Choosing your wedding venue is the first major step in your wedding planning journey, but how you then choose to use the spaces at your venue is critical, not only to your guests’ comfort and enjoyment, but also to putting your own personal stamp on the spaces to make them intrinsically, uniquely yours.
Couples wanting a quintessentially English, countryside wedding are drawn to The Walled Garden at Cowdray because of the beautiful outdoor spaces which lend themselves so perfectly to a summer outdoor ceremony and afternoon drinks reception. You may only look upon the Courtyard Room and Castle Room as backup spaces in case of inclement weather. Couples planning an autumn or winter wedding may assume the indoor spaces are their only option, and may not plan to use the outdoor spaces at all. As a professional wedding planner, I am here to challenge both those perceptions and to encourage couples to make the most of all the spaces that their chosen wedding venue offers!
Firstly, let’s look at why you should maximise all of the spaces at your venue and how to do it. In my opinion, the most successful and memorable weddings are those which take guests on a journey, revealing new spaces and adding new sensory interest for each of the main chapters of your wedding day. This allows guests the benefit of changes of scene and also the opportunity to stretch their legs, mingle with social groups ad explore their surroundings beyond the immediate. However, doing this successfully is more than simply rotating guests around every few hours, but rather more a case of creating a cohesive and well thought out flow around the venue, revealing new spaces to simultaneously signal a change in tempo, mood and dynamic.
In summer time, instead of inviting guests to watch the traditional cutting of the cake either at the end of your wedding breakfast or on the dancefloor, why not invite guests outside for cake, coffee and petits fours. If you time it right you’ll catch golden hour, offering the perfect romantic backdrop just as the sun sets in the distance. In winter time, after your wedding ceremony in the Courtyard Room, instead of staying inside for your drinks reception, why not invite guests outside into an inviting and cosy area decked out with festoon lighting, soft seating, rugs and blankets. Enjoy hot toddies and roasted chestnuts from a traditional barrow, mulled wine and warm winter cocktails and the option of a stylish hot chocolate station where guests can add their own marshmallows, chocolate chips and flavoured toppings.
Once you’ve decided on the flow of your day throughout the spaces, my advice is to then look at how you can make the most of all the architectural features and how to incorporate them into your bespoke design. Look at how you can dress not just the main spaces, but also the transitional areas and the nooks and crannies. For example creating a ‘corridor of light’ with lanterns or nightlights, or even a floral tunnel, between the Castle Room and the Courtyard Room. Make the most of available surfaces such as the beautiful oak table and the built in bar to set out framed photos of the two of you throughout your relationship, or customised framed fun signage or photos of a beloved pet. These transitional areas as are also really great places to leave a polaroid camera, message book or frame as guests will be passing by – leaving them on a table in the corner risks them being overlooked by your guests. Look for areas which you can cleverly elevate to become ‘instagrammable moments’ with the addition of some stylish floral designs – an arch around the ancient gate, an epic floral wrap around the trunk of a beautiful big tree, a floral cloud suspended from one of the branches, or as we did, installing an epic asymmetrical floral arch on the pagoda and a fun floral tumble out of the central pond, surrounded by lanterns. Guests just love to pose beside a floral installation and take selfies!
Lastly, my advice is to maximise every inch of your wedding venue for your wedding photographs. The Walled Garden offers so much potential for creativity and fun with your photographer – from intimate portraits inside the glasshouse or against the natural exposed brickwork, to natural and relaxed portraits surrounded by meadowy borders, as well as fabulous fun group shots taken from above in the bridal suite and romantic wide shots framed by the iconic ruins at dusk. Always, always allow plenty of time with your photographer for these so you can relax, explore and capture those precious ‘once in a lifetime’ moments to cherish in the years to come.