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A garden party wedding reception in Canterbury

A garden party wedding reception in Canterbury

Written by Laura Atri

After swapping their 'I do's, Sarah and Phil headed home for their garden-party celebration...


Sarah Watkins, a civil servant, and Phil Walker, a lighting designer, both 29, became husband and wife at Swarling Manor in Kent, before hosting the reception at their home in a village near Canterbury.

Photography: Schryver Photo  

Budget: £10,000

Flower budget: £450

Phil and I met in university halls in Nottingham on the very first day. We became engaged exactly 10 years to the date later when Phil whisked me off for a surprise weekend away in the Peak District.

We decided on a floral, vintage fête vibe for our wedding. Choosing a colour scheme was just impossible – there’s too many amazing shades to decide on, so I just went with whichever ones I felt like at the time! We wanted a very personal and handmade wedding to suit our garden.

Phil jokingly suggested that we have the reception in our garden. We had recently moved to a house in a small village in Kent with a big, overgrown garden. We laughed it off as a mad idea, but the more we talked about it, the more it made sense. For the ceremony venue, we had gone for a walk and came across Swarling Manor nestled in the valley of the downs near our village. When we discovered it did weddings we knew it was meant to be! 

As we were having a garden theme it was really important that the flowers reflected the same vibe.

The week before the wedding, I went with my bridesmaids and now mother-in-law to Blooming Green to hand pick our flowers. I loved that they were naturally grown and that we could pick whatever we fancied. We used a real mix of flowers including dahlias, hydrangea, cornflowers and many more.

I had planned to arrange the bouquets with my bridesmaids, but realising we were swamped, Michelle, a family friend, stepped in to help. Her arrangements were beautiful, but relaxed.

I asked one of my bridesmaids, Zara, to make our cake. For years we have enjoyed her yummy treats so it was very fitting. The cake was so beautiful and tasty with real flowers which cascaded down the side. My step mum made mini chutneys for the favours and we put gold dinosaurs on top, which Jenny, another bridesmaid, painstakingly balanced

I had quite a haphazard approach to the decorations – if I had an idea or saw something that I liked such as macrame jars or fabric tassels, I just made them and thought I’d worry later about how they would look! I think there’s a lot of expectation to have a perfectly pruned day, so we were conscious not to put too much pressure on ourselves.

As our wedding was so handmade there was potential for so many things to go wrong. However, my bridesmaids were truly amazing and really helped us. When we arrived back to our garden after the ceremony and saw it bustling with family and friends, it was all worth it.

Our evening party involved dancing, dancing and more dancing! We also had fireworks and pizza, which went down a treat. The bridesmaids were the first on the dance floor and the last off. I’ll never forget when we went outside underneath the fairy lights and had our own little boogie.

My tip for brides-to-be: I found that planning was key. Having a timetable of the day with jobs assigned took the stress out, so I could relax and enjoy the day. 

Steal their style!

FLORIST: Blooming Green Flowers – pick your own VENUE: Swarling Manor DRESS: Jenny Packham, via eBay SHOES: Rachel Simpson BRIDESMAIDS’ DRESSES: John Lewis GROOMSWEAR: Kenneth Cole and Ted Baker CATERER: Mulberry’s Tea Room HAIR: Caraccio’s Hair & Beauty