An Awbury Arboretum Wedding with the Feel of a Backyard Wedding
A delayed home renovation and an ongoing pandemic turned what was initially a plan to elope to Ireland into a perfect day full of love, magic, and happiness all rolled into one at this Philadelphia arboretum wedding.
A Philadelphia Love Story
Gary and Vanessa both attended Philadelphia University for their undergraduate degrees. And while their paths crossed a few times over those four years (in relatively forgettable moments depending on who you ask), a relationship did not start until years after graduation in 2013 thanks to some serendipitous moments.
The first moment came during an alumni softball game. They were both on the same team but only spoke a few words to each other. Vanessa caught Gary’s eye when she dove trying to and succeeding in catching a baseball hit to left field.
The next moment happened the following weekend. They were both in Hoboken, NJ visiting different friends, and ran into each other at a German beer garden. A little bit of liquid courage got them talking.
Then, a late-night message with lyrics from one of the top songs of the time “Call Me Maybe” was enough to get Vanessa interested!
From Date Nights to Travel Dates
After several months of weekday date nights and weekend nights out that they never wanted to end, their relationship became more serious. What started as shared interests in “one more drink” or “one more bar” turned into a shared love of traveling. And soon travel plans started to develop.
In the summer of 2014, they took their first major trip together: the West Coast. There they road-tripped and camped at National Parks between visiting friends in Seattle and San Francisco. Soon after, they moved into their favorite apartment in Old City Philly, adopted a cat, and headed out for another road trip.
In 2016, they bought a 100-year-old house together in South Philly, which needed to be fully gutted. Even with their architecture and interior design backgrounds, the renovation took longer than either imagined and was part of the delay in wedding planning.
Then in November 2020 amid the chaos that was that year and after Gary’s COVID test came back negative (thus, ending his self-quarantine), he proposed in their South Philly home. Using a picture from their first trip together that usually hung on the first wall they built together, he asked Vanessa to marry him.
From an Ireland Elopement to an Arboretum Wedding
Almost immediately after the proposal, the couple set out on planning their wedding. They had originally planned on eloping to Ireland. But due to the ongoing pandemic, they had a change of heart.
Like most people, they hadn’t seen so many family members and friends in over a year and a half. Next to getting married, the most important aspect of their wedding was sharing the day with as many of their closest loved ones as they could. Even still, they could not invite everyone due to guidelines set at the time by the city of Philadelphia.
Since eloping was out of the picture, the couple decided they wanted to throw an elevated backyard wedding. This suited their personalities and love of hosting. However, living in the city meant that their 10-foot-square back patio was not enough space to throw a backyard wedding.
In the end, Vanessa and Gary chose to have their ceremony and reception at the Awbury Arboretum in the Germantown neighborhood of Northwest Philadelphia. And it couldn’t have been a better choice! The Awbury Arboretum “Portico” meshed all their wants into one space. The grounds themselves felt like an Irish/English garden with rolling hills and overgrown paths.
Creating An Elevated Backyard Wedding in the City
The venue itself is honestly beautiful and could have worked as is. However, to create the “Elevated Backyard Wedding” of their dreams, they set about planning the details. The venue’s blank slate along with the architecture and grounds allowed Vanessa and Gary to design a day that spoke to who they were as a couple. With the help of friends and family, they were able to decorate as they wanted, which allowed Vanessa to bring her romantic-boho vision to life via the color palette, decorations, flower arrangements, and tablescape details.
The Wedding Day
After months of planning, Vanessa and Gary’s September wedding day was finally here! Vanessa got ready with her bridal party in her bridal suite across the Schuykill River at the Residence Inn by Marriott Bala Cynwyd. Gary meanwhile got ready at Love City Brewing in Center City with his groomsmen.
The Bridal Look
From the makeup to the accessories to the dress, Vanessa wanted an elevated version of herself for her arboretum wedding. As someone who doesn’t wear a lot of makeup on a daily basis, Vanessa kept the bridal makeup light and fresh. It was not over-the-top, but rather it enhanced her beautiful features.
She wore her hair in a low, loose updo with a few braids throughout. While she would have loved real flowers in her hair, the worry of making sure they stayed alive made her look for something else. She ended up finding preserved eucalyptus hairpins at BHLDN, which her hairstylist placed throughout the hairdo. The final touch was a hat pin that once belonged to her grandmother. Her grandfather wanted it to be her “something old, something borrowed, and something blue.”
For her jewelry, Vanessa wore a pair of gold leaf earrings she already owned and a gold bracelet her mom surprise gifted her. They were simple, but they tied into the look beautifully. Gary also surprised her with a gift. During the wedding planning, they had discussed couples’ gifts, and Vanessa had mentioned a piece of jewelry she could wear every day, not just for special occasions. The ethically-made, round-cut diamond pendant necklace from Brilliant Earth was the perfect piece!
Creating a Custom Edith Élan Wedding Dress
When it was time, the mother-of-the-bride helped her daughter get into the custom-designed Edith Élan dress. Vanessa and Lourdes had met their freshman year at Philadelphia University. Long before any proposal, Vanessa knew that when the day came, she would only wear one of Lourdes’s designs.
To create the bride’s custom wedding dress, Lourdes first had Vanessa go try on dresses. As it turns out, many of the styles Vanessa thought she would like (a sweetheart neckline, strapless or off-the-shoulder, fitted throughout) were not styles she felt confident nor special in. Instead, Lourdes took all the elements Vanessa liked from varying dresses and combined them into one elevated look. Lourdes also made sure to design the dress to have a detachable skirt. It was a detail that Vanessa had decided on as a child, and the only one that survived the design process. In the end, the neckline, tapered straps, sheer lace panels, and buttons down the back were the details that made the dress (and Vanessa) feel unique, sexy, and timeless. And when combined with the rest of her look, she felt like a romantic-boho version of herself.
Center City First Look
After getting ready, Vanessa and Gary had their first look at The Rail Park greenway in Center City. It was this moment that brought the bride the most serenity and clarity that day.
Vanessa had been nervous all morning about sticking to the timeline and ensuring everyone else was having a good time. So much so, that she hadn’t taken a breath or enjoyed all the “traditional” bridal pampering. But, immediately after stepping into the dress, a sense of calm washed over her and she filled with excitement. She could not get out of the hotel room or through traffic fast enough. She wanted traffic to part for her car so that she could get to Gary faster!
At the first look, the whole world melted away when she saw Gary’s back. For the first time that day, she felt at peace and she could not stop smiling. In that private moment, they also exchanged written vows before heading back to the Awbury Arboretum for the wedding ceremony.
Awbury Arboretum Wedding Ceremony
The wedding ceremony took place on the lawn in front of the historic Francis Cope House that sits on the property. Vanessa wore the detachable a-line skirt and matching chapel-length veil for the ceremony. She walked down the house’s front steps arm-in-arm with her parents. Together they made their way down the aisle as a sea of smiling friends and family looked on and the guitarist played.
Waiting for Vanessa at the altar were her brothers (and best people), flower girls, ring bearer, groomsmen, and bridesmaids. In the warm glow of the late afternoon sun, Vanessa and Gary stood before their friends and family as they united in marriage. Bringing a touch of Ireland into the celebration, the couple held hands for the Celtic handfasting ceremony. After the ribbon was removed, Vanessa and Gary exchanged wedding rings. They also signed their marriage certificate before their first kiss as husband and wife. They then walked back down the aisle to a shower of dried hydrangea petals (a task the mother of the bride lovingly took on during the wedding planning).
The Elevated Backyard Reception
The cocktail hour was held on the wraparound porch. During cocktail hour, guests were able to order the “Pattison” custom cocktail, which was named after Gary and Vanessa’s cat Pattison who in turn is named after the street the Philadelphia sports complexes sit on – Pattison Ave. Guests also enjoyed passed hors-d’oeuvres, lawn games, a fire pit, and the company of the venue’s goats.
The reception took place on the back patio of the house under a tent. The tables underneath varied in shape and size, but each was decorated with blush and terracotta-colored table linens and assorted glass bottles filled with garden flowers. Vanessa and Gary named the tables after different streets and landmarks around Philadelphia associated with locations related to their relationship and friendships. Guests sat at tables labeled: Fishtown, Dalessandro’s, Boathouse Row, Manayunk, Reading Terminal, and South Philly amongst many others.
At one back corner of the tent, the sweets table sat with a small cake and cupcakes in a variety of flavors. However, some of the cupcakes didn’t sit out for long as furry bandits stole several bites before the party had even started. The sweetheart table was also at the back of the tent where Vanessa and Gary wanted it to be. They knew they didn’t want to be the center of the reception’s attention. They also intuitively knew they wouldn’t be sitting for long periods. Between the dancing, chatting, and laughing, they were right!
The start of the wedding reception saw the newlyweds dance to “Simply the Best” by Noah Reid. An homage to one of the couple’s favorite shows, Schitt’s Creek. The dancing continued throughout the rest of the evening. It only paused for toasts by Vanessa’s younger brother and Gary’s niece, and to sing Vanessa “Happy Birthday” as it also happened to be her birthday. Shortly after the toasts, Vanessa removed the a-line skirt to reveal the more fitted, fun, and sexy look underneath.
Vanessa and Gary did not want to have a traditional wedding cake or cake cutting during the reception. Instead, Vanessa found a custom piñata maker on Etsy who created a three-tiered “cake” and decorated it with cascading paper flowers in the wedding colors. Armed with a mini Phillies baseball bat, many took a swing, but it would not break. Not until Lourdes (who was also a bridesmaid) took a whack at it!
The After Party
The wedding reception couldn’t end without two things. One, a Philadelphia University alumni picture. And two, the singing of the Philadelphia Eagles’ fight song “Fly, Eagles Fly” as the newlyweds are big Eagles fans.
After the reception ended, guests were shuttled back to the Residence Inn. There Vanessa and Gary had reserved the lobby area around the fireplace for the afterparty. The brothers and father of the bride delivered the late-night snacks to guests: Philly cheesesteaks!
The afterparty went on late into the night and early into the next morning. And while they’d say the wedding didn’t go perfectly as planned. I.e. mail gets delayed, mother nature has different plans, and traffic builds up. Vanessa and Gary’s “Elevated Backyard” arboretum wedding was still perfect. It was a day about two people becoming one family, and everyone in attendance was there to support and celebrate that!
The Philadelphia Awbury Arboretum Wedding Vendors
Custom Bridal Gown/Veil – Edith Élan
Glam Squad – Daneene Jensen Hair & Makeup
Groom’s Suit – Indochino
Photographer – Nicole Cordisco
Ceremony Guitarist – Ethan Caine
DJ – Silver Sound
Ceremony Flowers and Bridal Party Bouquets – Vault & Vine
Reception Flowers – Cut Flower Exchange of Penna & Mom’s Garden
Linens – Party Rental Ltd.
Birthday Cake – The Frosted Fox Cake Shop
Cupcakes – My Mom and Aunt
Wedding Cake Pinata – Etsy
Transportation – King Limousine
Catering – Peachtree Catering & Events
Venue – Portico: Awbury Arboretum
Bridal Prep – Residence Inn by Marriott Philadelphia Bala Cynwyd
Groom’s Prep – Love City Brewery
First Look – The Rail Park
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