A Rustic, Picnic-Style Wedding in Portland, Oregon
Rarely does one step out of a car after a five-hour drive feeling anything other than exhausted. But for Amy Petermann and Nick Henderson, one such drive three years ago proved to be a whopping exception to that rule. Both parties were too smitten with each other to feel even the slightest bit stiff. The occasion was a triathlon in Santa Barbara, and the trip was from Stanford University where both Amy and Nick were members of the school's triathlon team. Despite this shared affiliation, the two—who were both working in research at the time, Amy in psychology and Nick in computational engineering—hadn't exchanged more than a few words before being paired up to drive in Nick's car down to this particular race.
As they began chatting, Amy and Nick felt an instant chemistry. "The whole way down, Nick was driving, and I was making sure he had water and snacks and monitoring the music," says Amy. "It's almost too cheesy to say, but before the end of the drive, I looked over at him, and the exact thought I had was, 'I want to be his co-pilot for the rest of my life.'" It's safe to say Nick was on the same wavelength. "We talked for the entire five-hour drive down Highway 101," Nick says, "and I was so engrossed that we almost ran out of gas. We made it to Santa Barbara after midnight, and I was in love."
Just over a year later, the couple took a weekend trip to the Russian River Valley north of San Francisco, and on a foggy December morning walk, Nick proposed (to a giggling Amy who admits she totally saw it coming). Though they were still living in Palo Alto at the time, they quickly landed on Nick's hometown of Portland, Oregon, as an ideal wedding location. Soon after, the bride- and groom-to-be fell in love with the Bella Madrona Gardens in Sherwood, a suburb southwest of the city. "The gardens are owned and cared for by a longtime friend of my mom," Nick says. "When we visited in the summer, we were stunned by the beauty: It was alive, lush, green, secluded, magical, perfect." The same descriptions were driving forces behind the vision for the wedding itself. On August 26, 2017, Amy and Nick welcomed 150 of their friends and family members to an enchanted garden party complete with picnic tables, a dance floor beneath a canopy of string lights, a Lebanese feast, and live music from a local band.
To guide guests through the many grassy knolls and wooded areas of the Bella Madrona Gardens, Amy and Nick used a garden map created by a local artist as the base of their program. "Because we were hosting our wedding in such an extraordinary place, it was important to us to encourage people to explore," Amy says.
The First Look
Describing the first moment that he saw Amy in her wedding dress, Nick says he was "speechless and filled with joy." After family portraits, the couple found themselves ahead of schedule (to their delight!) and decided to escape for some time alone. Roaming around together through the nooks and crannies of the gardens and posing for a few more photos allowed both bride and groom to shake off any pre-ceremony jitters.
All Together Now
Unbeknownst to Nick at the time, he actually did see Amy's tea-length BHLDN wedding dress ahead of their big day—on television, that is. "In the second season of Master of None," Amy says, "they go to a wedding, and the bride wears my dress! When Nick and I watched that episode, it took everything in my power to stay quiet and not give it away."
She loved the dress's length because it made it easy to traverse the garden without any fabric dragging on the ground. "When I tried it on the second time," Amy says, "I had the whole crying moment and felt entirely goofy and embarrassed—but I knew it was absolutely perfect." She paired it with BHLDN wedges and pearl earrings borrowed from her mother to match her own pearl necklace. In keeping with the outdoor setting and Amy's less-formal outfit choice, Nick wore a navy-blue suit from Nordstrom. "I like it quite a bit and will be wearing it for years to come," he notes.
Both Amy and Nick chose two members for the wedding party—Amy, one friend from grade school and one from college, and Nick, his brother and a close friend. Nick's two nieces joined the crew as flower girls, wielding handmade ribbon wands. These were longer, fuller versions of the wands given to the rest of the guests for a celebratory wave at the end of the ceremony.
Aiming for a light and summery color scheme, Amy asked her bridesmaids to wear blush and her flower girls to wear ivory or cream. Nick's two groomsmen sported navy vests and pants from Men's Wearhouse to match Nick's suit, and all three men wore blush BHLDN ties to complement the bridesmaids' dresses. Solabee Flowers arranged bouquets and boutonnières in a soft palette of blush pink, whites, and pale yellows.
A Serene Setting
When guests arrived at the gardens in the late afternoon, the bar opened, allowing them to grab a beverage on their way down to the lower amphitheater where the ceremony would be held. The garden's existing steel-mesh structure formed an elegant backdrop thanks to a draping of yellow marigold garlands created by Solabee Flowers. Just below it, a pile of white rose petals marked the spot where the couple would exchange vows, all of it illuminated by the setting sun.
Through the Woods
Amy's father walked her down the aisle—a somewhat precarious decline covered in small, loose rocks. "I was really happy to have my dad's arm for support!" Amy says. The Colin Trio, a band comprised of Amy and Nick's good friends (the bass player is their bike mechanic!), played the Iron & Wine song "Flightless Bird, American Month."
Amy and Nick's good friend and former president of the Stanford Triathlon Team, Dave, officiated the ceremony. "Dave has known us both since before we started dating so it was very special," Amy says. The couple wrote their own vows, which Nick says they were almost able to get through without crying. "What was most amazing to me was how similar our vows ended up being," Amy says. "They shared the same themes of teamwork, adventure, and partnership."
An (Almost) Perfect Fit
Prepped for a few potential mishaps by the day-of coordinator, Amy had a plan in place should Nick's ring get stuck at his knuckle when she tried to slide it on during the ceremony. Sure enough, that's precisely what happened—and without a beat, she took the ring off, grabbed his finger, and placed it fully in her mouth (to everyone's shock). After a wave of laughter ripped through the audience, Amy tried the ring on Nick's newly wet finger, and, to their delight, it slid right on. "I also think we snuck in a kiss there before the official first kiss!" Amy says.
Amy's wedding band, from Twist in Portland, boasts a teardrop-shaped gray diamond, which complements the leaf-shape of her engagement ring from Misa Jewelry—the same store where Amy found Nick's wedding band.
The Ribbon Wands
Amy spotted ribbon wands on Pinterest and took the idea from there. She loved that they would add color and be a fun thing for guests to wave around after the ceremony. The groom's sister made about 100 in total, including two longer ones for the flower girls.
Crossing the Finish Line
A nod to their triathlon-fueled love story, Amy and Nick walked through a banner at the end of their ceremony, held on either side by each of their moms. In celebration of their new status as husband and wife, they picked it up over their heads and went in for a quick smooch. "Even though it was inspired by a finish line," Amy says, "we like to think of it as a start line." As they recessed, The Colin Trio played "You're My Best Friend" by Queen.
Once the ceremony wrapped up, dishes of squeaky Wisconsin cheese curds and garlic sausage (which Amy's dad brought all the way from Kewaskum, Wisconsin) were set out for guests to enjoy—an ode to Amy's Milwaukee roots. A popcorn machine from Bridgewood Event Rentals added to the festive vibe, and a bar served up wine, champagne, and local Portland beers.
While their guests noshed, Amy and Nick disappeared into the gnome forest—a part of the Bella Madrona Gardens filled with gnomes in various scenes, created by the gardens' owner Geof and his late partner, Jim. "There's a gnome apothecary, pond, graveyard, bar, and more," Amy says. "When Jim passed away a few years ago, the gnome forest became a memorial to him. Our gift to Geof to thank him after the wedding was bride and groom gnomes."
The newlyweds wandered throughout and posed for a few more couples' photos before taking the champagne Jell-O shots made and hidden in a cooler in the forest by Amy's brother and his girlfriend.
Also awaiting the couple in the forest was a selection of gnome-themed photo props—like women's lips, a mushroom, and a gnome-esque beard—hand-made by one of Amy's bridesmaids. "In line with wanting people to explore the gardens, we wanted there to be fun surprises in the forest for them to find," Amy says.
Dining Al Fresco
Rustic picnic tables gave the reception a garden-party vibe. A runner of eucalyptus and brass candlesticks and flower vases dressed up long wooden tables. Seasonal vegetable calendars illustrated by Portland-based artist Brooke Weeber identified tables instead of traditional numbers.
For dinner, there was buffet of Lebanese dishes from Karam Lebanese Deli & Catering, featuring hummus, baba ghanoush, grape leaves, beef fatayer, tabbouleh, chicken kebabs with rice, mujadara, and pita bread. After guests had their fill, they were invited to take part in one of Amy's long-held traditions. Tater Tats—temporary fruit and vegetable tattoos sold to raise money for local farms—were displayed on toothpicks lodged in a piece of sod for guests to grab and apply. A sign nearby explained Amy's connection to them: The first time she ever wore a Tater Tat on her arm was during the weekend of the race when she and Nick fell in love—and she's worn one at every race since.
The First Dance
Amy and Nick sashayed across the floor in their first dance to The Colin Trio's original song, "Simple Sweet Somethin'." Despite minimal practice, the newlyweds quickly found their groove and impressed guests with their smooth, in-sync movements. "We made up all moves as we went," Amy admits. "But we threw in as many twists and twirls as we could, and it was so much fun to spin around in my wedding dress. Afterward, everyone kept asking if we'd rehearsed it!"
When DJ Sacrilicious
took over, his began his set with "The Gardens of Sampson & Beasley"—a song by Pink Martini written about the Bella Madrona Gardens—before launching into a variety of soul, blues, and 50s Motown hits. As the night progressed and shoes came off, the dancing became so vigorous, "it started to break apart the dance floor," Nick says, "which just meant everyone had to dance closer together!"
Donuts Take the Cake
As big dessert lovers, Amy and Nick wanted to offer their guests far more sweets than just a typical wedding cake. In the end, they nixed the traditional wedding cake altogether and served assorted cupcakes, all made by a mutual friend from their triathlon days, and an array of donuts from Coco Donuts.
"In our daily lives, we can never have enough dessert or decide on just one dessert, and we're known amongst our friends and family as big donut fiends, so it didn't feel right not to have some donuts at the wedding," says Amy.
Even More Sweets
While their guests would surely have delighted in cupcakes and donuts alone, an ice cream cart was a non-negotiable for Amy and Nick—so they did tastings at almost every Portland-area ice cream shop before deciding to source theirs from Scoop. "One of the things we loved about Scoop is that their ice cream is a French-style custard, which is similar to the frozen custard at Milwaukee's famous Kopps Custard Stand, where I worked in high school," says the bride.
Flavors included salted caramel, honey lavender, and even "PDX Carpet," a mint ice cream with hazelnuts, cranberries, and chocolate stracciatella designed to mirror the once-infamous Portland airport carpet. In place of the traditional cake cutting, the couple opted for a "first scooping" to start the flow of guests to the ice cream cart and dessert table.
A Moment of Peace
At the suggestion of their photographer, the newlyweds took a break from all the action to privately enjoy the excitement of the day.
After their wedding festivities ended, the couple embarked on a local mini-moon, visiting Cannon Beach, Oregon. "We stayed at a bed-and-breakfast in town and spent our days hiking or at the beach," Nick says. A more elaborate honeymoon—to an unknown-as-of-yet location—is in their plans for the future.
Photography, Alfred Tang Photography
Location, Bella Madrona Gardens
Event coordination, Barn Door Events
Catering, Karam Lebanese Deli & Catering
Flowers, Solabee Flowers
Rentals, Something Borrowed
NW Event Rentals
Bridgewood Event Rentals
Stationery, Wide Eyes Paper Co.
Bride's gown and shoes and groomsmen's ties, BHLDN
Hair, Davis Street Salon
Makeup, Color by Krysta
Groom's suit and bridesmaids' dresses, Nordstrom
Groomsmen's vests and pants, Men's Wearhouse
Donuts, Coco Donuts
Ice Cream, Scoop
Table Numbers, Brooke Weeber (Vegetable calendar)
Engagement ring and groom's wedding band, Misa Jewelry
Bride's wedding ring, Twist