Entertaining in your garden this autumn
It’s October. My daughter’s 200-guest wedding scheduled for later this month was a casualty of COVID-19; however, in its place will be an intimate ceremony with 20 family members in our back yard.
What this means is that I’ve become a very busy mother-of-the bride, adding to all the typical wedding preparations the task of transforming my yard into a wedding venue.
You too may be planning an al fresco event this fall. Let me share a few suggestions to enable you to enjoy the special occasion:
First, find a specific “venue” within your own yard. I envisioned guests sitting on the lawn while my daughter Kate and her fiancé stood in front of a mature redbud tree.
She, however, selected a more secluded spot nestled within the garden as the place for them to recite their vows, with guests seated on our bluestone patio. A positive for Kate’s choice: None of the women will have to worry about getting their high heels stuck in soft ground.
Next, consider how you can enhance the venue. Can you add any new infrastructure, structures, hardscaping or plant material? The answer to that question for me is “yes” to all four.
Most of these changes were on my to-do list anyway; the wedding has just precipitated my doing them this summer and fall. I enlisted the assistance of fellow Master Gardener Susan Allen, who gardens professionally. She helped with the planning, prepping, pruning and planting.
Infrastructure includes permanent additions such as decks and patios or sturdier porch railings.
The infrastructure needed for my own yard is something that I’ve been hoping to add for the last 25 years — a fence tall enough to keep the deer out.
I’m glad I contacted the installer this summer to get on his schedule; many other people must be undertaking their own home-improvement projects during this stay-near-home period.
Although there’s overlap, a structure is something that is more temporary or portable. During a preview photo session, we realized that the bride and groom needed something to frame them. In our case, the structure is a metal arch for the couple to stand beneath.
You may consider a chuppah, arbor, pergola or gazebo. You may also need a tent for shade or protection from the elements. Who knows what the weather will be on a given day in October? (For insurance, I’ve purchased several white umbrellas!)
After observing a trial run, I realized that the patio needed to be enlarged to accommodate my daughter in a bridal gown escorted by her father and then by her new husband.
This hardscaping project involved several trips to the stone yard to secure large pieces of stone that were laid and leveled. To do that required more than 1,200 pounds of soil.
For your event, you may need to build a wall, walkway or firepit.
The plants include four new oakleaf hydrangeas behind the arch and a variegated hydrangea in a shady spot beside the patio.
I’m also including ‘Everillo’ carex; burgundy, gray-green, and chartreuse heuchera (aka coral bells); and hostas. Ornamental cabbage, pansies and white pumpkins will complete my daughter’s aesthetic.
Depending on your color scheme, mums and asters add to beautiful autumnal displays as well. Many plants may be placed in the ground or in containers.
Following Susan’s maxim of removing anything that wouldn’t look better before the wedding, we pruned old foliage from Lenten roses, woody stalks of azaleas, crape myrtle branches that were low hanging, entire leggy abelias that were struggling in too much shade, and dead branches in the overhanging dogwood and redbud trees.
Weeding before the wedding
There’s also the lawn. Each September my husband and I overseed, and last fall we did an extensive lawn renovation that was successful until our hot dry July.
This August we killed the weeds (crabgrass, nutsedge and Bermuda grass) that took advantage of our weakened grass. Then we spot-thatched with a thatching rake where the dead grass and weeds were.
My husband aerated over Labor Day weekend, taking advantage of the gorgeous weather. We never skimp on the seed (certified blue tag), and we applied a starter fertilizer for the first application in September.
If you don’t have time for seed germination, sod gives an immediate swath of green — although the prep work is similar.
And, finally, I’m going to contact our neighbors prior to the event with a request that they refrain from using motorized equipment in their own yards for two hours on a specific Saturday morning. Wish us luck!
Lela Martin is a Master Gardener with the Chesterfield County office of the Virginia Cooperative Extension.