Hosting your wedding at home

Expert events organiser Julia Sibun on how to plan the perfect home reception

When it comes to weddings, there is really no place like your own home. (Or perhaps your parents have a lakeside house - or maybe your grandparents are the ones with the wonderful view?) The greatest benefit is obvious: not having to plan numerous visits to hotels and wedding venues! 

Holding a reception at home can offer you a lot more flexibility and more scope to have the wedding that you really desire. No restrictions, no venue fees and no rules and regulations, particularly on timing and noise levels. You have as much time as you need to decorate the marquee and the garden, and you can really go to town with the details and the planning.

However: The logistics will need careful planning, so it is important to do your research before finally committing to a large event in your back garden.

It’s all about the planning!

Some key questions will need answering. How many people can the garden accommodate? Where are all the guest and supplier cars going to be parked?  Where do we locate the marquee? How do we get electricity to the marquee? 

But don’t be discouraged! Although it may be more work than you anticipated, you will not regret hosting your own wedding reception in the place that means the most to you. As with so many things, it’s only a matter of preparation.

First, determine the amount of space that can be used in the garden, and bring in the services of a wedding planner to provide that vital advice at the beginning of the planning process. Knowing how many guests you can invite is the first crucial decision that has to be taken before finalising the guest list.

Invite marquee and tipi companies to provide a quotation, and a layout plan for the reception area, dining and dancing. They will know just how much space you will need to set up the dining tables, bar and dance floor to accommodate your number of guests.

If you do not have a local church available in your village, or simply do not wish to be married in a church, having a humanist ceremony or a blessing at home is a perfect solution. A humanist ceremony or a blessing is not legally binding and you will still need to register your marriage at a Registry Office which can be done a couple of days beforehand. You will then need to agree another location in the garden where you can exchange your vows. This could be in a pretty rose garden, by a pond or lake or underneath a wonderful mature tree - no need to worry about chairs, be relaxed about using hay bales, throws and picnic rugs. 

Keep an eye on the weather forecast, and if necessary, book an awning for the day to either shield guests from the sun if it is a hot day, or keep those frequent English rain showers at bay!

Once the location of the ceremony and the marquee have been agreed, consider the general access required for your caterers to the catering marquee, other suppliers setting up, and the route that guests will take from parking their cars to entering the garden. Putting homemade signage around the garden is fun, and it keeps guests to the right pathways.

Showcasing your garden

It’s important to plan how the garden will be looking on the day of the wedding and which of those flowers and shrubs will be in full bloom. For a spring wedding, wonderful bulb flowers like tulips, daffodils and lilies of the valley will be in bloom - these need to be planted the autumn before. For summer, try annuals like geraniums, gerbera daisies and African daisies.

Take the advice of a professional gardener to plant up well in advance of the wedding day to ensure that the flower borders are looking at their best. Don’t forget to consider a colour scheme for the borders that will blend with the chosen colours for the wedding. 

Sometimes it’s not always possible to have the flowers at their best on the day, due to poor weather conditions. So be prepared to bring in pots of flowers in bloom such as hydrangeas to fill any gaps.

Pots of flowers and herbs in clusters around the various entrances to the marquee will bring the garden even closer to the marquee and can create natural boundaries.

Don’t forget to fertilise the lawn in plenty of time! Mow the lawn a couple of times in the week leading up the day, to ensure that perfect, green ‘cricket pitch’ finish.

Decorating the marquee

Rent the tables and chairs for dining. Be prepared to make up your own bar and occasional tables from wooden pallets, apple crates or wine barrels to provide that personal touch.

An easy way to add colour and personality to a marquee is to hang ribbons across the ceilings and walls is the perfect injection of character, or if you can, make your own bunting to hang from pole to pole.

Additional features to add atmosphere

Lighting the garden will ensure that a pretty, fairy tale atmosphere is created as dusk approaches. There are so many different ways to light the garden. Soft white fairy lights look great threaded through the trees. Paraffin garden flares look wonderful lining the pathways - and give clear directions back to the car park.  Floating candles are perfect on any water features, and candles in glass containers also work really well to keep that twinkling atmosphere. 

Keep extension leads out of site, and if any leads are crossing paths, don’t forget to put down some cable cover.

A fire pit is a brilliant addition. Pile some logs up next to it, so that guests can keep the fire roaring throughout the evening. Surround the fire pit with wooden seating or straw bales covered in throws - guests will savour the warmth as the evening cools down. Why not provide fork toasters and a large bag of marshmallows as well?

Ensure that you have a photographer on hand to record the day, and all your bespoke arrangements will live on in record.

‘Back of house’ matters

Important facilities such as toilets, electricity, a water supply and the removal of rubbish are all the ‘back of house’ matters that will need to be considered carefully before the big day. 

Mobile toilet trailers can be easily rented. There are some stylish options available, which arrive filled with water - ready to go. 

Most homes are unable to accommodate the amount of power necessary to light a marquee or tipi or provide power to a catering kitchen. You do not want to risk a power failure, or even worse, blow out the whole neighbourhood!  Check how much power is required from your suppliers and arrange for the hire of a generator from a reputable plant hire company. Or, better still, arrange for an event electrician to do the job for you.

Caterers will need a water supply to the rear of the catering marquee. It’s helpful to provide an on/off applicator at the end of the hose to prevent small floods occurring in this area of the garden! 

Glass and plastic bottles can be easily stacked in the garage and recycled – large recycling bins can be organised through the local council, and caterers remove their own food rubbish. If you are worried about the amount of general rubbish and packaging that may be left after the wedding, small skips can be easily hired for the duration of the event (but will need to be positioned out of sight of the guests).

One of the main worries that come with hosting a lot of people at home is the wonderful British climate! (No surprises there). Coir matting across the lawns will help keep ladies’ shoes clean and dry. Arrange this with your marquee company.

Finally, don’t forget to be a good neighbour. Advise the local residents close to your home in plenty of time before the day. When there are neighbours who will be aware of the comings and goings and loud music, it may well pay to give them a bottle of wine to keep relationships neighbourly!

Having your wedding at home can be heavenly, and so relaxing for your guests. Keep it simple. Provide some delicious food, a pretty, romantic setting, lots of comfort and (of course) a plentiful supply of champagne and wine!

For more information about holding your wedding reception at home please contact Julia Sibun via www.juliasibun.co.uk