Garden party: how to decorate and style outside areas at venues for summer wedding ceremonies and outdoor receptions

From festoon lighting and floral archways to giant Jenga and beer baths, we’re so ready for the alfresco weddings of 2022. As summer approaches, Scottish venue stylists share how best to set the scene for marrying and celebrating outdoors, no matter the venue

Words by Claire Muir

a wedding crate decorated with foliage and candles and a collection of white brollies and sign
Styled wooden crates and wedding brollies by One Fine Day Events

Outdoor weddings are on the rise. They seem to fit really well with the kind of laid-back, rustic, natural vibe so many of us want when we tie the knot. But it’s not just the ceremonies that are being held in the open air: “I think we’ll be seeing a lot of couples bringing their drinks receptions and evening entertainment outdoors this year as well,” predicts Rhubekka Smith, founder of Ayrshire-based One Fine Day Events, which she runs with her business partner Kirsty MacPhie. “Outdoor seating spaces are on the increase, too. Couples want these to look just as nice as their indoor decor, so they’re supplying rugs, blankets and pillows, and much more.”

At events specialists Get Knotted, Katie Hart has seen a surge in bookings for firepits: “Seeing family and friends, often after long periods apart, is what really matters to many of our couples, so coming together around the firepit at the end of the evening is really special,” she says. “And how about processing through a tunnel of sparklers as newlyweds, then heading over to the firepit to toast marshmallows?”

Dreamy firepit scenes aside, though, just how practical is an outdoor wedding in Scotland where everyone knows that even in the height of summer, there’s a genuine possibility of the skies opening? “I always say there has to be a Plan B…B for brolly,” laughs Katie. “You should always have a contingency space for a last-minute move indoors.”

Outdoor covered areas are another option, but if the weather really isn’t going to play ball, you could always simply bring the outside in: think plants, foliage, sparkly lights and rustic props made from natural materials.

a bank of outdoor bale seating and a firepit styled by Get Knotted
Hay bales as sofas, old crates as tables: Get Knotted’s firepit is an enticing prospect

Let’s get creative

There are so many ways to incorporate props that look incredible against the backdrop of beautiful Scotland – and it all starts with giving your guests a warm welcome. “Signage that hints at the decor to come is a lovely way to introduce the colour palette and general style of the day ahead,” suggests Katie. “Flowery details and personal touches work well here.”

Beautifying the ceremony starts with embracing and enhancing your surroundings. “This can be done in the most effortless way,” Rhubekka assures us. “A simple arch at the end of the aisle will frame the outdoor space. Then add flowers and foliage, soft drapes or both. Using chopped logs to mark out the aisle is always a winner, and it could be decorated using freestanding candles, jars with fresh flowers or foliage, or lanterns with tealights. The possibilities are endless.”

outdoor wedding ceremony set-ups at Aikwood Tower and Broxmouth at Get Knotted
From left: Get Knotted made the most of Aikwood Tower’s good looks for this ceremony; a gorgeous outdoor ceremony set-up at Broxmouth, also by Get Knotted

An alfresco drinks reception to remember

Post-ceremony, it’s all about celebrating your newlywed status, and there are so many creative concepts for turning ‘just a bar’ into a stylish event space, especially when you make use of the outdoor features – simply hanging a few lanterns from the trees instantly dials up the romantic vibes, for instance.

Meanwhile, personalised drinks stations seem to have a new lease of life when placed outdoors: “Prosecco ladders, gin bars, beer baths… You name it, it can be done – and styled to be unique to each couple,” promises Rhubekka.

BYOB? Hire a funky bathtub, fill it with ice and you have a cool and pretty outdoor storage space for cold beers and chilled prosecco – plus it’s a great photo opportunity. Crates come in handy here, too. Arrange them any way you like to store bottles, glasses and garnishes, then weave in some foliage or flowers. Simply top off with quirky signage to get your guests smiling.

Personalised decor can really create impact at the drinks reception, and it’s guaranteed to get people talking. We’re thinking a ladder display with photographic memories or bottles of your fave tipples, all dressed with fairylights, candles and flowers.

Encourage the signing of the guestbook by setting up a nicely styled area. If you’re trend-led, Polaroid guestbooks are hot right now. If you have a ceremony arch, Rhubekka suggests using it to provide the backdrop for Polaroid selfies and offering fun props, unique to you as a couple: “This can be easily set up using a large trestle table or by building up crates and logs. Pens for signing can be kept in hessian-wrapped jars, and guests can pop cards into a vintage suitcase.”

How about a garden game or two to keep everyone entertained until it’s time to eat? “We have a giant handmade snakes and ladders and draughts board with accompanying counters, as well as giant Jenga,” says Rhubekka. “You could go traditional and add in a few Scottish games, such as toss the caber or, more realistically, fling the welly!”

a wedding kilner jar and a mirrored wedding sign
Left: Guests will love helping themselves to a summery cocktail from Get Knotted’s rustic demijohn (Photo: First Light Photos); Right: The Little Dressing Co. can produce gorgeous mirrored seating plans to point guests in the right direction

Dare to dine in the outdoors

You may be sceptical, but Rhubekka argues that an outdoor wedding breakfast in Scotland is 100% doable – if the weather conditions are right. She recommends using trestle tables and wooden chairs, decorated to suit the venue and location.

“We love a hessian or simple eucalyptus runner,” she says. “If you want to highlight table names or themes, we can elevate items on our wooden discs. Use subtle centrepieces, like brass candlesticks and floating candle jars, or go more elaborate with bespoke items, such as vintage books and bird cages.”

At Get Knotted, Katie cautions couples about the importance of having a backup plan and suggests dining outdoors – but under cover: “Awnings, gently illuminated with festoon lights, are a good way to prevent a soggy dinner. It’s also a clever base for romantic lighting and overhead decoration.”

a man doing limbo and sparklers by the Little Dressing Co
From left: The Little Dressing Co. will help you set up games on the lawn to get everyone giggling (Photo: Chris Blott); Sparklers, marshmallows and a cute sign: The Little Dressing Co. knows how to put together a firepit station

Dancing in the dark

What could be more romantic than a first dance under the stars? And, naturally, there are loads of options for statement styling as evening arrives. First, set the scene with lighting – but do think carefully about the season and when dusk will fall.

“Fairylight walls, canopies and festoon lights all look incredible. For a more budget-friendly option, hire battery-powered wire lights, which still make an impact depending on the space. And real candles are an absolute must – the more the better!” recommends Alice Edwards at The Little Dressing Co.

Next up, she suggests putting together a cosy, candlelit drawing room on the lawn: “A boho seating area is always a welcome sight when feet get tired. Dress it with blankets, cushions, throws and rugs, along with a table on which to rest your glass.”

Finish off the area with hampers filled with goodies such as flip-flops, and special stations with cute signage. “Our sparkler and blanket stations are wonderful for a Scottish summer night,” says Alice. “Throw in our umbrella station just in case – it is Scotland, after all!”

Little ones still wide awake? Create a sheltered wee nook in nature for them to draw, play games and eat cake – just use crates as little tables with a pile of cushions to sit on.

rolled up blankets and wedding sign by One Fine Day Events
Practicalities like blankets can be transformed into photo-worthy highlights by those clever stylists at One Fine Day Events

A bit on a budget

Post-pandemic, staying on budget is more relevant than ever and some couples may be wondering if an outdoor set-up could prove too costly. But it’s quite the opposite, according to the stylists – alfresco decor is all about being simple yet eye-catching.

For serious cost-cutting, Alice advocates the ‘less is more’ approach: “Focus on a reduced number of props that give the biggest impact. Think signage, one or two stations, garden games and sparklers. Self-styling is also an option. Couples can collect from our warehouse rather than opting for delivery and pickup.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Katie’s most elaborate outdoor set-up was an intimate orchard wedding: “Real-flame pole torches lit the way up a misty mountain for a January ceremony with the bride in a velvet cloak and wellies. We placed straw bales, woollen blankets and lots of lanterns in the forest for a romantic ceremony. So, if your budget can stretch to your dream outdoor ceremony and having a plan B, go for it!”