Tips for Planning a Backyard Wedding

The year 2020 has taught us that anywhere can be a wedding venue. So, how does one go about planning a backyard wedding?

Covid-19 has likely changed the world forever. Even once there’s a vaccine, we’re guaranteed to be a lot more conscious about social distancing, hand-washing, and large gatherings like weddings. And if a wedding is in your near future, chances are you’ve at least thought about this new popular thing: planning a backyard wedding.

The backyard wedding concept isn’t for everybody, and that’s perfectly OK. Undoubtedly, it’s great to have options when you’re an engaged couple. This year has taught us that there are many ways to do things, from working at home to tying the knot.

After photographing a couple of Connecticut backyard weddings this year, I decided to talk with event and wedding planner Vicki Ross of Plan-It Vicki. Through shooting these weddings and speaking with her, I’ve learned some good things about how to actually plan a backyard wedding. So for you, dear reader, I’ve put this useful info into a guide.

Contents

Video: Expert Advice from a Wedding Planner

Vicki and I met while preparing for a Connecticut backyard wedding which actually took place on a working farm. She agreed to meet with me via Google Meet and chat about what goes into planning a backyard wedding. Check out the video summary on YouTube and then read on for the full post!

Quick Summary: Tips for Planning A Backyard Wedding

Here are the tips for planning a backyard wedding:

  1. Learn what backyard weddings are and what they can offer you

    They’re really nothing new, but 2020 has opened our eyes to their effectiveness as an option.

  2. Consider hiring a wedding planner to do a lot of the work

    Backyard weddings are a lot of work. Brining a wedding planner on board is an investment into making things go smoothly.

  3. Find your facility vendors

    Since your venue is a private residence, you’ll have to find the vendors who will handle the facility amenities.

  4. Learn what to do if you don’t have your property to use for your backyard wedding

    No backyard of your own? No problem…well, maybe not anyway. Approach the subject of possibly borrowing one very carefully.

  5. Follow local guidelines if planning your backyard wedding during a pandemic

    It’s important that you know and adhere to your local pandemic regulations.

  6. Be prepared and have a plan

    Because you’re doing it yourselves, you and your partner will want to step up your preparation and planning game.

  7. Get creative with decorating

    Your backyard wedding is yours, so make it look that way. Go nuts with the décor.

Current Covid-19 Regulations in Connecticut

12/14/20: The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic will be mentioned quite a bit in this post. I’m keeping close, current tabs on the pandemic’s effects on weddings in Connecticut over on the Wedding Planning Tips resource page.

The Tips: Your Recipe for Planning a Backyard Wedding

OK, let’s get to it. Here are my tips and steps for you!

Tip 1: Understand what a backyard wedding is, and isn’t, and decide if one’s right for you

A tent, tables, and guests outdoors at a Connecticut backyard wedding.

So, what’s a backyard wedding anyway and why should you consider one? Simply put, a backyard wedding is a wedding hosted in a backyard. That’s it. The big deal here is that you’re potentially saving lots and lots of money. That is, the substantial budget savings are because you’re not paying for an established, professional Connecticut wedding venue.

Rising in Popularity

Covid-19 hit the country, and the state of Connecticut, like a ton of bricks. Everyone was scrambling for one reason or another if only to find a mask. Engaged couples trying to make wedding plans, to put it differently, were all over the place trying to plan. Accordingly, enter the backyard wedding, which rose in popularity this year as a great way to mitigate ever-changing wedding day plans.

And for good reason!

Consider Splitting Your Backyard Wedding Up

Nothing says that you have to have your backyard wedding all in one place. Religious weddings commonly have two venues, with the ceremony in a place of worship and the reception at a banquet hall. In the same fashion, a backyard wedding offers this flexibility!

A Backyard Is / Is Not…

Let’s clear up a few misconceptions about backyard weddings. A backyard wedding:

  1. Is as viable and legit as a wedding at a fancy venue. On your wedding day, a yard is just as much the real deal as a banquet hall.
  2. Is not “tacky,” “basic,” or “cheap.” Your budget isn’t what makes your wedding day! We have to disassociate the dollar value from the emotional value here.
  3. Is within your control, from start to finish. As Vicki pointed in our talk, with a backyard wedding, “…you do have control [over] how it’s going to happen.”
  4. Is not a time to wing it. Trust me, and Vicki, in that you want to plan this day just like you would if a traditional venue were involved.
  5. Is quite a bit of work. And actually…
  6. Is not necessarily easy.

Moreover, another thing to keep in mind is that with great customizability comes great responsibility. With that said, I recommend that you two consider hiring a wedding planner.

Tip 2: Consider hiring a wedding planner for your backyard wedding

A Connecticut bride in a white dress hugs her maid of honor who is wearing an orange one. In the background is the couple's tent and a tall heater, important decisions when planning a backyard wedding.

Let’s get this right out in the open: planning a wedding is a LOT of work. My wife and I got married last winter and there were times when we wished someone else was making all the arrangements. And ours wasn’t even a backyard wedding; we had a venue coordinator at our disposal!

As you’ll see in the video and in the rest of this post, planning a backyard wedding introduces a lot of factors and tasks that are tricky to keep track of. Simply put, it’s a lot of work. This is where a professional wedding planner or day-of coordinator (such as Plan-It Vicki) could come in handy.

A Wedding Planner Can Help Get It Done

They’re there to potentially help you with everything from getting your backyard wedding ideas off the ground to telling you when to walk down the aisle. They’re wedding planners, like Plan-it Vicki, and they certainly mean business. And helping you plan is their business.

Here are some things that a wedding planner could potentially do for you while planning your backyard wedding:

What a Wedding Planner Can Help Your Backyard Wedding

When planning a backyard wedding, here are the things a wedding planner could offer:

  1. What you can and can’t do. With a backyard wedding, adherence to local laws, ordinances, and neighborhood etiquette is completely up to you. With a paid professional on your team, you stand a better chance of keeping everything copesetic.
  2. Timeline development and distribution. Leave it to your planner to communicate with your other vendors. Next to your wedding photographer, your wedding planner is probably the vendor with the most care for your schedule.
  3. A walkthrough of your backyard venue. Because they do this for a living, your wedding planner might literally see something in your yard that won’t work on your wedding day. Bathroom trailer too close to the dance floor? A watchful wedding planner eye would probably catch that.
  4. Emergency items. “I have what I call an ‘emergency bag.’ It has everything…from a glue gun, to Advil, to a nail, to a rope…,” Vicki says in the video recording of our conversation. This is stuff that you wouldn’t even want to think about on your wedding day.
  5. Vendor relations. Wedding planners are like the quarterbacks of your wedding vendor team. Therefore, they almost always have plenty of contacts and recommendations for you. What’s more is that they know how to deal with each type of vendor.

Is a Wedding Planner Worth It for a Backyard Wedding?

Ultimately, only you and your partner can decide each and every backyard wedding day expense. From your wedding photography investment to whether or not you have a planner, the value is yours to establish. Just be aware that for your backyard wedding, you two literally start out with just yourselves. No “traditional venue” means no automatic, complimentary day-of coordinator. This means you’re doing all of the planning yourselves by default!

Tip 3: Find facility wedding vendors that can accommodate your plans

A blue window shutter repurposed as a sign reads "Please find your seat." Custom and/or DIY signage is a great option when planning a backyard wedding.

Part of the power you have when planning a backyard wedding is picking all of your vendors. This includes the upfront folks like wedding planners and photographers, but it also includes the behind-the-scenes ones that work hard to make your day go smoothly. 

But how is “facility wedding vendor” defined and which ones might you need?

Facility Wedding Vendors You Need for Your Backyard Wedding

In this post, “facility wedding vendor” refers to those vendors who handle the typical venue amenity and comfort parts of your big day. I’ve thrown the word “facility” in front because these vendors are typically included in your traditional wedding venue fee. You’re responsible for finding all of these “facility wedding vendors” since your backyard is the facility (or venue).

Facility Wedding Vendor Categories for Your Backyard Wedding

When planning a backyard wedding, here are the facility wedding vendors that you might not think of, but will almost certainly need to consider renting/hiring:

Ceremony arch and/or backdrop

Arch rentals for your Connecticut backyard wedding ceremony are a thing! An alternative is to commission a custom arch or backdrop with a local craft person or artist. For a backyard wedding, some of my favorite resources for wedding items like this are Facebook groups. After your wedding, you can even utilize these groups to sell or give away your ceremony arch and/or backdrop.

Ceremony backdrop bonus consideration: If you’re a crafty couple (or have some really nice friends and family), you could certainly make your own ceremony arch or backdrop.

Tent

Probably a must, unless your chosen backyard venue has a barn or similar large, covered area. Could you get away without this expense? Sure, if you’re willing to trust the weather! Keep in mind that a tent does more than protect you from rain, like help with sound during music and speeches as well as increase the cozy/together feeling during your reception.

Tent bonus consideration: Depending on the time of the year, think about heating or cooling the area.

Tables and chairs

At a traditional venue, tables and chairs are typically handled for you; you just pick the type and/or configuration. Conversely, you’ll have to find vendors for these if you’re planning a Connecticut backyard wedding. While you’re at it, maybe inquire about renting linens for your reception. Buying the furniture outright probably won’t be worth it, but purchasing your own wedding linens on a budget is a thing. Oh, and don’t forget auxiliary seating, such as small clusters of lawn furniture where people can mingle away from the main party.

Tables and chairs bonus consideration: If backyard wedding will have separate ceremony and reception spots, consider how you’re going to set the furniture up. While you’re at it, think about who’s going to do it.

Dance floor

If you’re planning to hire a DJ or band and provide a place for yourselves and guests to boogie down, consider renting a dance floor. Sure, you might have a perfectly level patio, grass, or gravel location on your property that can handle dancing. Just be aware of the safety concerns (for example, heels and grass/gravel don’t mix).

Dance floor bonus consideration: These come in flat and stage varieties, depending on your needs and preferences.

Restrooms

For all but the smallest of backyard weddings, this one is definitely needed. That is, you may not want guests in and out of your home throughout the day if you have more than Thanksgiving numbers. At the wedding that Vicki and I worked together on this fall, for example, the couple rented a really nice bathroom trailer from Stone Industries. Porta potty rentals are definitely a possibility, too.

Restroom bonus consideration: Think about sanitation. A bathroom trailer may have running water so guests can wash their hands; a porta potty won’t. 

Parking

After you two think about how many guests you’re inviting, think about how many vehicles they may bring with them. For huge properties, this may not be an issue. For typical homes, though, you’re going to have to dedicate some space to parking or figure out a shuttle, bus, or carpool solution. By all means, if street parking is your choice, be considerate of your neighbors and others who may be passing through.

Parking bonus consideration: Be careful with street parking! I once helped photograph a Connecticut backyard wedding that absolutely packed both sides of the residential street it was on with cars. Luckily, no one was ticketed.

Lighting and safety

No, this isn’t referring to fancy uplighting. For a big party, you want to think about safety. Therefore, give flood light and fire extinguisher rentals some thought. While you’re at it, consider whether or not you may need a generator to power anything. Provided that they’re bright enough, lights can actually be pretty and functional at the same time. String lights are great for this and are really popular and plentiful these days!

Lighting and safety bonus consideration: Please, please, please think about egress/access in the event of a fire or medical emergency.

As Vicki describes in the video, finding these facility wedding vendors is pretty easy: “A dance floor and a tent would [probably be] the same company…you can just look up ‘wedding rentals’ [on Google] and you’ll probably find a big list.”

Ask Questions About Facility Logistics for All Vendors

Now as you formulate your contact plan for all of your wedding vendors, think about the things they may need from you at your Connecticut backyard wedding location. For example, without getting too technical about it, it would be a bad idea to assume that the one pair of outdoor electrical outlets that you have would be sufficient for all of the following: 

  • The DJ’s audio equipment
  • Several sets of string lights
  • Flood lights (whether they be rented and plugged in, or the ones attached to the side of your house, if they’re on the same circuit)
  • The bathroom trailer
  • The bartender’s ice machine

So, what to do about facility wedding vendors, then? Ask them questions about their services! Here’s a short list of examples questions for you to ask them:

Questions to Ask Backyard Wedding Vendors

Here are some questions to ask all of your prospective Connecticut backyard wedding vendors:

  1. Does your business carry insurance? What happens if accidental damage to the home occurs?
  2. Will you visit the home to do a walkthrough before our wedding date? Does this cost us anything or are your quotes complimentary?
  3. Do you need electricity for any of your equipment? If so, will you supply your own extension cords, bring a generator of your own, etc.?
  4. How do you charge for extra time if we decide to extend your services?
  5. How much space do you need to set up and break down your equipment? How much time does this take?
  6. Do you bring your own furniture, like tables, or do we need to provide that for you?
  7. Specifically for caterers: Are you able to handle all of your food prep beforehand and outside or would you need access to a kitchen?

For some of us, like wedding planners and photographers, most of this won’t matter. For others, especially those vendors who are used to using a traditional venue’s utilities and other amenities, it’ll matter quite a bit.

Tip 4: Don’t give up if you don’t have your own backyard, politely ask around instead

When I met with Vicki on Google Meet to prepare for writing this post, I thought I’d spring a fun question on her:

Me: “What do you do if you don’t have your own backyard for your wedding?”

Vicki: [Smiled and then answered the question, which you’ll see in the video]

“It depends on how close you are with people. I don’t think you can…advertise ‘looking for a backyard, who’s got a backyard for me?’ It should be someone that you’re sort of connected to,” Vicki explained.

Simply put, if you two don’t have a backyard of your own for your wedding, then very gently consider which of your loved ones might be willing to help.

Borrowing Someone’s Home Is a Sensitive Subject

Don’t think that every backyard wedding you hear about is at the couple’s own home. As Vicki says in the video, “Sometimes people can do it in their parents’ backyard, or a relative’s, or a very close friend’s.” If you two may need to borrow a backyard for your wedding day, realize up front that this is a huge ask. You need to stick to candidates to whom you two are very close. With that being said, you should fully expect a response of “no” and be ready to graciously move on if that’s the case.

Human psychology is generally fascinating to me. That’s why I found this article on asking for a favor to be particularly interesting and relevant to the topic of planning a backyard wedding. You might find it useful if you need to borrow someone’s yard!

Tip 5: Contend with the Covid-19 pandemic

A bowl of custom hand sanitizer bottles and a plate of masks site on a countertop under a tent at a Connecticut wedding.

In another post, I offer a pretty detailed method for planning your wedding during the Covid-19 pandemic. Here’s a quick summary, which can easily be applied to planning your backyard wedding during times of social distancing (or just plain busy-ness).

Know the Pandemic Rules and Guidelines

I can help you find the info: head over to my wedding planning resource page for links to State of Connecticut Covid-19 resources.

The Single Best Way to Plan a Backyard Wedding During a Pandemic

The best way to plan your Connecticut backyard wedding during a pandemic is by using a digital and mobile approach: free Google phone and computer apps. Create a plan with your spouse-to-be, track your budget and tasks, and synchronize your efforts.

Make Expectations Clear to Your Guests

When we spoke, Vicki stressed the importance of setting clear pandemic protocol expectations with your guests: “Whatever the rules are, let them be stated before the event and maybe have signage around so people…know what to expect.”

Setting of expectations during a pandemic doesn’t just apply to your guests: talk to your vendors, too. Start by expressing any concerns you have, which will make them understand where you’re coming from. If they’re professional, they will absolutely hear you out. Then, when you ask what measures they will take to protect you two, your guests, and themselves, you’ll be able to consider whether or not they’ll meet your expectations.

Don’t Force It; Consider Other Options

As Vicki also pointed out, you don’t have to force your wedding during the pandemic. She gets into this in the video:

“I always tell people that you have a plan A and a plan B: plan A is there’s no Covid…then you have that Covid plan [B]. What would make you the most comfortable? Like some people also don’t want to do anything during Covid.”

And that’s perfectly fine! If you’re feeling uneasy about moving forward with a backyard wedding during Covid-19 pandemic (or, heaven forbid, some future one), consider these alternatives:

Here are some alternatives to having a backyard wedding during a pandemic:

  1. Wait: Postponing everything is an option. You could just wait, should you two choose to do so.
  2. Elope: The two of you, your officiant, a beautiful location, and your wedding photographer can make for a super memorable wedding. By the way, the state of Connecticut does not universally require a witness; check with your locality (that is, where you’re getting your marriage license from).
  3. Consider a minimony: In terms of size, a minimony is one step up from an elopement, probably in the neighborhood of around 12 guests or so. It would still be very intimate.
  4. Have a micro wedding: With a guest count of up to 50, micro weddings have grown in popularity this year. They offer a “now” solution that involves your close loved ones.
  5. Do something now and a sequel wedding or vow renewal later: Splitting your nuptials is also a good option to consider. It may, however, introduce the need to plan twice.

Tip 6: Be prepared on your wedding day

A bride and groom enter the reception of their backyard wedding, walking hand in hand. Their house and the guests' vehicles are in the background and a table in the foreground.
A bride and groom walk into their reception while holding hands at a Connecticut backyard wedding.

As with anything in life, wanting everything to go perfectly on your big day is wishful thinking with great intentions. Nevertheless, wedding day reality can sometimes be tricky.

“You never know what is going to happen,” Vicki told me, and she’s right.

Remember that story about the rain during my first wedding? That’s why I devoted a whole tip to the concept of being as prepared as possible on your wedding day.

It Starts with Planning the Structure of Your Wedding Day

First, nail down what you and your partner want in your day. Don’t care about dancing? You might skip the dance floor and tell your DJ that you just want background music and emceeing. Not fans of really bright sunlight? Plan for a ceremony that starts in the late afternoon. Inviting quite a bit of children? Think about outdoor games and activities that will keep them occupied. 

Vicki points out that there’s one aspect that is tougher than all of the other wedding day variables: 

“Weather is the big thing. That’s the thing you have to plan for…What are you going to do if it’s raining? Do you have a big enough tent to do your ceremony under there…and your reception?”

This should cause you to think about tip #3 again. Speaking of vendors, I checked in with another friend for some more advice.

Your Vendors Can Make or Break Your Backyard Wedding

A few days ago, I chatted with Carisa Lockery, owner of Pink Olive Events, based in Cheshire. Long before 2020, she’s been helping her couples plan Connecticut backyard weddings. She offered the following advice to couples who are considering this approach to their nuptials:

“There’s so much to consider when planning a backyard wedding. My biggest piece of advice to a couple taking on this task is truly to enlist help. And not just from family and friends. Hire professionals who know the ins and outs, what to look for, and what you will need to make it a successful event. Too many things can slip through the cracks when building an event literally from the ground up.”

If you’re planning a backyard wedding, it’s definitely a good idea to ask your prospective vendors what they would do in the event of inclement weather! You might even consider scenario-based questions, so that you can really get to know the companies you’ll potentially be entrusting this momentous occasion to.

Tip 7: Have a ball with your backyard wedding decorations and favors

And now for my final backyard wedding planning tip: decorate, trim, and customize to your heart’s content. A wedding at a private residence is perfect for you two to flex your creative muscles. Vicki agrees:

“Sometimes, the decorating for a backyard wedding is easier than doing it at a venue. Because sometimes at a venue, you’re spending all this time covering up [aspects that you don’t like the look of].”

Simply put, go nuts on personalizing your Connecticut backyard wedding venue!

Wedding Decor Ideas and Sources

There are plenty of places to look for backyard wedding décor ideas. Whether you decide to go with a seasonal theme, traditional look, or something a little more edgy, you’ll be able to find ideas out there. Some good sources include the following:

Here are some great places to seek decoration ideas when planning your Connecticut backyard wedding:

  1. Pinterest: Everyone loves to pin stuff on this app, so why not head on over to Pinterest to start collecting ideas?
  2. Facebook groups: In Connecticut alone, there are several wedding groups on Facebook where people share ideas, ask questions, and even sell gently used wedding items.
  3. Etsy: Supporting small businesses and finding endless wedding decorations? Yes, please!
  4. Family photo collections: If there special people who are no longer with us or who aren’t able to make it to your wedding, consider framing their photos and displaying them.
  5. Your own home(s): Sometimes, the best wedding day decorating ideas are right under your own nose, in your home(s). I’ve seen beer themes and skateboarding, to name a couple.

Whatever you decide regarding decorating for your Connecticut backyard wedding, just know that you can’t really go wrong. The only rule in getting married this way is, there are no rules at all.

Now that you’ve got these great tips, get back to planning your backyard wedding

And as you figure out how to capture your big day, reach out and let’s chat a little about your vision!

You’ll do a lot of work to plan your backyard wedding. Capture it the right way.

Drop me a line and let’s have a no-obligation conversation about your wedding photography!

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