When Hurricane Ivan threatened to touch down on the day of Sara Barkley Landrieu's wedding in 2004, the bride-to-be just hung a sign on the gate that read, "Wedding canceled due to Ivan." It wasn't a big deal, she says, because it was a backyard wedding.
A backyard wedding means something different to everyone. It can be an extravagant affair complete with a dance floor, floral arrangements and catered food or it can be a potluck meal with guests barefoot in the grass. But to Landrieu it meant no caterers or bands to reschedule and no venue deposit to lose.
"We didn't have anything invested in it," she says.
Landrieu, an interior decorator and occasional event planner, was able to get married the following April at her Solomon Street home, with a couple of pigs in the oven for homemade cochon de lait and DIY cake stands and centerpieces.
Landrieu is hosting another backyard wedding at her house in February, this one for her daughter Ashley. She says if more people knew how easy it was, they would opt for at-home fun as opposed to venue-based weddings.
"Weddings have gotten really out of hand, financially, for most people," Landrieu says. "Most people can't afford to drop ... anywhere from $20,000 to $120,000, or more than that, on a wedding."
Debbie Blanchard, an event coordinator with New Orleans Party Rentals, says she has seen an increase in backyard weddings over the past year, and she suspects they have become popular not only because they're more budget-friendly but they also offer the couple freedom.
"Some [people] like the flexibility of saying, 'No one is going to tell me when my party will go from and to,'" she says. "They have a little more flexibility if it's in their own yard."
Even backyard weddings can be over-the-top affairs. Blanchard says many people don't realize how much they'll have to spend to set up a venue at home. "I think, honestly, they start out thinking it's going to be cheaper. ... They're just surprised, when they start ordering all this stuff, how quickly it adds up," she says.
For backyard weddings, Blanchard says many couples rent a tent with a dance floor, outdoor lighting, chairs for guests and even heating and cooling systems. Making your backyard into a wedding venue can be pricey, with couples spending as much as $5,000 on tents and chairs alone.
The main reason for a tent is to have a rain plan. Tents are waterproof and flaps can be added to the sides to block wind or add warmth. Blanchard says many couples reserve tents in case there's rain, and then want to cancel the order when they realize the wedding day is bright and sunny. But most rental companies won't allow for last-minute cancellations.
Landrieu didn't have a rain plan at her wedding, and she says she'll wing it again at Ashley's. Having a house as a shelter makes this easier.
"In my case, I was just prepared to take all of my furniture into the basement if it turned into an emergency," she says. "You can fit 200 people in my house. "
But flexibility is the name of the backyard wedding game. It's your space, Landrieu says, and you can fill it with whatever fanfare you think you need. The trick is personalizing each element of the wedding to get what you want out of the day.
Another kind of backyard party that's gaining popularity is a potluck wedding in which guests each contribute a dish to the feast. New Orleans native Liz Matthews got married in North Carolina last spring, and though the party was catered, friends and family of the bride and groom all contributed something to make the event special.
The bride's college friends all cooked for the rehearsal dinner. A musician friend of the couple stepped in to play guitar during the ceremony and another acted as official wedding photographer. A family friend presided over the wedding vows.
Wildflowers, which were collected throughout the hills of Western Carolina, were arranged by an army of friends and family the morning of the wedding. Vickie Bilisoly, a friend in attendance, says the collaboration made the whole evening more memorable.
"If you needed more greenery or wildflowers, you just ran outside with the clippers," she says. "A bridal brunch? No thanks. This was much more fun, and we were able to admire our handiwork at the reception that night."
Landrieu considered a potluck wedding this time around. "That's a really cute idea," she says, though her daughter opted for food trucks to feed guests. Landrieu's neighbors donated their driveways for makeshift bars, and a band will play on her front porch. The whole block is invited to the party.
"When you have a wedding at home it's just so much nicer," Landrieu says. "It's more intimate. It's more about the couple, about their love."