Wedding Details: Fresh Air

When you think about your wedding, you probably don’t think of it being exactly like your sister’s, best friend’s or even your mother’s, because your wedding is your day. Brides often go out of their way to make their Big Day unique—fishbowls for centerpieces, sugar cookies as favors, or a special cultural aspect incorporated into the ceremony.

One of the best ways to make a ceremony and reception stand out is by choosing a memorable venue. For those looking to make their wedding even more special, sometimes an outdoor setting is the best option.

“Couples love outdoor events,” says Phyllis Jablonowski, CSEP, the owner of Eventricity, an event planning and production company in Glenside, and the manager of an outdoor venue. “Brides love feeling like they’re in a meadow, on the beach, in the woods, in the mountains.”

Here’s our guide to some of the most extraordinary outdoor venues in the area, in settings that can fit any budget.

Bartram’s Garden
54th Street and Lindbergh Boulevard, Philadelphia, PA, 215-729-5281,
Set on 45 acres of preserved gardens, wetlands and rolling lawns along the Schuylkill River, with a view of Philly’s skyline to boot, Bartram’s Garden is a distinctive and personal setting for the Big Day. “It’s so untraditional,” says Andrea Taylor, assistant to the director at Bartram’s Garden. “It’s truly unlike any place in the area.” Home to the oldest botanical garden in the country, the Garden combines natural with rustic. Couples can hold their outdoor ceremony in lush flower gardens filled with native herbaceous plants, trumpet flowers and soft yellowwood trees among hundreds of wildflowers; on the chance of rain, they can venture to the 18th–century Coach House, which seats 80 guests, or the stone, high-ceilinged barn with whitewashed walls, which accommodates 40 guests. Cocktails are served in any of these three locales, followed by a reception next to the Coach House, where event staff can erect a giant tent for 100-plus guests. With four caterers to select from, the food options are plenty—ethnic, formal, even a backyard BBQ. Bartram’s best-kept secret, though, might be its price—for only $1,950 plus an additional fee for the tent, the bride and groom get the use of the entire grounds as well as a one-year membership to Bartram’s Garden. Guests may also tour the colonial-era Bartram House for another $100. Consider it the icing on the wedding cake.

Bonnet Island Estate
2400 East Bay Ave., Bonnet Island, NJ, 609-494-9100,
Bonnet Island Estate is a dream setting for an extravagant outdoor affair. Bordered by the private Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge between Manahawkin and the approach to Long Beach Island, Bonnet Island Estate’s seclusion and nearly 360-degree view of Barnegat Bay make it one of the most sought-after Shore wedding locations. “It’s a photographer’s dream,” says general manager Ginny Connolly. “Brides fall in love with the estate when they see it.” For the ceremony, couples have the option of the canopied wooden-planked veranda, with an ocean view and accommodations for 250 guests, or the Nantucket-style Boat House Chapel, a white post-and-beam barn built in Vermont and transported beam by beam to the estate, which overlooks the bay and seats 170 people. The 250-person ballroom with its 30-foot vaulted ceiling provides another breathtaking view of the Atlantic with its floor-
to-ceiling windows. Choose from stations or a black-tie sit-down dinner catered by Bonnet Island Caterers. The price tag for this prestigious estate is lofty ($13,000-$19,000 for property rental and $99 per head for food), but its style might make the cost worth it. A plus: The estate rents 12 suites that are convenient for housing out-of-town guests and the wedding party.

Cliveden of the National Trust
6401 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, PA, 267-763-0101,
Where do you find an outdoor space big enough to accommodate 350 tented guests in the city? Cliveden, in Germantown, is your answer. Set on six acres of uninterrupted land surrounded by stone walls, Cliveden is an urban venue with the country touch. The site of the Battle of Germantown in 1777, Cliveden encompasses all that is Colonial. The estate’s Carriage House has high-beamed ceilings, a pine floor and stone walls; it seats 60 to 90 guests. A tent can be erected outside the Carriage House for a second option. Outdoor ceremonies can be held in a grassy location chosen and decorated by the couple. An eight-hour rental of the Carriage House is $1,750. With a list of caterers offering menus ranging from classic French to multicultural, as well as ranging in price (around $50-$125 per head BYO), in addition to renting furniture and tableware from an outside source, Cliveden could get a bit pricey for a large gathering. But according to Jablonowski, who’s the event director for the estate, “Cliveden allows brides and grooms to personalize everything about their day. It’s worth the cost when the entire day is all yours.”

Greystone Hall
West Chester, PA, 610-696-1272,
If a fairytale wedding is what you’re looking for, Greystone Hall might be your venue. Built circa 1907 outside West Chester, this private English country estate features a Tudor/ Jacobean-style mansion set on some 475 acres of spacious rural land. “It’s something you’d see in the movies,” says Velda Moog, managing partner of Greystone Hall. “It’s as if you’re re-creating The Great Gatsby. It really is perfect for the storybook wedding.” Ceremonies are held on the mansion’s fountain terrace overlooking 600 feet of lawn, with a white-columned pergola covered with a white trellis. Though no couple likes to think of a rain plan, Greystone Hall is equipped to deal with last-minute weather: Inside the Great Hall are white oakwood-paneled walls, stained-glass windows, a grand staircase and massive white columns. Following the ceremony, guests can enjoy cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the North Garden with its large marble fountain, which is lit during the evening and surrounded by benches. The patio of the garden is great for stationary appetizers, with its two wet bars (one on the patio, the other in the Iron and Glass Palm Room). Running $5,000-$7,000 for site rental, Greystone Hall offers three caterers who will serve buffet-style, stations or sit-down, with a $75-$125 per-head rate. The reception is held in a large custom-designed Tent-Pavilion suitable for 200-plus people, arranged between two terraces overlooking the garden.

Normandy Farm
Route 202 and Morris Road, Blue Bell, PA, 215-616-8500,
What began as a dairy farm nestled in the heart of Montgomery County’s farming district in the 19th century now hosts a conference center, ballrooms, the Coleman Restaurant, and, coming soon, a 120-room luxury hotel. It’s also one of the best places to throw an outdoor wedding. “A lot of people love a historic, unique facility like Normandy Farm,” says Steven Letendre, the farm’s director of business development. The 10-acre property is surrounded by a high white stucco wall, which gives the farm a secluded feel. Ceremonies are held in the garden off the Grand Ballroom Terrace, a red brick patio outside the white-and-red-wood barn, which seats 400 guests. Inside the Grand Ballroom, an indoor ceremony—or reception—can be arranged on the off-chance of rain. The Silo Ballroom (around $75-$85 per head) seats 175 guests and is the most majestic of Normandy Farm’s spaces. The room shows off its three 45-foot, 75-year-old silos, which have been incorporated into the room to show the silos’ intricate stonework. And while the catering is restricted to one choice, at least it’s a superb one. Celebrity chef Jim Coleman creates a menu that completes the historic, sophisticated wedding ambience with fresh foods and a twist of traditional American fare.

Pen Ryn Mansion
1601 State Road, Bensalem, PA, 215-633-0600,
The 2,000-foot tree-lined drive leading to Pen Ryn Mansion sets it apart from other outdoor wedding venues. But it’s the view from the large, 18th-century white mansion on the Delaware River that cements Pen Ryn’s place as one of Bucks County’s best wedding venues. “It’s all about the view,” says Mary Luongo, catering and sales manager for the estate. “There’s never a bad time of year to hold a wedding here.” Pen Ryn and its sister facility, the newly restored Belle Voir Manor, offer 100 acres of spacious, extremely private, wooded, landscaped grounds with a colonial feel. Set under a white-columned pergola, ceremonies ($300 for the rental)—held on the patio overlooking the grassy knoll leading to the river—are often candlelit with small hanging lanterns while the guests’ chairs, arranged in a casual semicircle, are draped with white toile. (One of Pen Ryn’s two ballrooms is used as a backup ceremony location.) Cocktails and appetizers are often served on the outdoor patio with a view of the Delaware, before the reception moves into one of the two ballrooms at the mansion or Belle Voir. The bride- and groom-to-be can choose from buffet stations or a sit-down affair using Pen Ryn’s onsite executive chef and caterer. Though the rental fee runs $500-$4,000, depending on the time of year, Pen Ryn’s view of the Delaware River, -coupled with its beautifully landscaped grounds, make it one of the most desirable outdoor wedding venues in the Philadelphia area.

Winterthur, An American Country Estate
Route 52, Winterthur, DE, 302-888-4804, 800-448-3883,
A Winterthur wedding might be this region’s best-kept secret. For the past two years, Winterthur has arranged outdoor ceremonies and receptions on its 19th-century estate once owned by Henry Francis du Pont. Couples can hold their ceremony at the estate’s Reflecting Pool, a shallow pond filled with water lilies and surrounded by azalea gardens (there’s one catch: only -Associate-level Winterthur members may use the Reflecting Pool for gatherings, and an annual Associate membership is $1,000). Winter-thur’s rain plan might be the most extraordinary Plan B of all the local venues—the estate opens its museum gallery reception area for indoor ceremonies, and after the ceremony, guests can mingle throughout the two-story gallery space featuring artwork from the estate’s collection. “Most country clubs are pretty cookie-cutter,” says Joan -Johnson-Wedel, senior events coordinator for Winterthur. “We’re devoted to making the day special for the guests.” The reception can be held in Winterthur’s visitors center, where for $2,000 it can accommodate up to 300 guests in its Asian-themed space. Using Restaurant Associates, who also serve at The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, as the caterer, Winterthur charges around $100 per head for a buffet or sit-down dinner for five hours—which is a small price to pay to celebrate like a duPont.