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Outdoor Weddings

Discover the beauty (and the burdens) of getting married outdoors.

Under sunny, clear skies in 75-degree weather, Samantha Ferrozzo wed Josiah Cree on July 11 on her mother’s hobby farm in Farmington. The ceremony and most of the reception was held outdoors, in the peaceful calm of a perfect Minnesota summer evening.

“I wanted an informal, outdoorsy wedding; something more casual, as it was more my personality and style” says Cree. “And it was perfect.”

Cree experienced what few brides do when they wed outside in Minnesota: idyllic weather with no surprises. Getting married outside, from a simple garden ceremony to an elaborate, elegant reception, is a beautiful way for couples to begin their life together. But while all weddings require some preparation, proper planning is a must for an outdoor affair.

“The outdoor wedding is not for the faint of heart,” says Nicolle Sellers, owner and lead planner at Mother of the Bride, a Twin Cities-based wedding planning, design and management company. “You deal with every aspect that Mother Nature can throw at you and you must handle it all calmly.”

Save the Date
Weather is usually the primary concern for Minnesota brides celebrating outdoors. “I’m sure every bride who considers an outdoor wedding thinks it should be in the summer and on the driest day,” says Christina Anderson, owner of Christina Marie Events in Shakopee. But she encourages couples to look beyond the usual dates. “Don’t shy away from the odd times of the year,” she says.

Jane Pennington’s May 16 wedding in Battle Lake, Minn., took such a chance—she and her fiancé hosted an outdoor, tented reception for 120 guests. “We pushed it a bit weather-wise, as spring really had not arrived,” says Pennington. “We were a little nervous, as honestly, it could be snowing. But we also believed that you can have a gorgeous day in May.”

The day proved to be a pleasant compromise. “When I got up that morning, it was 34 degrees and so windy,” says Pennington. “The wind calmed down for most of the day, but it ended up being sunny and about 55 degrees.”

Pennington had planned for potentially cold weather, equipping the tent with heaters. “It was warm and quite cozy, actually,” she says. Guests came equipped too, with shawls, sweaters, and appropriate shoes.

No matter what date you choose, couples should follow Pennington’s example and include any outdoor plans on save-the-date cards and invitations. “Always tell your guests in the invite that it’s outside so that they can make their own preparations,” says Anderson.

Gimme Shelter
According to local wedding planners, one of the biggest myths to debunk when it comes to an outdoor wedding is cost: getting married al fresco isn’t necessarily a cheaper option. “There are so many things that brides forget about,” says Anderson.

“Rented restrooms, tents, lighting, flooring, decor are just the tip of the iceberg,” says Sellers.

Minnesota’s extreme weather, from sizzling sunny days to cold, windy, rainy ones—even in the middle of summer—almost always necessitates some sort of shelter. The easiest option is a tent, which comes in all shapes, sizes, and styles and are extremely versatile.

Rhonda DuCharme, sales manager at Midway Party Rental in St. Paul, recommends securing a tent six to 12 months before your wedding, which will allow the greatest choice in style and size. “When you’re planning a wedding, the first thing you secure is your venue,” says DuCharme, “and in an outdoor wedding the tent is your venue.”

If your heart is set on an open-air ceremony or reception and you decide later that you want to have a tent available as back-up, know that such a request is possible but your options might be limited. “We always try to accommodate last-minute requests,” says DuCharme; but a better option, she says, is to reserve the tent ahead of time, with the option to cancel if the weather cooperates. You’ll be responsible for a fee in the event of a cancellation, but it might allow you to relax about the weather as the wedding approaches.

Ensure Some Comfort
The tent is just the first step. The sky’s the limit for the tent interior, as it can remain minimal with just a few tables and chairs or be decked out to look like a fancy ballroom. Seller recommends at least equipping a tent with some basics to ensure guests’ comfort.

“We plan ahead: We have the tent with sidewalls, we use a tent technician, we rent generators, and we have fans or air conditioning or heat all planned for, so that we get no surprises,” says Sellers. “And if the weather is bad the week of the wedding, and the ground may be wet or it won’t drain, we put floors in.”

For Anna Peters’ July 2008 wedding on Lake Minnetonka, a downpour during the ceremony didn’t put a damper on her outdoor lakeside reception. “We were taken care of, because we had a tent with a ceiling and walls,” says Peters. “By the reception time, the sun came out, it was dry, the humidity was gone, and it was 85 degrees and sunny with no bugs. We lucked out.”

It wasn’t rain but an unexpected cold spell on July 17 last year that made bride Kara Marolt glad to have shelter. “It was a historically cold day, with a high of just 62 degrees,” she says. The outdoor ceremony took place at 6 p.m. on Raspberry Island in St. Paul, “and by evening it was getting pretty chilly,” she notes. Luckily, her guests could easily duck into the Minnesota Boat Club for the remainder of the celebration.

Commune with Nature
Decorating an outdoor wedding is a delicate balance. “You don’t want to overpower the natural habitat or beauty of the outdoor location,” says Anderson. “Don’t do too much, especially with linen and flowers.”

Emily Lemmon’s June 2009 nuptials at Panola Valley Gardens in Lindstrom, Minn., took advantage of the natural surroundings. “We saved a lot on flowers, as the gardens are filled with gorgeous greenery,” says Lemmon. “They decorated for us.”

Décor isn’t the only place where brides can incorporate the outdoor setting into the wedding’s theme. From place cards to favors, brides have brought the outside in to every part of their celebration. “We used lake and river names that were meaningful to us for table cards,” says Pennington. “We also gave each guest a little jar of honey that my husband’s honeybees produced.”

Marolt warmed up her chilly reception with an unexpected treat. “Instead of wedding cake, we had tabletop s’mores inside,” she says. “We went around to each table and lit the burners.”

With proper planning and the right attitude, an outdoor wedding in Minnesota can be unique and naturally picturesque, no matter what Mother Nature has planned. “It’s not about the weather,” says Cree. “Whether or not it rains, it’s still going to be a beautiful day.”

Homeward Bound
Hosting your ceremony or reception in the backyard of a private residence? Here are some additional considerations to keep in mind.

  • Power. “The worst scenario would be to have the tent lights, the catering ovens and the band all on one power source and blow it,” says Nicolle Sellers, owner and lead planner with Mother of the Bride Weddings. “Then your party ends.” To avoid such a situation, have your vendors (particularly your caterer and entertainment provider) get together at the site at least once before the party to discuss power needs.
  • Insurance. “We always tell our clients to talk to their insurance agent, as you never know what will happen,” says Sellers. “It’s such a cheap thing to do and protects you that much more.”
  • Check the ground. Tent vendors may require that a lawn service provider come out to the property and check for underground electrical and water lines if a tent is going to be staked into the ground. Other vendors may need additional property checks before setting up.
  • Noise restrictions. Be sure to notify all your neighbors of the upcoming festivities. (Even better: Invite them.) Also check with your local authorities on precautions you should take to limit noise disturbances.
  • Parking. Consider providing a shuttle or a hiring a valet service for your guests if the residence doesn’t have good parking options.

Take It Outside
Bayview Event Center: Excelsior; bayviewevent.com; 952.470.VIEW
Camrose Hill Farm: Stillwater; camrosehillflowers.com; 651.351.9631
Cannon River Winery: Cannon Falls; cannonriverwinery.com; 507.263.7400
Carlos Creek Winery: Alexandria; carloscreekwinery.com; 320.846.5443
Chateau at Medicine Lake: Medicine Lake; mintahoe.com; 612.253.0255
Earle Brown Heritage Center: Minneapolis; earlebrown.com; 763.569.6300
LaFayette Club: Minnetonka Beach; lafayetteclub.com; 952.471.8493
Lutsen Resort and Sea Villas: Lutsen; lutsenresort.com; 218.663.7212
Minnesota Boat Club: St. Paul; mintahoe.com; 612.253.0255
Minnetonka Orchards: Minnetrista; minnetonkaorchards.com; 763.479.6530
Morgan Creek Vineyards: New Ulm; morgancreekvineyards.com; 507.947.3547
Nicollet Island Pavilion: Minneapolis; mintahoe.com; 612.253.0255
Oak Ridge, a Dolce Conference hotel: Chaska; dolce-minneapolis-hotel.com; 952.368.3100
The Outing Lodge at Pine Point: Stillwater; outinglodge.com; 651.439.9747
Panola Valley Gardens: Lindstrom; panolavalleygardens.com; 651.257.6072
Superior Shores Resort: Two Harbors; superiorshores-resort.com; 218.834.5671