A Magnolia-Themed Backyard Wedding in Alexandria, Virginia

happy couple outdoor portrait in street
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

Erika Delman and Jeff Vliet grew up together—they just didn't pay any attention to each other during the years when Jeff and Erika's brother, Sam, were teenage pals. "Sam and Jeff were goofballs together back in high school," says Erika, "but the two of them lost touch when Jeff joined the Air Force and was stationed in Oklahoma." A decade later, Jeff moved back to his hometown and reconnected with Sam—whose wife, Carly, quickly texted Erika about a "new cute guy." "I was skeptical to say the least, but as fate would have it, we clicked!" says Erika. "From there, it was almost two years of planes, trains, and automobiles from Vienna, Virginia, to New York City—and sometimes a deployment here and there."

In spring 2018, Erika and Jeff bought a house in Alexandria, Virginia, and she moved back home from New York. About six months later, while the couple took a leisurely Saturday morning walk to the local farmer's market, Jeff enlisted his mother and sister to fill the house with roses and balloons. "They were long gone by the time we got back and when we walked in the house, I dropped all the bags in surprise and he got down on one knee," says Erika. "It was perfectly private and a wild surprise!"

The couple chose historic St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Old Town, Alexandria—their own neighborhood—for their ceremony, and opted for an incredibly exclusive reception location: Erika's parents' home in nearby Mt. Vernon. "We decided the backyard would be so personal and special for both us and our guests," says Erika. "We spend a ton of time there and it was so amazing to spend the best day of our life there with our favorite people."

The at-home atmosphere also lined up with Erika's vision for the wedding: "I always wanted a southern, warm—that cozy feeling, not the weather—and timeless wedding," she says. "Some of the first things I envisioned were a black-and-white dance floor, big jazz band, and magnolia theme with green, creams, and whites." All of those elements came together at the couple's October 12, 2019, wedding for 165 guests, where other custom details included an out-of-state beer that coincidentally shared their new last name, a century-old heirloom cake topper, a surprise a cappella performance, and late-night tacos and fireworks. "My parents always threw wonderful parties and we have a very close family and community around us," says Erika. "As the only daughter, I think there were high expectations for the big day, but I do think we delivered tenfold."

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Emerald Pretty

green and white wedding invites
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

Customized elements on the multi-part invitation suite from The Dandelion Patch included a magnolia print on the envelope liner—the same illustration Erika and Jeff used for their escort card display—and a monogram surrounded by a delicate floral garland sketch; this reappeared on the table numbers and menus at the reception.

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Lovely in Lace

close-up of bride's wedding dress
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

Erika invited her mother and sister-in-law, her maid of honor, and Jeff's mother and sister for a weekend of wedding-dress shopping in New York City. "They surprised me with 'grumpy' and 'happy' Jeff face cut-outs to vote on dresses and we laughed for a weekend straight," says Erika. "A real bonding moment with tons of fun!"

At Kleinfeld, Erika found a fitted, lacy Pnina Tornai gown that garnered instant praise from her group. "I always wanted a full lace, long-sleeved dress," says Erika. "When I tried on the Pnina, it fit like a glove; the oohs and ahhs from the crowd made me feel like the most beautiful woman." She had a custom veil made by the same designer and wore her grandmother's sapphire ring as her "something blue." "She couldn't be there, so it was special to have that heirloom with me," notes Erika.

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Green Party

bride with bridesmaids in green dresses
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

The deep, rich emerald tones of magnolia leaves inspired the bridesmaids' hunter green gowns from Bella Bridesmaids. Most of the women wore a V-neck style, while the maid of honor wore an off-the-shoulder option for subtle contrast. "I loved the simple, structured look," says Erika, "and the girls looked gorgeous!"

04 of 23

In Black and White

groom with groomsmen outdoor street
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

Jeff and his groomsmen wore tuxedos from The Black Tux, with Jeff swapping out a traditional black jacket for a formal—and timeless—white one. "We wanted that classic black-tie look," says Erika.

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Street View

black and white photo first look
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

Before meeting their bridal party for portraits, Erika and Jeff shared a private first look. "We did it on a beautiful street in Old Town, Alexandria, a few blocks from the church," says Erika. "It seemed so public when we talked about it, but at the time, only Jeff existed! I was nervous to see him, but I also took so much comfort afterwards knowing that now we were together the rest of the day."

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Flowers and Foliage

close-up bride's bouquet white roses
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

Amaryllis Floral and Event Design highlighted the floral theme of the wedding in Erika's bouquet with cream-colored roses, locally-sourced magnolia leaves, and tan accents. "It was heavy!" says the bride.

07 of 23

Father and Daughter

black and white photo father kissing bride's head
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

After sharing a heartwarming first look and a ride to the church in the family's vintage Corvette, Erika and her father prepared for their walk down the aisle. "The first look with my dad was very emotional," she says. "We are incredibly close and he's a big softie, but I was still so moved by his emotions that day. He is so happy for Jeff and I—they are practically best friends—but I know it was hard for him to 'give me away.'"

08 of 23

Saying "I Do"

bride and groom during ceremony in church
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

Erika and Jeff chose the historic St. Paul's Episcopal Church for their ceremony location. "They have a welcoming congregation and were fabulous to work with," says Erika. The church's Reverend Oran Warder officiated the ceremony, which included traditional vows along with readings Erika and Jeff requested.

The couple opted to keep their décor understated in an effort to highlight—not overpower—the church's existing design. "We were fairly minimal in the church because it is so beautiful," says Erika. "To dress up the aisle, we used magnolia leaves on the pews—and the altar arrangements included magnolia leaves and greens with white hydrangeas and roses. The sweet flower girls walked with white rose balls and flower crowns, and they were a hit."

09 of 23

A Surprise Song

bride and groom looking up at wedding choir
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

As the newlyweds walked back up the aisle to Mendelssohn's "Wedding March," Erika's bridesmaids had a surprise waiting: An a cappella group hidden on the above balcony stood up and started singing "All You Need Is Love," in an homage to one of Erika's favorite scenes from Love, Actually. "Evidently at some point years and years ago, I told my girlfriends I would love if that happened at my wedding," says Erika. "It was a shock when the singers popped up and we couldn't believe it! Such an incredible moment!"

10 of 23

Just Married

bride and groom driving away in just married car
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

The duo left the church in Erika's father's vintage Corvette (tagged with a just-married sign and a classic trail of cans!), meeting their friends and family at the cocktail hour. "My dad's mid-life crisis purchase paid off—ha!" says Erika. "The nerves were all gone, we were married! It was just a feeling of pure elation. This solo time was one of the highlights of the day." (Jeff prepared for the drive by wearing wedding-day socks that featured an image of a bride and groom in a red convertible.)

11 of 23

On the Waterfront

wedding couple hand in hand on pier
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

While guests enjoyed the cocktail hour in Erika's parents' backyard, the newlyweds snuck away for a few for portraits on the family's dock—renovated just in time for the festivities. "Jeff and my dad tackled a huge dock remodel the summer before the wedding that was supposed to take 10 days and took about 10 weeks, so we often laughed about getting that done before the wedding," says Erika. Though the dock was flooded on their wedding day, "We made it work!" she says.

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Household Name

signature drinks sign and drinks
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

Along with two signature drinks named for their pets—a bourbon and fig old fashioned named after their pug, Ernie, and a sparkling rosé christened Minks, after their cat—Erika and Jeff also stocked their bar with a favorite beer from Threes Brewery they brought in from New York City. "We included Vliet Pilsner that Jeff and I found one late night in Brooklyn at one of our favorite pizza spots," says Erika. "What are the chances with that last name?"

13 of 23

Oyster Service

close-up of oysters and sauce in serving box
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

As a nod to the coastal locale, oysters on the half-shell were paraded around the cocktail hour.

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Leafy Greens

outdoor seating chart floral decoration
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

An oversized frame covered with a draped floral installation held white escort cards hung on a bold backdrop—its pattern matched the print on the invitation's envelope liner. "As guests removed their cards, which tied with a velvet ribbon, the pattern was revealed, and was later used as a photo booth backdrop," explains Erika.

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An Elegant Entrance

guests and outdoor wedding tent
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

Guests stepped up and into a wood-floor tent through a double entry point, marked with hanging garlands of dark green foliage and ivory flowers.

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Up in the Air

outdoor wedding chandeliers
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

"The elegance and simplicity of the magnolia was the jumping off point of the design," says Erika of the couple's reception tent, which was strung with ornate chandeliers.

17 of 23

Magnolias Everywhere

table centerpiece large glass vase with white roses
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

Inside, the couple alternated long and round tables covered with green velvet or green damask cloths. Tall arrangements in crystal vases held magnolia leaves and roses. "We focused on textures like velvet and linen and shades of emerald green, but kept things modern and fresh with white blooms, whitewashed chairs, and a black-and-white dance floor," shares Erika.

Gold-rimmed chargers and crystal coordinated with golden flatware and candleholders. Votives in crystal holders glimmered after sunset as the couple's friends and family celebrated by the water after dark.

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Gold and Greens

reception tables with green tablecloths floral centerpieces
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

Long tables held low, garland-style centerpieces comprised of dahlias, hydrangeas, and roses.

Later in the evening, Occasions Catering provided an epic meal, with a first course of butternut squash soup topped with salted sage popcorn; a Roquefort, pear, and walnut salad; an entrée of filet Oscar ("I have always loved filet Oscar and dreamed of serving it at my wedding!" says Erika); and a dessert course of Fleur de Sel caramels and warm cookies and milk.

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Sweet Memories

top tier of white wedding cake bride and groom topper
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

The couple kept their two-tier carrot cake simple, decorating it with delicate piping around the bottom of each tier. "The cake was not a big priority for me, honestly," says Erika. "So we had a simple cake and adorned it with a sweet antique topper that was my great-great aunt's from her wedding in 1920."

20 of 23

Love in the Air

groom dipping bride on dance floor
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

76 Degrees West set the mood for the couple's first dance, to "L-O-V-E" by Nat King Cole. "Honestly, I've always loved it from The Parent Trap!" says Erika. "It's sweet and has that old-school swing vibe that I thought the band would do so well. It was perfect for us and our short, choreographed number we had prepared."

  • How to Prepare for a Choreographed First Dance When Your Band Is Performing the Song
21 of 23

Taco Time

black and white bride and groom eating tacos
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

Just before the party ended, Erika and Jeff treated their guests to one of their favorite guilty pleasures: Taco Bell, served out of a food cart. "We weren't sure if people would share our love," says Erika, but "it flew off the shelves! Jeff and I barely got tacos ourselves, but we loved ending this classy affair with a little greasy goodness."

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Light the Night

couple embracing watching fireworks
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

One of the couple's fondest wedding memories is dancing under the stars during a fireworks display they watched from the dock. "With the wedding being in my parents' backyard, we were so lucky to be able to launch off our fireworks. It was truly an unreal ending to the evening," says Erika. "We had friends in neighborhoods all over Mt. Vernon that said they saw them that night—they were huge!"

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wedding couple getting off trolley
Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography

Photography, Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography
Ceremony Venue, St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Event Planning and Design, Christie Yerks of Grit & Grace
Catering and Cake, Occasions Caterers
Flowers, Amaryllis Floral and Event Design
Videography, Stan Pe Films
Officiant, Reverend Oran Warder, St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Stationery, The Dandelion Patch
Music, 76 Degrees West
Rentals and Lighting, Capital Party Rentals
Bride's Gown, Pnina Tornai
Bride's Accessories, Pninia Tornai veil; Kleinfeld Bridal jewelry; Christian Louboutin shoes
Hair, Remona Soleimani
Makeup, Claudine Fay
Bridesmaids' Dresses, Bella Bridesmaids Dessy Collection
Groom's and Groomsmen's Attire, The Black Tux
Transportation, Alexandria Transit Company; Limousines Inc.
Cigar Roller, Pucho Cigars
Rings, King's Jewelry
Valet, MJ Valet

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