All the Practicalities
Recipe for a Home Made Wedding
Marquee, cooking tent, gazebo, children’s tent for shade, shelter play space etc, outdoor space for: archery stuff, croquet set, quoits, cricket set as desired; parking, camping workshop of other indoor space for dancing if different from eating space.
Crockery, cutlery, glasses, tumblers, Drink dispensers, bottles, Fridges, freezer, means of cooking, napkins, place setting markers
tablecloths, table decorations
Indoor and outdoor decorations, lights, simple extra little group seating (bales or logs)
Order of Service sheets
Canoe to fill with ice for cooling beer, cider, fizz, soft drinks
Generator and cables
Music in a playlist
Cooks and bottlewashers
Think about what you want the day to be like. This ‘recipe’ was intended to give it a country festival feel; carefree, friendly, inclusive fun. Significantly this wedding was planned for mid July. To achieve the same feel in February would require a lot more work and miracles and we had our fair share of those!
I just want to make a big spreadsheet and fill in a bit about where each ingredient came from and who helped and how amazing all the offers and helps were. But that would be boring! All the bits fell together in the end like a cosmic jigsaw that fell out of the sky and landed as a completed picture. Only there was planning and preparation and lots of research and effort, generous help and prayer. If you want to know in more detail read on!
Three weeks to a fortnight before the big day, we discovered that there was a slight but significant problem around the performing of the marriage ceremony, and in order for the vows to be the ones that really mattered to my daughter, we had to find a minister who would be allowed to conduct a marriage using them. A very busy cleric and lovely family friend happened to be free on the Saturday of the wedding and agreed gladly to do the honours. What providence! Also, a close friend of the groom was happy to do the talk as originally planned. What grace!
We had a long drought for weeks before the wedding and so flowers for bouquets and decorations had to be fed and watered generously (and, I felt, squandrously), and often deadheaded and otherwise treated like royalty (!) to encourage continued vigour and flowering. I began choosing and sowing seed in February when we had Siberian weather. Keeping germination temperatures right had been rather hit and miss! This was also the period of wedding dress making, which was also a matter of trial and error! Of all the flowers, I particularly wanted there to be bell flowers, (Campanula perscifolia alba) for the vases and the bride’s bouquet. In the long hot days, I got sunburnt deadheading the wands of these pure and graceful white flowers, so that the little buds behind the first flowers would swell and open. I had creeping thyme coming into flower just at the right time, which was ideal as my daughter wanted potted herbs on the trestle tables as decorations. They were potted into terracotta pots which meant lots of watering. I should have used the tip of putting a pierced plastic bag inside to reduce the rate of evaporation through the sides of the pots. The beautiful Ammi majus or Queen Anne’s Lace flowered just long enough for me to put some of the delicate umbels into the bride’s bouquet too. I grew cornflowers and love-in-a-mist for blue and other colours. Blue I wanted for the groom’s and best man’s buttonholes as well as for the bridesmaids bouquets as they had teal and pink in their dresses. Teal and pink chrysanthemums, small white roses, which I had to buy, combined with blue hydrangeas and phlox in pinks went into their flowers. The posies were lightened with gypsophila ‘Covent garden’, feverfew, coriander and white cornflowers which I grew in several locations to ensure some would be right on the day. I grew planters with brightly coloured mesembrianthemums, clarkia, corn chamomile, cornflowers, love in a mist, lavender, sweet peas, nicotiana ‘sensation’ and delphiniums to go along the outside of the marquee and Nicotiana was put in vases to perfume the air in the workshop in the evening.
Lavender, bush basil and thyme looked lovely sitting on the calico covered trestles with coloured glass water bottles and bottles of wine, strings of paper ball fairy lights, the glasses and palm leaf plates set for each guest. They had their places marked with their names written on pebbles from the beach and compostable tumblers. All that had to be washed after the meal, from the place settings, were wine glasses and cutlery. The cutlery for each guest was tied into a folded paper napkin with pretty string. My daughter had made sting light holders, winding twine soaked in PVA glue round balloons, which were popped and removed once the near spherical shape of the string ball was set. These were hung in between white paper light shades along the apex of the marquee roof and looked very effective with some plain bunting and lights.
The day before the wedding a niece who has experience in floristry came and showed me how to make a garland, which we did together and which decorated the altar table. There was also a simple cross made from Silver Birch wood, made by my husband.
The marquee itself was bought. In fact it was two marquees side by side with a purpose made gutter between them, so making one large square room, perfect for the size of our party. This will be sold, likely to someone else with a desire for a self styled event, and no desire to take all their decorations down on the evening of the party, ready for the hire company to come and take it down first thing in the morning. This experience was what put me off hiring again, as well as the corralling tendency of commercial approaches to weddings. Can a wedding ‘banquet’ really be done properly if the ‘banqueting chairs’ are not ‘dressed’ in white like the bride? Perfectly sane people get drawn further and further down this kind of blind alley. I know I could. So many style and equipment options are made available on the internet. (I sound like a granny in a radio play, saying that! Well I am one. A granny that is, not one in a play!) Many items were ordered online; the compostable plates and tumblers, some of the serving bowls, and bottles for dispensing home made lemonade and elderflower cordial, the calico of many metres long for the trestle tables and the cutlery. Of all the different courier companies we only experienced one with a terrible service and attitude.
Some of the trestle tables were bought and most of the chairs were bought and collected from Cardiff from Jehovah’s Witnesses who were replacing them. Our churches lent us tables and chairs as well as a friend who runs a Bed and Breakfast and hostel and people connected with those were our source of help both paid and voluntary and without whom we would not have been able to achieve it. When you do everything from scratch you need people to come and prepare, cook, move chairs and tables and set them, serve, shepherd, host and then clear, sort and repack for later washing up, much of the table and cookware. It helps if a home-made wedding is being organised by people, one of whom at least, is self employed and has a van, and can afford to take time off to do some of the fetching and carrying.
Local hire companies delivered and took away afterwards the generator, electric cables and lights and loos. We had space to offer guests to be able to camp so the loos were useful for that beyond the event. A friend who has a lot of technical knowledge about event sound systems and lights gave invaluable help before and during the day with all this.
Before we put the marquees up, which we did the weekend before the wedding, we had to clear and level some ground which I thought looked flat before we started. Still, it needed grass and roots, large stones and broken glass removing and then some fine hardcore spread, levelled and tamped down. This process was started about seven weeks before the wedding. The first person to do any of it was our friend who hosted the wedding on his smallholding. He had a ‘digging machine’ on caterpillar tracks. You can tell how uninitiated I am about locomotives of this nature. Anyway he sat in it for hours scraping off the unwanted layers of rubbly soil and afterwards, called the machine ‘a dog’. It was like sitting in a mini greenhouse being a target for the horseflies that seemed to pervade the countryside in midsummer. We all had a go at the levelling and raking work and when it was done, all that we had to do for the floor was put down a marquee carpet.
A marquee hire company let us take the carpet when they were packing away after a wedding at a local country estate. They offer these once used carpets for gardeners to use as mulch and as I have acres of weeds to kill, I thought it would be a good thing to get some, and emailed them accordingly, as prompted by my researching daughter. New marquee carpet would have set us back around £400. My husband and I took away a lot of near perfect carpet for the price of a day off and the van fuel. A heat wave was by now established over the UK making the earth dry and hard, so no mud had been traipsed through the marquee. Apart from some liquefied wax crayon in one corner and a few squashed crumbs of fruit cake, it was in excellent nick. We just folded it up and put it into the van and trailer, nursing a few horsefly bites. I wasn’t expecting there to be rubber backing on the carpet. It was easily scraped off, and I began to have second thoughts about putting it in the garden, as the rubber would disintegrate quickly and pollute the woodland I’m growing. It became apparent when we went to put the carpet into storage made available by our hosts that their daughter was soon likely to become engaged to be married, and since then has and also, to my friends’ surprise, she would like her wedding reception to be at home. So they would like to keep the carpet for that happy occasion, which gets me off the hook about using it as mulch! What excellent timing! It is good to know that this material will have been used three times before becoming waste, at least.
We laid the carpet and then built the marquees over it. ‘Duck tape’ had been procured to hold the carpet joins in place and prevent tripping, but it didn’t stick to the surface of the carpet. A spray was found to be more effective, so that solved that problem. It took six of us, including a friend, the bride and groom, and their parents to put the marquees and food tent up in a full day. It was not particularly difficult as the instructions and an online video were easy to follow. It was a good team-building exercise. I left it wondering if I’d ever be good at that sort of thing, to be honest! I resisted the ridiculous temptation to just abandon the team, and I think the gracious and loving presence of our friend who had just turned up to help was what saved my perseverance. The following Monday the winds were forecast to be stronger so the groom brought some of his old rock climbing ropes to make extra guys, which he and my husband secured the tents with and the wind buffeted without effect.
In between all the flower care and a few of my days with tents and writing names on stones, drying flowers for confetti, I kept making another batch of cake or fruit loaf, until I had at least one serving per guest. I had stashed these in boxes in the freezer. Last of all I made some gingerbread people and iced them as either brides or grooms. I liked the idea of my nephews and granddaughter and any other children-at-heart smiling at these, then biting their limbs off, gleefully! It must have been around this time that the inner tempo of my preparations went from happy and peaceful to happy and excited.
The day was drawing nearer and I felt that I had almost done all I had prepared to do: Bride’s dress, bridesmaids dresses all sorted, flowers as on track as I could ensure, and I’d go and buy whatever else I needed a couple of days beforehand, my outfit and cosmetics ready, food and technical stuff organised by others, cake and pudding ready to go, ice making done, booze, some of which bought for us by my brother while in France, all stored in a steady temperature half underground. The house was stacked in every corner and turning space full of boxes of stuff from slow cookers to bundles of wrapped cutlery, palm plates and fairy lights. Orders of service, rings and seating plans were being taken care of.
I had one last pre-day task and that was to help with the speech for the father of the bride. I’d read the favourite books of the betrothed, and found it an interesting insight into some of what makes them tick, if I hadn’t already had a hunch. More time was spent on that than I was expecting and at least one sleepless night, which was only because I was being too outrageous and as this was a speech to be given by a gentleman, he needed it to be changed completely. I lay awake wondering how I could use the same props but for a totally different edition of the opening paragraphs of the speech. It came to me and I typed the revised version at four am. My favourite prop I will keep. It is a pair of incredible, six inch stiletto heeled shoes; deep cerulean, silver studded- and these studs mean business at almost a centimetre long. They are beautiful and hideous. I ingratiated them into the speech under a ridiculous guise as climbing shoes in a controversial fiction about how our daughter met her husband. It was a bit of a dark in-joke and when I saw some of the listeners laugh knowingly, I was highly gratified. Anyway, let’s return to grace and providence. (Of which finding those brand new, if unwearable shoes in the Oxfam sale was a brilliant example.)
Many of the people at the wedding are in the outdoor leadership and education line of work, and that job requires workers at the weekend. The person who had hoped to say yes to leading worship, was not able to have the time off, it transpired. A search began for people who could and would want to lead worship. Worship is core and key to a service and I prayed we’d be blessed with people who could take us to that throne of grace in sung worship. A couple of suggestions were shelved and another line of inquiry drew a blank. In time for some practices, the bride’s sister came up with two of her friends who were willing to travel with her and her husband and toddler all the way from Newcastle to stand in front of a crowd of people they didn’t know and lead worship. Just for the joy and love of it. Which is a lot, but even so! With the sister singing, especially the Welsh bits, the other two did guitar, drum and vocals. It was absolutely perfect. In my opinion every prayer for this wedding day was answered and many that were’t prayed, by me anyway, were also answered.
It all went beautifully well. The ceremony was very personal with fabulous music from the arrival of the bride to the dancing out of the newly married couple, thoughtful and faithful prayers, joyful worship, kind and sometimes funny moments, leading through the oaths. Friends of the couple did wonderful readings with powerful messages, and this was amplified by the talk and just God’s presence with us all.
The cooled bottles were opened and people mingled and some went to enjoy the archery, led by a qualified instructor. Drinks were served after the ceremony in a large workshop, decorated for the occasion, freeing the marquees to be made ready for dinner. The newly weds walked down a track lined with confetti throwers. It was a fun symbol of them being showered with love and blessings by their friends and families as they journey together. The dinner was wonderful and much enjoyed. The sun set as people went back afterwards to enjoy the ceilidh in the workshop, while kind friends shooed me and my husband away from clearing the tables, sending us off to dance, while they sorted the plates and glasses. Amongst them was the minister and his wife who had stepped in to do the ceremony. How sacrificial of them! I was humbled indeed.
Now our son in law and daughter have embarked on married life on honeymoon and I know that the God they serve will be every bit as kind and gracious because he never changes. Though circumstances do. A happy, sunny wedding day isn’t a promise of unending roses in sunshine, and they know that. I am confident they are equipped and ready to begin this amazing challenge well.