigarette butts.
As soon as last guests leave, clear all the tables, stack the chairs and clear the small rubbish items like glasses, plates and cutlery. Doing these jobs straight after the event makes for an easier job in the morning, as the only rubbish that will be left is the big stuff like cardboard boxes.
If you can afford the extra cost and want a hands-free rubbish experience, there are companies out there that will do the clean-up for you. These companies don't clean houses but specialize in cleaning up event sites and private functions.
Including the cleanup in your planning will help make this important phase of the event less burdensome, and the standout memories of your big day will all be happy ones!
Use the number of guests and your location layout to determine the right waste management solution for your needs.
Tidy as the night goes on, bagging all rubbish where possible.
Try to clean up as much as possible when guests leave, making morning after easier and more hangover-friendly.
Always look for online reviews of contractors, get a quote and never pay the full amount in advance.
Thanks to Bas Van Leeuwen for the above tips.
In your own garden - some ideas
Needless to say, the more time you have to prepare, the better. Besides the stress factor, you'll be able to save money if you can groom the garden yourself (versus hiring gardeners) and grow decorative plants from seedlings, seeds or cuttings. Pruned shrubs will have time to reshoot and thicken up. New turf should have time to establish.
If you've been thinking about investing in a pergola, paving, or other hard landscaping, this may be a good excuse to make the investment. However, it can take time to organise and complete the project.
Timing plants to flower for an exact day is going to be tricky, relying as it does on weather conditions and many other factors. If you can afford it, you can buy plants in flower and install in the garden (still in their pots, if necessary) immediately prior to the event. The pots don't have to be buried if disguised amongst existing vegetation. (works best with plain black pots). The same goes for advanced plants you might be using to fill out a garden bed.
Decoration services can supply furniture, marquees and other accessories for a stylish and professional look. These chairs from Dream Day Weddings
Coloured foliage looks good all the time, so colour could be reliably supplemented with plants like coleus and iresine. These can be propagated en masse very easily from cuttings if you have plenty of advance notice.
Alternatively, rely on floral arrangements or other decorations to make the scene pretty, and concentrate on getting the garden as neat, tidy and green as possible within the constraints of time, budget and watering restrictions.
On short notice, be sure to remove or fix anything which might injure or inconvenience guests. (Overhanging branches, slippery steps, loose pavers, insecure gates, etc). The look of the garden can be improved dramatically with a good tidy-up. Remove weeds, dead branches, fallen palm fronds and other rubbish. Brown or yellowing foliage picked off a plant makes it look better immediately.
A layer of fresh mulch will perk up garden beds but consider the smell given off by some mulches and whether there'll be time for it to dissipate. (The same goes for fertiliser.) Pay extra attention to edges. Make sure lawn edges are trimmed and mulch is applied neatly.
Gardens for Hire
If you don't think your own garden is up to scratch, or you just don't have enough space, what about booking an outdoor venue for your special event?
Public Parks and Gardens
Go to Public parks for weddings in Qld
Privately-owned gardens (check the directory above) and other venues (including some garden centres) may have outdoor areas that can be hired for ceremonies and functions.
Colour schemes are of course popular, but there are also many other themes which you could use instead of, or in conjunction with, a colour scheme. For example, a favourite flower such as a frangipani-themed wedding. You could pick a historical time period, a cultural influence, a geographic region, or even your favourite science fiction series! In some cases, a venue might be available to match your theme (e.g. rose garden for a rose theme)
Bali style weddings
With the popularity of the "Balinese" style of tropical garden, outdoor weddings with the same decorative influence are also becoming popular. Actually, white Balinese flags are a simple addition to any outdoor wedding to guide guests to your location and create a sense of occasion.
Here are some more links that have particular reference to traditional weddings in Bali:
Indonesia Photo Archive
Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Wisconsin - Madison. The section on rituals contains some photographs related to weddings
For more information on Bali and SE Asian culture and style, visit the links here: Balinese Gardens. Other ideas for tropical themes for parties or home decor: Tropilocus™
More on budget weddings, cheap entertaining
You might be planning a garden wedding or outdoor function to help save money. If so, you may also be interested in the following:
Australian website offering a wide variety of money-saving advice (subscription required for full access).