This Couple Threw a New Orleans-Inspired Garden Wedding in Florida—Second Line and All
New Orleans holds a special place in the hearts of Leighton and Craig Belden. Leighton, 31, was born and raised there, and Craig, 35, was working on a project related to the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina when they matched on Hinge. Before they met officially, Craig coincidentally ran into Leighton's father—that served as a fun topic of conversation during their first date, which took place at a wine bar in May 2015. They've been inseparable ever since.
A few weeks into their relationship, Leighton invited Craig on a family vacation to Santa Rosa, Florida, where Leighton has visited every summer for years. Craig fell in love with the white sand beaches and quaint towns, just as Leighton had long ago. Two years after that, detail-oriented Leighton began nudging Craig about proposing (when you know, you know!). She didn't think he could ever pull off a surprise—but she was wrong. As the two shared a romantic dinner at the West Shore Cafe on Lake Tahoe, he popped the question. "I was clueless and so mad that he was able to trick me!" says Leighton. "I had been nagging him to do it for months, and somehow on that night, I didn't see it coming."
The two made it official on May 11, 2019, surrounded by 165 of their closest friends and family members. They celebrated with a New Orleans-inspired garden wedding at the very place where they fell in love—the beautiful Alys Beach in Florida. The relaxed nuptials were full of sweet details that incorporated quirks from both sides of the family, some tear-jerker moments, and a surprise fill-in "flower girl" that is sure to bring on a smile.
A Romantic Getaway-Turned Wedding Venue
The place where the couple fell for each other—30A—naturally became the perfect backdrop for the day they committed their lives to one another (Alys Beach is located on 30A on the Florida panhandle). The architecture is Grecian and white and the details are simple, but luxurious. "When we were thinking about venues for our wedding, we wanted it to mean something," says Leighton. "30A was a place that was our little getaway, where we rode bikes in the perfect beach towns and fell in love."
Invitation Suites with A Personal Touch
For the invites, which were created by Leighton's mother, the couple took a personalized approach. They chose a square invitation and dip-dyed it in layers of seafoam shades to mimic the ocean; lilac lettering nodded to the duo's garden theme. For their save-the-dates, they included a handmade map to familiarize their guests with 30A and the venue's neighborhood. "Craig and I also packaged and placed stamps on every single save-the-date," says Leighton. "We had so much fun doing it together."
If the Shoe Fits
The bride wanted shoes that fit the big day's vibe, so she commissioned a pair of made-to-order lilac Jimmy Choo heels. Floral-inspired Elizabeth Bower earrings polished off her look; they spoke to the garden theme without feeling over the top. Her hair was pulled back in a half-up style with a gemstone embellished barrette.
Pops of Purple
Leighton's bouquet was overflowing with peonies, ranunculus, anemones, clematis, and roses; the arrangement featured colors of lilac, white, deep purple, and sage and was accented by a bit of elaeagnus. It was "all styled to spill forth from her hands in a very organic way," notes florist Myrtie Blue. All of the bridesmaids' mixes and groomsmen's boutonnières coordinated with Leighton's personal arrangement.
The Perfect Fit
Here's something you don't hear every day: Leighton says that finding a wedding dress was one of the easiest parts of planning her nuptials. "It made me cry just like all the girls on Say Yes to the Dress and it gave everyone in the room goosebumps," she says. She loved the 3D nature of the gown—and its polished floral aesthetic. The strapless mermaid-style Victor & Rolf number featured flower appliqués on the lower skirt and train; Leighton added a belt with additional appliqués to make the midsection of her ensemble more visually interesting.
Craig looked classic and cool in a black tuxedo by Paul Betenly with a black cummerbund and bow tie, sterling silver onyx cuff links, and sleek patent leather shoes by Ted Baker. He also wore his wedding gift—a Shinola watch—and bright pink flamingo socks, because, according to Leighton, he loves all things bright.
It's the Little Things
The groomsmen, who flew in for the big day from all over the country, rented black tuxedos from The Black Tux. "We chose this because it was classic and easy to match and rent when the groomsmen were traveling from all over the United States." says Leighton.
The Women Who Made it Happen
For her bridesmaids, Leighton chose a shade of lilac to coordinate with the event's florals, and left it up to each woman to decide what style of dress made them look and feel their best. One chose a halter style, while others chose strapless sweetheart necklines or off-the-shoulder sleeves.
The First Look
Craig and Leighton shared their first look outside the house they stayed in during their time at Alys Beach. "When Craig turned around, all the stress faded away and I remembered how much I love him and how much he calms me," says Leighton. "It was a perfect first look."
An Enchanted Garden Ceremony
With the help of their wedding planner, Wendy Kay of Birds of a Feather Events, Leighton and Craig achieved everything they were looking for in a wedding theme, which didn't come easy at first (Leighton admits to losing hours of her life looking for inspiration on Instagram). "Initially, Leighton was very drawn to a French Country theme," says Kay. "As time went on and we began working on specific design elements, things began to morph into more of a general garden theme." They chose a color scheme of lilac and sage to match.
For the ceremony, armloads of delphinium and larkspur lined the aisle, while the rest of the floral landscape was designed to look as if it had grown there.
A Sweet Escort
Leighton was escorted down the aisle by her father, while local artist Logan Pilcher sang and played hand-picked songs on the guitar. For the processional and recessional, he performed "Bloom" by The Paper Kites and "Can't Help Falling in Love" by Kina Grannis. During the service, he also sang "Naked As You Came" in an emotional tribute to Craig's mom.
A Non-Traditional Flower Girl
Originally, Leighton's sister-in-law's daughter was supposed to be the flower girl, but the little girl's mom went into labor the week of the wedding. As a last-minute change, Leighton and Craig decided to make Chloe, Leighton's mother's dog, the flower girl. And the ring bearer? Leighton's dog Rivers. They both wore floral collars and matching lilac leashes.
The First Kiss
For their non-denominational ceremony, the couple read special passages from the Bible and also incorporated the Jewish tradition of breaking the glass. They wrote their own vows, which played into their desire to make their big day as unique as possible. "Craig called me his favorite nickname which is 'Bougie Baby' and I mentioned that I would support his dreams even if it meant him buying a beat up 1975 Chevy Blazer," says Leighton. "And I told him I was marrying him for his great hair."
The couple wanted a traditional New Orleans brass band to nod to their Nola-inspired nuptials—and the bride's hometown. The Village Brass Band led the second line and stayed for the cocktail hour; they played brass and jazz, and concluded with "Oh When the Saints Go Marching In."
A Traditional New Orleans DIY Project
Leighton and Craig tackled one DIY project when preparing for their nuptials: They made their own second line umbrellas. "We bought basic black-and-white umbrellas and created our own designs to really make them pop," says the bride, who quickly discovered that "the glue gun is a very dangerous tool!"
During the cocktail hour, Leighton and Craig treated guests to their signature cocktails. Leighton's was a French 75, a Champagne and gin mixture infused with lemon, and Craig picked a paloma, the margarita's grapefruit-y cousin. The drinks were advertised on handmade signs from Etsy; attendees could also order beer, wine, and additional sips from the full-service bar, as well.
A Mouth-Watering Menu
To complement their drinks, the duo served lollipop coconut shrimp skewers with ginger mandarin sauce and mini braised pork belly sliders with spicy slaw. They also included a raw bar, which was a hit with the guests.
Time to Celebrate
"The reception was simply an extension and celebration of the ceremony," said florist Myrtie Blue. "The entrance to the tent was arranged with native foliage and elaeagnus that created a natural bramble of sorts. Chandeliers and centerpieces alike were arranged with a mix of spring flowers, as if pulled from the garden."
Buttermilk Biscuit Bar
The duo's biscuit bar was filled with jams, butters, and fried chicken, of course. For the actual meal, Leighton and Craig went a more casual route, with a beef tenderloin carving station, pastalaya, orzo shrimp pasta, baked brie, and roasted vegetables. Later on in the evening, they served up curly fries as late-night sustenance.
Not unlike the ceremony site, the couples' party space was a floral oasis. Cocktail-style receptions are the norm in Leighton's hometown of New Orleans, so they opted for round tables for guests and a long farm table for the wedding party.
On the Tabletops
"We added a pop of navy with candles and small drip bowls of blueberries to add some contrast and depth to the otherwise pastel color palette," says Kay. "We decided to keep a little bit of our original theme intact and chose lounge furniture with a French country feel to it." Place settings were set at the head table only, keeping in line with the casual meal style.
Shake It Out
For their first dance, Craig and Leighton chose "Gotta Get There" by Brett Eldridge. "This is a song I discovered early on when we were living apart," says the bride. "The song is about how far California is, but no matter the distance, we would find a way to see each other." After their spin, the eight-person band, A Town A List, played everything from classics and funk to chart-toppers. Leighton brought out purple LED leis and glow sticks once the sun set for an unforgettable party.
The father-daughter dance is always one of the more emotional parts of the reception—and this one was no different. Leighton and her father chose to sway to "Unforgettable" by Nat King and Natalie Cole.
An Intricate Cake
From the outside, the duo's elegant white fondant cake, complete with sugar flowers, looked simple enough—but the inside of the confection was packed with a whopping five flavors: French vanilla with mascarpone cheese and white chocolate filling, Viennese chocolate with buttercream, strawberry with cream cheese filling, red velvet, and chocolate peanut butter.
When asked what advice they have for other couples currently planning their nuptials, the newlyweds say, "It's your day and you should try to make all your dreams come true—but try not to sweat the small stuff because in the end, you're marrying your soulmate." The pair honeymooned in Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini, Greece, after their celebration concluded.
Photographer, Charla Storey
Venue, Alys Beach
Event Planning and Design, Birds of a Feather Events
Videography, Light Cannon Films
Flowers, Myrtie Blue
Bride's gown, Viktor & Rolf
Bride's shoes, Jimmy Choo
Hair, Gallant Glam
Makeup, Yvette Nation
Bridesmaids' dresses, Bella Bridesmaids
Groom's attire, Perlis Clothing
Groomsmen's attire, The Black Tux
Engagement ring, Aucoin Hart Jewelers
Wedding bands, Friend & Company
Catering, Townsend Catering
Cake, Confections on the Coast
Transportation, Bay Limousine
Lighting, SOHO Event Rentals