Getting married in our back garden

Getting married in our back garden

Chapters

Let’s get married!

Aileen and I met in 2001. We were both 36 and had 3 children between us from previous relationships. Fast forward to 2012, our children were now growing up and moving on with their lives and we probably subconsciously thought to ourselves that we were entering a new phase in our lives. A phase that enabled us to think about ourselves and not the weekend athletics meeting, orchestra practice or the next school crisis.

We had always wanted to climb Ben Lomond, a popular mountain on the banks of Loch Lomond, not far from our house. I started to create a plan in my head that would involve us spending the day climbing Ben Lomond and then, after taking in the stunning views from the top, I would go down on one knee and propose to Aileen. Unfortunately, that plan never materialized due to work commitments and poor weather. It was time to tap into my resourcefulness and come up with a new plan but I was now emotionally tied to my original idea and couldn’t let it go.

Over the following couple of weeks, I started to hatch a new plan that would hopefully create a similar special moment.

Finally, the day arrived and I could only cross my fingers that it would work. This is how it played out –

I enrolled Lewis and Emma, two of our children, to prepare the Champagne in fine glasses and wait in the front room for the signal. I asked Aileen to go and put on her hiking boots and follow me to the back room, where there is a large TV on the wall. I then pressed play on the DVD player and up popped, on the TV, a pre-prepared video I had created. It was an edited view from the top of Ben Lomond which included wind sound effects. I cuddled into Aileen, pretending that it was cold and hoped we could imagine that we were both at the top of Ben Lomond. I then went down on one knee and asked her to marry me. Thankfully she said yes!

Then it was time for the ‘signal’ and on came one of our favourite songs – Bob Marley, Over the Rainbow and with that, Lewis and Emma come into the room with glasses of Champagne and huge smiles.

Now that we were officially engaged, we just had the small matter of organizing our wedding!

We weren’t sure about what kind of wedding to have but, as a starting point, we knew what we didn’t want. Neither of us are religious, so a church wedding was out. We didn’t want it to be in a registery office as that would have felt like we were just ‘signing the contract’. We didn’t want a fancy castle, apart from the fact that it would have cost a fortune, it wouldn’t have felt personal.

So, we just sat in our garden and tried to find that special something that would tick all our boxes. Where could we go that made it feel personal, not too flashy but not just a procedure? Somewhere we felt relaxed and comfortable in the surroundings. Somewhere that meant something to us.

I can still remember that lightbulb moment when we both looked at each other and said – our garden.

Organising

Within minutes of our decision to get married in our garden, we were already morphing into our super organized mode. First up was the visualization of our garden as a venue for our wedding. We started with a floor plan and measured our available space. We calculated that a smallish but decent sized marquee could fit in a section of our garden but would still take up about half the available space and the entrance would be right at the edge of a retaining garden wall, which then has a drop-down to the path below which then leads to our back patio door. Tom felt confident enough to build a secure bridge from the back of the house, over the path below the wall and stop at the entrance to the marquee. If this could be achieved then our garden wedding was starting to look possible.

There was now going to be very limited space in the remainder of the garden but we felt that a bit of creative design would make full use of the space available.

Over the next few days, we fine-tuned our plans and created a garden that would reflect our personal touch and make our guests feel that they were clearly in a wedding venue that only Tom and Aileen could have created.

Here is a summary of what we created –

The bridge – Tom isn’t a joiner but can turn his hand to DIY when needed and this would be an important DIY job. The ‘bridge’ had to be solid enough to cope with all the wedding guests, all the drunken evening guests and all the comings and goings of food, drink and excited guests keen to get to the ‘dance floor’ in the yet to be created marquee. If it couldn’t achieve this then our wedding venue was in doubt, it was as simple as that. Slowly but surely, with a bit of trial and error, it began to take shape. Tom managed to align the exit from the back-patio door which is two steps up from the paved area below then over the gap and matched up the other side that is the supporting wall for the grass, where the entrance to the marquee was situated. Tom then proceeded to stand in the middle of the bridge and jump up and down several times, just to be sure and it passed the test. Not sure if this is an actual officially used test but it worked! The final health and safety consideration were handrails, we didn’t want anyone falling off.

It was then over to Aileen who painted our bridge a lovely vibrant blue and wrapped lots of hearts around the handrails. We finally had our ‘Bridge to our Heart’.

The Marquee – It had to be big enough to accommodate a small family group of 14 plus the 2 of us. It had to be big enough to fit in 3 large round tables and a ‘top table’. Then it had to be large enough, once the tables and chairs were removed, to be our dance floor for the evening reception. We hoped that a 3m x 6m marquee would be large enough. It would need to be!  We considered hiring one but the cost and limited flexibility with collection and return just didn’t fit in with our plans. We were also organizing our honeymoon to Madeira, so the last thing we needed was to start packing away a marquee before our flight. For this reason, we decided to buy one, even though we realized that we had nowhere to store it afterwards but this wouldn’t be a problem as we would just sell it. This turned out to be the perfect solution but not quite that straight forward. What we did was we advertised it for sale on Gumtree before the wedding and stated that it would be available to view and could be picked up after the wedding. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any interested buyers and off we went on our honeymoon, with the now empty marquee still up in our garden and under the care of Emma, our daughter, who was now house-sitting for us. Then, during our honeymoon, we had an enquiry so we explained our situation and updated Emma. Later that day, we were informed by Emma that the marquee was now sold and collected. We managed to sell it for just below what we bought it for and although it was sad to sell something that had played its part in making our day very special, it made sense as it was going to be well used instead of becoming a burden to us.

Creating a Marquee fit for our weddingOnce erected, we stood inside and tried to imagine it filled with tables and chairs. It was going to be tight though not impossible but first up was the decoration and flooring. Aileen is very creative and had already made love hearts and bunting, which she placed around the marquee in a subtle but effective display. There was no floor included with the marquee so that needed to be addressed. We decided to buy cheap loft boards which were slotted together and we knew that we could use them for future projects. Tom can’t resist a collection of spare wood! We purchased a cheap carpet and once it was laid over the wood, the marquee started to look the part.

Tables and chairs – These were going to be a bigger challenge as we had no choice but to hire them and they had to be returned the day after our wedding, so this required a bit of thought but we were up for the challenge. The company were able to deliver the tables and chairs the day before but could not collect them the day after. So, we arranged to return them ourselves. This would require all the chairs, once folded, to fit in our Peugeot 3008 and the 3 large round tables would need to be secured to the roof bars. There was no time to test this out but we can confirm that it worked. Luck and a degree of brute force ensured that we returned all the tables and chairs to the hiring company, the day after our wedding, still hungover and bleary-eyed.

The chairs would serve 3 purposes during our big day.  Firstly to seat all our family in the marquee and celebrate our wedding, then they would need to be placed around the decorative tables for our meal and finally, they would become a place to park a weary evening guest.  Aileen spent a lot of time on these otherwise plain wooden chairs. They had to be coordinated with the tables, marquee and bridge. She covered the chairs in white cotton and wrapped purple organza around the back, tied into a bow. Suddenly, these plain wooden chairs had some style!

The tables only had one purpose but anyone who has attended a wedding will agree that it is a vital purpose. Tables create a social bond and an opportunity for guests to sit back, relax and start to play a special part in a couple’s wedding day. This is why so much importance is placed on seating arrangements, place markers and favour bags.

Aileen was well aware of the need to create that welcoming and stylish look from an otherwise plain round wooden table. She made use of hessian to use as table runners. Used leftover hessian to make little favour bags with chocolates in them for the ladies and the gents got a little miniature of Baileys

Hessian, along with lace, was also used to make a holder for each cutlery set which was decorated with fresh lavender sprigs (purple theme). Tables were scattered with purple petals. Tom created place markers made from offcuts of branches from our tree at the bottom of the garden and Aileen printed names on cards and stuck them in the place marker.

It was safe to say that our marquee, tables and chairs had received our personal touch through a bit of effort and creative design. It just made it feel even more personal and special.

Flowers – As any bride to be will tell you, flowers are a big part of a wedding. The groom will never be able to grasp this and will be afflicted by an inability to compute this in his head. What will become apparent, for the groom, is that he needs to give as much constructive feedback as possible and go with the flow!

Aileen will admit that it is her least favourite bit of organizing. She loves flowers but can never seem to arrange them nicely. She doesn’t like structured arrangements but when creating messy, it just seems to look, well messy.

The hunt for the ideal flowers started the day before the wedding, so a bit of pressure but we seem to like that. We went to a flower market nice and early, spent as much time as we could looking at what Tom would describe as flowers and what Aileen would describe as colourful and beautiful bunches of fragrant plants that would be the building blocks of amazing wedding bouquets. We managed to return home with bunches and bunches of flowers and didn’t know where to start. All we knew was that we needed two bouquets and a vase on each table and buttonholes, all looking perfect for our wedding in less than 24 hours.  Luckily Aileen’s friend, to Tom’s relief, came round to help out and they spent all day creating stunning, slightly messy bouquets and kept this creating theme with matching vases and buttonholes. What a great achievement considering the pressure of everything else getting organized. They then had to be kept cool and to stay fresh for the next day

Our Garden If we were to describe a garden that has 2 sheds, a greenhouse, a tree, 2 areas of decking, a grassed drying green and a patioed area; you would be forgiven for thinking that our garden was huge. This could not be further from the truth as we live in a semi-detached house with a regular sized garden. We just happen to spend a lot of time in it and have utilized every space available. It now also had to accommodate our wedding.

Planning ahead, we bought bulbs and plants that would flower purple (our main colour theme) in time for the wedding, thankfully most plants rose to the challenge and blossomed in time for our big day.

Tealights were placed all around the garden, inside repurposed jam jars which were hand-painted with hearts and these would help to illuminate the evening celebrations. White bunting was creatively displayed to help fashion that transformation from garden to wedding venue. We also placed games & puzzles such as Velcro darts, cards and Rubik’s cubes around the garden for the entertainment of competitive drunks.

We hoped that as the evening progressed, guests would mingle, have a laugh and feel that they were part of a special and unique day.

All of the above required a mix of mutual drive and creativity to make our day special and we hoped that it would result in a day that reflected our personalities. If everything went to plan, it was possible that our guests might not necessarily appreciate the hard work and planning involved but they would know that only Tom and Aileen could have created this special day.  All we could do now is hope that it went to plan.

Other important matters

 Legal information – Was it possible to legally marry in our back garden? Well, Scotland has its own legal system and after a quick online search, we found this information on the Scottish Government website – You can get married inside or outside at a public venue such as a hotel, register office or a place of worship. You can also get married outside in a private place such as a garden outside your home. Now that we were reassured by this information, the remaining legal application could begin. This part was straightforward and is no different from organizing any other wedding in Scotland. Three months before the date of the wedding, we needed to apply to be married by completing a form with supporting documents, these are usually birth certificates, passports and a utility bill for proof of address and delivering them to the Registrar in person. This process can add to the excitement of your plans as it makes everything seem just that bit more real.

Planning the date – We were married on the 1st June 2013 and every year since; we have both said the same thing – why did we pick the first of June. The reason for this question is the fact that Tom’s birthday is on the 4th of June. So, every year we have a slight overlap of celebrations. The only explanation we can come up with is that Tom’s holiday rota, at his work, had already been set and we had already booked a holiday to Madeira in June. Being the creating types, now that we were getting married, we decided to turn this holiday into a honeymoon thus giving us a future wedding anniversary & birthday clash but at the time it made perfect sense to us. As a result of this creative thinking, the 1st of June was the only feasible date to get married and Tom would celebrate his birthday whilst on honeymoon and from then on, every year he would continue to celebrate his birthday close to our anniversary – who‘d have guessed that! lol

Eating options – This turned out to be quite a challenge. Did we get a caterer in? Well, this was appealing as it would take the stress and organization away from cooking it ourselves right in the middle of our wedding but other factors had to be considered not least the cost. Plus, there was always that concern that we were relying on a company to get the timing and service just right. We were also starting to feel empowered and in control of our wedding. Which meant that the less external input, the better.

That said, we were also pragmatic and also considered asking a local restaurant if it could accommodate our wedding party marching in for a meal before returning to our house for the evening celebrations but this idea quickly became impractical. Not to mention the image it created of a newlywed couple with several guests clambering out of their cars and walking into an already occupied restaurant, causing chaos as we get seated and then start doing speeches.  I just wasn’t going to work.

That meant that there was only one option open to us. We would have to cook it ourselves right in the middle of our wedding day! Once again, we were doing it our way but we had given ourselves a big headache.

We set aside a day for a trip to Costco and filled our two trolleys to the top with starters, main dishes and sweets, as well as lots of wine and beer. Then there were the evening guests to consider. So, in went sandwiches, sausage rolls, quiche and various sugary sweets.

Music We decided to create a playlist of music, in fact, it was 3 playlists. This involved moving speakers into the Marquee which required a lot of extra wiring, adding more speakers to the amplifier and then doing a soundcheck to ensure the speakers could produce both ambient background music and louder dance music during the evening. Playlist 1 would be our pre-wedding and meal soundtrack, containing songs from the 50s onwards. Playlist 2 was post-wedding and evening guest arrival, containing songs from lots of genres with a happy and celebratory tone then finally playlist 3 had more upbeat pop and club music to get everyone dancing.

All three playlists were copied onto pen drives and safely set aside until they were needed. We no longer had to concern ourselves with wondering what to play next. Other than switching pen drives at the appropriate time, we could forget about entertaining everyone with background music. All we could hope for is that we had chosen a good range of music.

There were two pieces of music, though, that got the most attention. What would be the music Aileen would walk down the Aisle to and what would be our first dance?

As it turned out, each piece of music was easy to choose and both of us selected the same. I suppose that’s what happens when you have already shared a good part of your life with someone before you get married and we have a similar taste in music.

Aileen would walk down the Aisle to Dream a Little Dream and to add to the specialness of this moment in time, it would be played by Emma our Daughter on her Saxophone. It doesn’t get better than that.

We choose our first dance, probably because we are of a certain age and this song from the 80’s just seemed to sum everything up plus it’s a great song sung by Jimmy Somerville, who we have seen live a couple of times. The song was You are My World by The Communards.

Why did we choose a Humanist wedding? To be honest, our main reason was to steer clear of any religious connection to our wedding and wanted a ceremony that would feel personal to us, with the least amount of scripted text as possible and a Humanist wedding fitted that vision perfectly. What we didn’t want, though, was to feel that we were just using this society for our own benefit or that it didn’t really reflect our beliefs. So, we spent a bit of time reading through the information online at Humanist Society Scotland. They even have an online questionnaire – Are You a Humanist? but we were actually struck by its first statement –

“In a world where we sometimes feel despair about the human race and where differences of race culture and religion are used by the unscrupulous and powerful few to fuel hatred and violence among the powerless, what could be more important than to assert our common human capacity for change.”

– Liz Lochhead, Former Scots’ Makar and Distinguished Supporter of Humanist Society Scotland

That’s all we needed to know!

Choosing someone to marry us – Neither of us is religious and if we had decided to marry in a registery office, as is regularly chosen by many couples both religious and non-religious, this would have been one less thing to organize but we were getting married in our back garden. This gave us a bit more freedom regards who we wanted to stand in front of us and our guests and make our ceremony feel personal to us.

There is a great choice of Celebrants and one night, over a glass of wine, we looked at their profiles and slowly but surely became drawn to Helen Wood. Her age and description of herself helped our decision, so we contacted her and she was happy to meet up with us to talk through the process. Thankfully, she was just as we had hoped. Not too extrovert, a good listener and experienced enough to guide us through our big day without taking over. She asked us to create our personal statement, which she would read out. Apart from some legally binding wording that she must say, the rest would be up to us.

Creating a statement – It wasn’t until we started to think about our statement that we appreciated how meaningful and personal it needed to be. We wanted the freedom to say what we wanted to say and now that we had it, it suddenly became difficult to create.

We took a step back and thought some more. We would have a small number of close family but like all families, we had drifted apart and we wanted to include them. Although we had lived together for many years, Tom’s side of the family is spread out over the country and apart from the odd special birthday, we didn’t meet up regularly. It was great that everyone was coming to see us get married but did they really know us as a couple.  

We realized that our statement, apart from proclaiming our undying love for each other, was a great opportunity to define who we were, giving little examples of our life’s journey together, our idiosyncrasies and our ability to laugh at ourselves. We also included each of our families within the stories and anecdotes to help everyone feel part of our lives.

Once completed, we sat back and knew that we had put our heart and soul into it. We sent it to Helen, our Celebrant and carried on with our organizing.

MagicianWe are all familiar with the tried and tested formula of an evening wedding reception. The evening guests will arrive, the bride and groom will mingle and thank everyone for coming, food will be served, the bride and groom will have their first dance and then the band will begin to entertain the guests. We were able to match everything except the band. We had sorted out our soundtracks, music system and dance floor but what about entertainment?

We can’t remember exactly why but we thought it would be a good idea to have a magician at our evening celebrations. The only reason we could think of, for coming up with a magician, was a memory from a Christmas works night out at a comedy club in Glasgow. During the interval, a magician walked amongst the tables and performed some sleight of hand magic to the amazement of onlookers. That up-close and personal entertainment seemed to add a sprinkle of magic to our Christmas night out. It clearly made an impression on us and our fellow work colleagues, as they would often mention it when looking back at previous Christmas nights out.

Now that we were set on having a magician, all we had to do now was work out how to get one! It wasn’t until we started our internet search for a wedding magician that we discovered how many magicians are available and it’s actually quite popular to have a magician at your wedding.

We set aside another evening with another glass of wine and began to read the biographies, reviews and look at photos of happy guests looking amazed by the magic on display but one magician stood out for us. Elliot Bibby was a young part-time magician who was still at university and had won several young up and coming magician awards. He was also reasonably local and reasonably priced. We sent him an email to see if he was available and gave him an idea of what we wanted. He soon replied and informed us that he was able to perform for us for a couple of hours, which was ideal. We also asked him if he could ‘secretly’ arrive, we would sneak him in and he would then mingle amongst our guests, initially pretending to be one of our evening guests and subtly perform magic to those nearby. He would eventually be rumbled but it might make for an interesting start to his act. He replied to say that he was happy to go along with the ‘fake’ guest plan and looked forward to seeing us on the night. All we had to do now was work out how we could smuggle him into the evening celebrations without giving the game away.

Elliot has gone on to become a successful magician and has recently performed up and down the country with his show Left over lunch

Photographer – Organising the photographer should have been the one part of our planning that closely matched most weddings. A quick internet search revealed hundreds of potential offers with various deals. The more time we spent looking, the more we analysed ourselves. What was it about us and our chosen venue that we wanted the photographer to capture? The more we pondered this question, the less inclined we were to pick a well-established photographer. They might make us feel less assertive and more likely to accept the advice of their experience. Of course, this could have backfired and we might have ended up with a complete amateur who had no concept of capturing our special day with images frozen in time.

Finally, we found who we were looking for and spent a good bit of time with them just to reassure ourselves. All was good and we could relax.

Then, a few weeks before our wedding, we received a message from our photographer to say that she was no longer able to do our wedding due to personal reasons. This was the response from Aileen on Facebook – ‘Aaagh our wedding photographer has just cancelled and the one she has recommended is not inspiring me at all!!!’

Back to square one, with a few weeks to go. Maybe we should have gone with an established professional wedding photographer in the first place! Then, after some frantic searching, we stumbled across a young photographer who had her own business and we loved her style of photography. Of course, with us, it’s never that straightforward as her Bio reads – Professional Maternity, Birth and Newborn photographer based in Bonnyrigg, Scotland. Capturing your memories to last a lifetime. Would she be interested in being our wedding photographer? We had to ask. Thankfully Anilorak Photography said yes. She had done weddings before, so this wasn’t a complete gamble and based on her portfolio she was talented and created a style of natural photography that we wanted. She was also a nice person to talk to and we knew that she would have no problem mingling with our wedding party and making everyone feel relaxed.

Our wedding plans were now in place. Hopefully, we had created a wedding that fitted our personalities and everyone would have a lovely day.

There was just one more thing to do before our big day – Put a note through our neighbours’ letterboxes to warn them that the Nicholson’s were having a massive party!

Our wedding

Finally, our special day arrived and as we contemplated the day ahead. We had taken complete control of our wedding. We had built, created, ordered, researched, coordinated, imagined and hoped. There was nothing else we could do but reach for the Prosecco and enjoy our special day.

We quickly realized that a wedding at home is different from other venues we have been to. Yes, a wedding at home can still have the ushers, the catering, the team around you to ensure that it all goes to plan but our wedding didn’t have any of that. We were inviting our family over to our house to witness our marriage. We were the hosts and everyone was going to be our guests. The buck stopped with us, we didn’t have anyone to blame if it went wrong. We decided to have another glass of Prosecco and trust in our ability to organize.

That morning, before the family arrived, was probably the closest our day would be to any other wedding. Both of us nervously looking forward to our day, knowing that the planning was finished and we were about to get married. We did the same as every couple, getting dressed in our finery and the then constantly adjusting in front of the mirror. Aileen in her perfectly fitted wedding dress. looking stunning and Tom in his Kilt. Tom had originally considered his family’s tartan but a quick google search revealed a colour and pattern that would have been better suited to a stately home hall carpet. So, instead, choose Pride of Scotland Tartan.

Thankfully our guests were organized and all turned up on time. We don’t have a large family, which had also been a consideration when measuring up our garden and choosing a marquee but until everyone arrived and was seated, we couldn’t be completely sure that our calculations were correct. The thought of everyone being cramped together, with the mild panic that claustrophobia can create, resulted in fidgeting and in some cases running for the exit did cause a few sleepless nights but as it turned out, we had calculated perfectly and now we were standing in front of our comfortably seated family, about to be married by our chosen Celebrant.

Anyone who has ever been married will tell you to enjoy your day and don’t be surprised if you don’t remember everything. We would definitely agree with this and looking back is a blurry blend of happy emotions and random memories, some need prompting by a reminiscent look through photos and some have remained as fresh as the day itself –

  • Emma playing ‘Dream a Little Dream’ her Saxophone and Aileen walked down the aisle.
  • Just as our Celebrant, who was quietly spoken, started to read out our personal statement, which included a reference to each of our guests, it started to rain and the noise was so loud that it drowned out her quiet voice.  We knew what was being said but unfortunately, we could see that the words weren’t reaching the ears of our guests as they sat with polite smiles but unable to appreciate the parts, we had included just for them. This created an odd moment for us both as we were close enough to hear some sharp-witted joke aimed at a particular guest, causing us to look at said guest with a loud laugh. Only to be met with said guest looking back at us with a confused smile. No sooner had our celebrant finished, than the rain stopped.  We both looked at each other, both gazed at the roof of the marquee and had a chuckle to ourselves. 
  • Tom trying to hold it together.
  • With military precision, we all rolled up our sleeves and sorting out the meal, brought through the big round tables from the front room and under Aileen’s supervision, we turned them into dining tables that any posh wedding would be proud of.
  • After the meal and speeches, we rolled the tables back to the front room, did the washing-up and prepared for the evening guests to arrive, this included setting up the music system. All this whilst consuming lots of wine!
  • Our first dance – You Are My World by The Communards
  • Our surprise magician messaged us to say he was outside and we somehow managed to sneak away and ushered him in our front door. He was happy to play the ‘guest’ role and we left him to mingle. It wasn’t long before we heard the hoots of laughter and amazement as he started to gather a crowd. His cover was blown but it was fun to see our entertainment adding to our special day.
  • Our house and garden filled to bursting point with our evening guests. We had stocked up in lots of wine & beer and music was blasting in the marquee, which had now turned into a dancefloor.
  • Slowly but surely our home began to empty and we thanked everyone for coming as they headed home. By midnight, we were down to our family and a few stragglers waiting for a Taxi, then our doorbell rang. Aileen was first to answer and as she stood there, still looking amazing with her wedding dress on, she was met by two Police officers who were slightly taken aback at a bride opening her door to them. Thankfully they were able to grasp the situation and politely asked us to turn our music down as someone had complained about the noise!  No doubt that was an interesting conversation for the police once they got back to the station

And that was our wedding day. Now, all we had to do was get up the next day clean the house, secure the tables to the top of our car, squeeze the chairs inside and return them to the hiring company.

Aileen then washed and hung up her wedding dress on the washing line outside – Surely that has got to be unique!

Then there was the question of what to do with the Marquee. We couldn’t store it anywhere so we decided to leave it up and advertise it for sale.  The responsibility of selling it went to our Daughter Emma, as we were about to go on honeymoon.

It turned out that the post-wedding organizing was just as hectic but we managed it and off we flew to Madera as Mr and Mrs, with the knowledge that our special day could only have been created by us and when we return home, we can sit in our garden, our wedding venue with feelings of joy, pride and love.

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