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Photo courtesy of Logan Ingle Images.
Jasmine and Blake Sanders make their exit from their wedding ceremony in front of the lake at Aldridge Gardens in June. Aldridge Gardens officials don’t track wedding numbers, but revenue from weddings has increased about 3 percent each of the past three years, CEO Tynette Lynch said.
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Photo courtesy of Logan Ingle.
Jasmine and Blake Sanders share their first dance as husband and wife to Adele’s “Remedy” after their June wedding at Aldridge Gardens.
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Photo courtesy of Sweet Julep Photography.
Zak and Taylor Grater and their wedding party pose for a photo at Aldridge Gardens at their December wedding.
Jasmine Sanders never imagined having an outdoor wedding, but when she saw the view of the lake at Aldridge Gardens in Hoover, her mindset started to change.
“It was breathtaking,” the 26-year-old Daphne woman said as she recalled her first visit to Aldridge in January 2016. “It was just so grand.”
Sanders, who originally is from Leeds but now lives in south Alabama, initially had fallen in love with another wedding venue in the Birmingham area, but she felt a stronger connection with the staff at Aldridge, and that’s where she and Blake Sanders ended up getting married in June.
They are among a growing number of brides and grooms choosing Aldridge for their nuptials.
The 30-acre garden property nestled in the heart of Hoover off Lorna Road is becoming a highly sought-after wedding venue, according to Aldridge officials.
Weekends booked for 2017
Wedding rentals have increased to the point where “we’re booked every weekend going all the way into 2018,” Aldridge CEO Tynette Lynch said. “Fortunately for us, outdoor weddings are really popular.”
Gardens officials don’t track wedding numbers, but revenue from weddings has increased about 3 percent each of the past three years, Lynch said. She declined to give financial numbers specific to weddings, but 990 forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service show overall facility rental revenue at Aldridge (which includes weddings, corporate meetings, parties and other rentals) has increased from $113,708 in fiscal 2011 to $227,522 in fiscal 2015. Rental revenues now make up about a third of the total budget, which is nearly $1 million, Lynch said.
That revenue is what helps keep the gardens open, she said. Most of the donations and grants to the gardens are for specific programs or capital projects and can’t be used for operations, such as payroll, utility expenses or upkeep of the grounds, she said. The city provides $300,000, but event and rental income are needed to keep operations going, so any increases are poured back into operations, she said.
Lynch doesn’t expect increases in rental income to affect the city’s contribution, she said.
Aldridge Gardens opened in 2002, but leaders there didn’t really start marketing it strongly for weddings until Lynch was hired as CEO about three years ago, she said. Lynch hired Amanda Baker, who has 16 years experience in the wedding and event business, as director of sales and catering.
Baker, after graduating from Samford University in 2001, opened a bridal boutique. She also spent time as a caterer and later an event planner in New York before coming back to the Birmingham area.
While some wedding trends come and go, the outdoor wedding is a classic experience that never goes out of style, Baker said. People still appreciate it years down the road, she said.
For the past two years, Aldridge has been named the most intimate venue for weddings in the Birmingham area by the Borrowed & Blue website. That award is given out based on votes by wedding vendors.
Most couples pick weekends to get married, but due to high demand for weekends and lower prices on weekdays, Aldridge is getting more requests for weddings in the middle of the week, particularly Thursdays and Tuesdays, Baker said.
During peak wedding season (March 16-Oct. 31), a wedding package at Aldridge costs $3,500 on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays and $1,500 for Monday through Thursday. Off-season (Nov. 1-March 15) packages cost $2,300 on weekends and $1,200 for Monday through Thursday.
Those prices include an eight-hour timeframe, 400 white folding chairs, reception tables, security for the first 150 guests, an Aldridge staff member, use of the bridal room in the Aldridge House and a one-hour rehearsal time the day before the wedding. During the off-season, the package also includes use of the house, a tented patio with a heater during the winter months and propane tower heaters.
Lynch said she has been shocked how many people want outdoor weddings in the winter. One couple even got married the day after snow fell in early January, when some roads in Hoover were still barely passable due to ice on the ground.
The disc jockey got stuck in a ditch on his way there, and the groomsmen had to retrieve the wedding cake because the caterer couldn’t navigate the roads, Aldridge officials said. It was an intense day, but Aldridge officials passed out hand warmers, and the snow and ice actually made for a beautiful setting for the 80 or so guests who made it, Lynch said.
“In the end, they got married, and that was really all that mattered,” Baker said.
Becky Baker, the owner of Becky’s Brides wedding planner business based in Cahaba Heights (no relation to Amanda Baker), said she has coordinated about 15 weddings at Aldridge and “all of our brides have had a really good experience there.”
The customer service that Amanda Baker and the staff at Aldridge provide is top-notch, and the venue has a lot of hotels and restaurants close by for wedding guests, Becky Baker said.
Her clients also like that Aldridge lets them choose their own photographers, florists and caterers, she said. While Aldridge has a list of approved caterers, couples can use a different caterer as long as the caterer provides proof of proper liability insurance, Lynch said.
Aldridge has multiple sites within the gardens for ceremonies that fit brides’ different styles, and the facility has a good backup plan for rain, Becky Baker said. When it rains, weddings or receptions can be moved under the pavilion or inside the house if they are available.
There are nine options for ceremony sites at Aldridge, with the most popular ones being next to the lake, Lynch said. Other sites include the pavilion, a shade garden lawn, a woodland stream, an arbor, the ginkgo tree in front of the house, the patio behind the house and the camellia garden with a pergola.
While couples reserve a particular wedding venue, reception space and the bride’s room in the house, the rest of the gardens remain open to the public during regular hours in most cases, Lynch said. However, people can inquire about rates to close the entire gardens from noon to midnight.
Taylor Grater, a wedding photographer from Alabaster who now lives in Birmingham, has seen most of the wedding venues in Alabama.
So when it came time to pick a location for her own wedding, she was knowledgeable about her options. She knew she wanted an outdoor wedding, and she had a tight budget, so the 23-year-old narrowed her list down to three local finalists before choosing Aldridge.
Grater said she loved the variety. She originally chose one ceremony site at Aldridge and then changed her mind about a month before the December wedding and picked a different one she thought had better lighting. However, it ended up raining, so she and her husband, Zak, moved the wedding under the pavilion and the reception into the house.
“I don’t know what we’d have done if they hadn’t been willing to work with us,” Grater said. “It was great. It was perfect.”
Grater also liked that Aldridge didn’t have a lot of hidden fees, she said. “We didn’t really want to have to pay extra for tables, chairs and cleanup on top of the rental fee.”
Sanders said she didn’t consider outdoor venues at first, but her husband’s aunt recommended they look at Aldridge. When they visited the first time, it was January, but it was still beautiful even though the trees were barren and there weren’t many flowers, she said.
She still wasn’t convinced until she met with Amanda Baker, she said. “She really cared about our day, making it special and beautiful for us, despite not having the largest budget,” Sanders said.
Sanders also didn’t have to do much in the way of flowers and decorations, she said. “It’s so charming on its own, with the wildlife and scenery.”
The day before their wedding, at the rehearsal, Sanders said she got worried because the temperature was more than 100 degrees and everybody was sweating. Then on the wedding day, a torrential downpour fell from the sky. She almost moved the ceremony inside, but it stopped raining, and they were able to have the ceremony by the lake as planned.
“It was beautiful,” Sanders said. “I think it [the rain] made our pictures even better. It was perfect … I wouldn’t change anything about that day or that location.”
Baker said the weddings at Aldridge range anywhere from 20 people to 250. The largest one she has seen had about 300 people, she said.
In addition to the eight-hour rental packages, Aldridge also offers a two-hour rental for a garden ceremony only for $700 on Friday through Sunday or $500 on Monday through Thursday. For rehearsal dinners or receptions only, the cost is $1,300 for the Aldridge House or $1,400 for the pavilion for four hours on Friday through Sunday.
For more information, go to aldridgegardens.com.