Throw caution—and those four-inch heels—to the wind and plan a laid-back, outdoor reception that’s fun for all ages.
THERE’S SOMETHING superbly romantic about picnics. Maybe it’s the anticipation of a day spent without walls in fresh air and sunshine puddles. But the idea of a comfy blanket on the grass and some wine and cheese makes us want to break into song—Julie Andrews-style. You too? Well, look no further. Your picnic wedding reception inspiration has arrived.
Wedding receptions these days often have to wear a lot of hats—ceremony space, photography backdrop, playground, and entertainment venue. Best for events with 50 guests or less, a picnic wedding could be played up and shabby chic with chandeliers hanging from low-hanging tree branches, real wooden tables, and antique picnic basket décor or it could be block party chill with vintage coolers, quilts on the lawn, and lots of games.
For our small outdoor reception we wanted to keep it laid-back and DIY yet stylish and classy, more 1950s backyard barbecue than down home pig roast. We chose bright colors, soft fabrics, fun cocktails, and easy finger foods to keep our guests mingling and lounging all day.
Everyone loves vintage, but feel free to mix and match with this relaxed shindig. We paired bright colors with hand-me-down quilts, antique board games with Frisbee and croquet. Whether you’re bringing in tables or dining a la grass, picnic baskets stuffed with wine, flowers, snacks, and small games make perfect, interactive centerpieces. Or use tote bags in place of picnic baskets and give them away as gifts.
Scour your local yard and garage sales for funky coolers, wooden milk crates, and old glassware. Use your favorites as décor—fill coolers with sparkling water, soda, and beer, hang pretty bottles filled with wildflowers from trees or roof overhangs—and use the rest to create different heights to display food and drinks.
Arrange many little places for guests to sit and talk but let them choose their preference. If you have older guests, provide a few tables with chairs. For kids, set up blankets with games and coloring books. Use umbrellas and trees to create shady spots. Set up a head table (or head blanket) for the wedding party on a rise overlooking everything or right in the heart of the party.
Use the landscape and any available structures to your advantage. If you have a pavilion or cabin, use the shade it creates to protect food, electronics, and musicians.
Your outdoor wedding is only as good as your location. While mom and dad’s backyard might seem ideal, lack of bathrooms, inclement weather, and general cleanup could be more of a headache than the cost savings are worth, especially when you consider the plethora of parks West Virginia has to offer.
That’s why we chose Camp Muffly, the heart of Monongalia County’s 4-H camp programs since the 1920s. Southeast of Morgantown off of Interstate 68 along 4-H Camp Road, Camp Muffly is a cool green oasis outside the city, offering pavilion rentals, a historic log cabin, pool rentals, and a dining hall. The camp is also a popular local wedding spot.
In an outdoor setting, a buffet-style experience is par for the course. We wanted guests to be able to take food back to their seats and feel comfortable carrying it around, so we added colorful Frisbees as plate holders. Paired with recycled, compostable paper plates, Frisbees can do triple duty as gifts and an after-dinner activity, too.
Rather than an elaborate spread, we chose easy to transport, tasty, finger foods. Build-your-own sliders, gourmet cheese and crackers, sliced veggies and dips, grilled corn on the cob, popsicles, and mini-pies for dessert were delicious and fit our theme perfectly.
ALL NATURAL BUG REPELLENT
Keep stinging and biting bugs at bay with this kid- and pet-friendly bug repellent. Cut lemons in half and stick cloves into the skin and inner flesh of the citrus. Place halved lemons in pretty bowls, plates, or cups near meats and salads that often attract bugs. Put in place at least 30 minutes before setting out food to deter pests.
BONUS: Smells amazing and is chemical-free.
BALLOON ICE CUBES
Keep wine bottles and soda chilled all day by filling up several dozen colorful water balloons and freezing them overnight. Display in pretty bowls or a vintage cooler.
BONUS: Once they’ve melted, they make great ammunition. Look out!
EASY PLACEMAT PILLOWS
Pillows can be pricey. But if you want guests to feel comfortable and you want to add a little color and pizzazz to your outdoor party, cushions of some kind are a must. This DIY version is quick, painless, and even sewing machine-free.
For one pillow you’ll need:
- Two placemats that match your décor or a double-lined placemat that’s stitched around the edges
- Plastic grocery bags
- Fabric glue (if you choose unstitched)
- Fabric waterproofing spray
Wash placemats and dry flat. Once dry, if using two placemats, stitch or fabric glue the edges, leaving a 6-inch opening on one side to stuff. Press flat and wait 30 minutes or follow fabric glue directions until completely dry.
If using a double-lined placemat, using a seam ripper, make a 6-inch opening along one edge.
Ball up plastic bags (to fit them into the opening) and stuff the pillow to your desired fluffiness. Finish gluing and clothespin opening until dry and secure.
BONUS: Make your pillows water (and spill) resistant with Rust-Oleum NeverWet Outdoor Fabric Spray.
The key to any outdoor party is participation—even if it’s just in some relaxed conversation. Games like croquet, lawn bowling, cornhole, Frisbee, and badminton are relatively easy to set up and fun for all ages. Guests who’d rather lounge can enjoy board and card games. Hiring a band, DJ, or musician also helps to keep the party moving, just keep in mind any limitations on noise or electricity usage.
As the light wanes, gather up the kids and the young at heart and see who can catch the most fireflies. All you’ll need to make bug-safe, temporary firefly housing is a few wide-mouth Mason jars with screw bands, cheesecloth with small holes poked in it, and dry grass. Set your buggy friends free all at once for a big light show at the end of the night after you announce the winner.
Download a fun Scrabble font for free online and print your letters on cardstock. Then spray paint or mark out your game’s boundaries and divvy up the letters according to the standard rules. Set up letter holders on each side with twine and a few sticks and have a no-holds-barred contest of vocabulary might.
BONUS: Using thin pieces of craft wood, a wood stain pen, and some spray-on wood sealer, you can make your scrabble game into a new family heirloom.
THE DOS AND DON’TS
➸ Do make a backup plan for bad weather. Have a tent on standby or set one up in advance for guests to escape the sun.
➸ Do think about your view. Will you be gazing at green hills or a busy public pool?
➸ Do spend some time at the site during the exact hours you plan to be there and in different weather.
➸ Does a fast-moving rainstorm form a river through your intended buffet line? Is high noon too bug- infested to breathe? (Note: Sometimes this can’t be avoided. Try giving out bug spray and sunscreen as extra gifts.)
➸ Don’t forget the ice. Lots and lots of ice. You can’t have enough when you’re miles from a refrigerator.
➸ Don’t forget your older guests. If Aunt Peggy isn’t crazy about dining among the dandelions, set up a few tables under trees or tents and let guests choose if they’d prefer picnic or table seating when they RSVP.
➸ Don’t forget to check ordinances and laws related to any site you rent or reserve. Many parks have rules against alcohol and noise.
This isn’t your typical summer camp. In fact, though Camp Muffly has played host to many a Monongalia County 4-H camp since the 1920s, the site isn’t just for kids. Local clubs, businesses, and organizations frequently seek it out for its quiet, green spaces, tall shade trees, and convenient location off of I-68 along 4-H Camp Road near Morgantown. Visitors can rent a pavilion or the camp’s pool facilities. A historic log cabin, fields of wildflowers, stone walkways, and sun dappled groves provide perfect photo opportunities for outdoor weddings and big events like the annual West Virginia Wine and Jazz Festival held at the camp each year. And Muffly’s dining facility is the ideal spot for meal prep or catered dinners with plenty of light and space for dancing and mingling with its high ceilings, big windows, and neutral color palette just begging to be the backdrop to nearly any themed event.
written by Mikenna Pierotti photographed by Carla Witt Ford and Elizabeth Roth