Venues: Take It Outside

There’s just something about an outdoor wedding. Great photo opportunities and beautiful scenery abound. Brides and grooms can tailor every detail of the celebration to their exact wishes. Guests can admire the gardens, find a quiet nook for a chat, or simply enjoy the views of the landscape. Plus, “at an outdoor wedding, people are generally more relaxed,” says wedding photographer Tom Underwood. “It’s a festive, casual mood.” Whatever your vision, these eight charming venues offer enough scope for the imagination so that you can bring your wedding dream to life.

There’s just something about an outdoor wedding. Great photo opportunities and beautiful scenery aside, holding your wedding or reception outdoors allows you to tailor every detail of your celebration to your exact wishes. Guests can admire the flowers in the gardens, find a quiet nook on the grounds for a chat, or enjoy the views of the landscape. “At an outdoor wedding, people are generally more relaxed,” says Tom Underwood, owner of Underwood Photography in Essex. “It’s a festive, casual mood.”

An outdoor venue also lets a bride and groom add their own personal touch to the affair. “More than anything, you can really control the look of a party,” says Emma Roberts, the owner of Boston-based Capers Catering. “It’s a blank slate, so whatever you bring to it really makes an impact, whether it be linens, lighting or tent decorations.”

Whatever your vision, these eight charming venues offer enough scope for the imagination so that you can bring your wedding dream to life.

The Codman House
The Codman House in Lincoln and its lovely gardens provide a perfect setting for the country bride who wants to add an elegant touch to her wedding. Its Italian Garden, a sunken space with a reflecting pool, statuary, columned trellis and perennial borders, is a breathtaking spot for a ceremony. “It’s really a beautiful backdrop for the bride and groom,” says Dianne Stahl, event coordinator for the site.

Run by Historic New England (formerly the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities), the Codman has a Carriage House for receptions, accommodating 70 inside or up to 130 if a tent is constructed nearby. Those with a larger party can tent the West meadow, which accommodates up to 230 guests.

Stahl says guests particularly enjoy exploring the grounds, where they will find the Dorothy Codman garden, an English-style perennial space near the house. “We can also arrange for tours of the house,” she says. “We often offer them during cocktail hour.”

Brides may choose their own caterer, and Stahl says she only books one event per day. Although there’s no formal curfew, parties tend to end by 11 p.m.

Larz Anderson Auto Museum
Looking for a little taste of Detroit at your wedding? Try the Larz Anderson Auto Museum. Part of a 64-acre park owned by the town of Brookline, the museum hosts outdoor weddings on the bowling green atop a hill with beautiful views of the Boston skyline. “I tell brides that there’s nothing they need to do to enhance the setting,” says Elln Hagney, visitor service manager at the museum.

The space can host receptions for up to 600 with a tent on the grounds, and a seated dinner with dancing for up to 125 inside the museum among a priceless collection of automobiles and historic automobilia. “People just love [the collection],” says Hagney. “Looking at a classic car from the ’40s just makes you smile.”

There are a few rules for those considering an indoor reception: No sand, soil, glitter, balloons, petals or birdseed may be used, and only votive candles three inches or shorter are permitted. “That’s inside,” says Hagney. “Outside, all bets are off.” Brides can choose from a list of 11 authorized caterers.

Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate
Minutes from downtown Boston in Canton is the Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate. Maintained by the Trustees of Reservations, this Georgian-style house has sweeping lawns and gardens surrounded by acres of fields and woodlands.

People like to use the formal gardens for the ceremony because of the beautiful view of the Neponsett Valley hills, says Beverly Ann Bonner, event manager at the estate.

The house can accommodate up to 100 people for a reception, and Bonner says they can do a party of 150 if a tent is used. The estate’s event team works with a list of approved caterers, and does only one event per weekend. “Rehearsals can be held at the estate as well,” says Bonner. The estate has a curfew of 10 p.m. for tented events and 11 p.m. for weekend events held inside the house. Tents may be used from May 1 to Oct. 31.

The Commandant’s House
For those who want maritime flair and the romance of history, consider the Commandant’s House at the Charlestown Navy Yard. Within Boston National Historical Park, the Commandant’s House is a nearly 200-year-old mansion that offers breathtaking views of Boston Harbor and the city’s skyline—and is located in the shadow of “Old Ironsides,” the USS Constitution.

The building itself was recently the site of the Junior League’s annual Decorators’ Show House, and got a revamping that includes an all-white changing room for brides. “It’s a very elegant building with a grand ballroom and formal parlors, a gracious veranda and lovely grounds,” says David Brouillette, deputy superintendent at the park.

The house can accommodate up to 150 people, and larger receptions can have a tent erected on the lawn next to the house. Couples can bring in their own caterer, although Brouillette offers a list of caterers who are familiar with the site.

And for those adventurous brides who’d like to arrive by something more dashing than a limousine, this venue has extra allure. “They can arrive by boat and get dropped off,” says Brouillette. “There’s a marina right next to us.”

Glen Magna Farms
A historic Colonial Revival mansion with 11 acres—including a rose garden, a formal garden and a wisteria-covered pergola—Glen Magna in Danvers can host outdoor weddings from April to October. “Everybody who books a ceremony on site here expects to have an outdoor wedding,” says director of events Heather King. “There are so many great spots on the property.” By far the most popular is the pergola, which leads to the Derby Summer House and the rose garden, which blooms in early summer with hundreds of heirloom roses.

The venue accommodates up to 200 guests in a tent or 125 attendees within the house, and couples must choose from an approved list of caterers. Glen Magna books only one event per day, and everything must end by 11:30 p.m. There are bride and groom changing rooms, and the wedding party may arrive up to two hours ahead of time to prepare.

Castle Hill at the Crane Estate
Built by plumbing fixture magnate Richard Crane in the 1920s, the Crane Estate in Ipswich is a Stuart-style mansion perched atop a hill overlooking Crane Beach, with views down the Grand Alleé, a half-mile sweep of lawn that stretches from house to ocean.

Couples frequently choose to have their ceremony on the lawn in front of the Great House, followed by cocktails on the patio, and dinner either inside the house or outside in a tent. “Generally, if the party is up to 200 people they can use the inside of the house for dining, and we’ll use a tent for large groups up to 250,” says Karen Harrison, program and event manager.

Many wedding parties choose to have the dancing outside on the stone patio that fronts the house. “It’s beautiful at night—the house glows with light and you can dance on the patio under the stars,” says Harrison. Another popular wedding spot for more intimate parties is the Italian Garden, a sunken space at the side of the house.

Castle Hill works exclusively with seven caterers, and the rental fee includes a five-hour window of time, the services of an event manager, changing suites for the bride and groom, parking attendants, and tables and chairs. And there’s a party limit: The event must end by 10 p.m.

Pine Manor College
The 60-acre campus of Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill is a verdant setting just minutes from downtown Boston. “We’re very conveniently located right behind Route 9, but we’re quite secluded at the same time,” says Mary Jane Walsh, director of special events. Brides and grooms can choose from several sites for their ceremony, such as the college’s perennial gardens, or its spectacular rhododendron collections.

For receptions, the campus offers Roughwood, a mansion built in 1891 and now used for college administration. The mansion accommodates up to 80 guests with dancing. A tent can be erected on one of the college’s lush lawns for receptions with up to 200 guests. Walsh books only one event per day, and acts as the on-site manager; all events must use the college’s on-site caterer. There’s no formal curfew, but she encourages parties to wrap things up by midnight at the latest.

Habitat Education Center and Wildlife Center Sanctuary
Operated by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, the Habitat Education Center and Wildlife Center Sanctuary in Belmont is an organic alternative for a more intimate wedding. The Habitat’s brick Georgian-style house, built in 1914, offers amenities such as a 750-square-foot living room with fireplace, solarium, and soaring windows with views of the formal gardens and spacious lawns—all surrounded by an 87-acre wildlife sanctuary of meadows, ponds and woods.

“It’s a garden site—we generally do the ceremonies on the side lawn, and the formal gardens are used for cocktails and photographs,” says function manager Kim MacLeod.

The Habitat limits events to no more than 100 guests, and functions can go no later than 8 p.m. Bands must be no larger than three pieces, although DJs are permitted. Brides must choose from a list of a dozen or so caterers.