An English Garden-Themed Wedding in Charlottesville, Virginia
When Katelyn Rickelman and Ryan Darwish met through mutual friends in February 2012, their connection was immediate: "We could barely look at each other without blushing," says Katy. "I had never felt that way before." Ryan, a student from the United Arab Emirates, was studying at the University of Evansville in southern Indiana and had traveled with some pals to join Katy and her friends for Super Bowl weekend in Indianapolis. "Time with Ryan felt so easy and natural right from the start," says Katy. "When it was time for the boys to leave after their long weekend, I felt like a part of me was leaving with Ryan. I now know it was a part of my heart."
Six months later, the pair took "a leap of faith" when they purchased a home together—"realizing we would be civil with one another if things didn't work out," says Katy, "and the rest, as they say, is history." In 2019, Ryan surprised Katy with a brunch proposal in Malibu—shortly after the couple returned from a trip where Katy had expected him to pop the question. The pair knew they wanted to keep their wedding day intimate, and planned to host 45 guests at The Clifton Inn in Charlottesville, Virginia, in June 2020, but COVID-19 forced them to move their wedding to July and then to October 17, 2020.
"I fell in love with the secret garden on the property," says Katy. "The romantic weeping willow and the way the cottages framed the garden were my first sources of inspiration. From there, I centered the wedding around an English garden vibe, perfectly imperfect, delicate wildflowers, natural tones with muted peaches—classic, yet modern." And though negotiating with vendors, postponing the date, and realizing travel wouldn't be possible for all of their guests proved stressful, Katy and Ryan were thrilled with the final result. "At the end of the day, we would not change any of the decisions we made," they say. "Ultimately our wedding day was absolutely perfect, we enjoyed every minute."
Knowing they might need to change their wedding date again, Katy and Ryan opted for a practical, budget-conscious invitation suite from Minted. "Though we would have loved to do custom printed invitations, we worried we would run into issues with the timeline should we have had to postpone," says Katy—which they did, twice. "The suite we selected reflected our theme; we loved the muted colors and the organic garden flowers. We wanted to tie in the organic garden theme and the nostalgic vintage vibe." The couple then added vintage postage stamps with meaningful designs, including "empowered women, fearless leaders, cute animals, florals, and STEM references," says Katy. "Choosing the stamps together from Etsy was one of my favorite parts of designing the invitations."
After falling for a wedding dress that wouldn't arrive in time for the ceremony, Katy found an even better option: a Pronovias gown with a crystal tulle bodice and crepe skirt. "The delicate and unique floral beading was unlike any dress I had seen," says Katy. "During my bridal appointment, when I turned around and saw my mom's face, I knew this dress shouted 'me.' I also loved how the fit accentuated my waistline and didn't make me feel self-conscious of my smaller bust."
A lace-edged veil, also from Pronovias, complemented the bride's gown and her Liv Hart for Bella Belle pumps.
Katy's bouquet from Steelcut Flower Co. tied into the English garden theme with cream, peach-, and mauve-colored peonies, anemones, and other blooms backed by sage greenery. "One of my grandmother's hatpins was tucked into the ribbon of my bouquet," says Katy. "My father also handed me one of her handkerchiefs as we walked down the aisle. I was very close with my grandmother before she passed from Alzheimer's disease."
The groomsmen's black tuxedos matched Ryan's, and set off the bridesmaids' Mayan blue Jenny Yoo gowns; their bouquets reference the bride's. Of the time they spent with their friends before the wedding, Katy says, "When we asked friends and family for advice for our wedding day, several people mentioned how fast the day would go by," she explains. "I am grateful we had the intimate moments together before the ceremony. Overall, I felt a sense of gratitude that we had finally made it to this moment."
Peace and Love
As the couple met for their first look, says Katy, "I felt very serene; I was surprised I was not feeling at all nervous. I was very eager to see Ryan in his tux and give him a hug." Ryan felt differently—until he spotted his bride. "At first I was nervous, but seeing Katy so radiant calmed my nerves," he says. "She was so beautiful and happy; I knew we were going to have so much fun and that all the stress leading up to the day was well worth it. That moment culminated for me all we'd been through as a couple, all the joy, laughter, and tears. It became very real that she would be by my side forever."
Ryan chose a timeless black peak lapel tuxedo from The Black Tux, which he wore with a black bow tie, silver onyx button studs, black brass knot cuff links, and formal suspenders.
Though Katy's original vision for the entire day was inspired by the property's secluded garden, a last-minute aeration by the Inn's landscapers forced the couple to move their ceremony to the back lawn. "I ventured outside and to my dismay realized the lawn was in disarray and the secret garden was likely no longer going to work for our ceremony," she says. "I would not be able to walk over fresh mud in my gown. I let myself have a two-minute cry behind the dumpsters on the property—at this point I literally felt like 2020 was a dumpster fire." The new ceremony space was defined by two pillars holding branching urn arrangements on either side of the couple, petals lining the aisle, and wooden cross-back chairs.
Instead of hiring a planner, Katy took over the organization of the wedding herself, and asked her aunts—"my second set of moms"—to help. "We wanted the day to be special for everyone so we did our best to include our loved ones," she says. "My aunts acted as coordinators, helping with guest seating as well as passing out cones of dried flowers and hankies for happy tears. They wore white tuxes and thoroughly enjoyed helping move guests from one location to the next throughout the day."
Now and Forever
Katy's father escorted her to the altar in one of Ryan's favorite moments of the day. "Seeing Katelyn walk down the aisle with her father—I felt like forever was walking towards me," he says. "I saw her not just as a bride, but as past and future Katy. I saw her as the mother to our children and the woman she will become when we are old and gray. Her grace and zest for life hit me full force in that moment."
Words of Love
Katy and Ryan created a "spiritual" ceremony that honored their respective Catholic and Muslim backgrounds with texts in English and Arabic; the service was officiated by Jeremiah Dillon. "We wrote our vows and then recited traditional ones for the ring exchange," says Katy. "Ryan's vows blew me out of the water. He rarely shows his soft side to others or shares emotions through words, so it was really touching to see him open up in front of our friends and family."
Guests tossed petals at the newlyweds as they left the ceremony as husband and wife. "Give yourself grace—try not to stress over the little details, it will all come together," says Katy. "At the end of the day, the wedding is about your loved ones celebrating your love for one another as a couple and the life you've built together. If anything, COVID-19 allowed us to focus on the bigger picture and helped us strip away the superficiality that can come along with planning a wedding."
After a video chat with Ryan's family in Dubai, the couple joined their guests at the cocktail hour where a signature drink named for Katy's mom—"The Louise"—honored the mother of the bride on her birthday. The couple also set out Polaroid and disposable Kodak cameras for guests to use throughout the evening and mount in a vintage photo album the couple used as a guest book. "Ryan and I are old souls; we wanted the wedding to feel timeless and real," says Katy. "Film really spoke to us, as it feels permanent, organic, and less manicured."
Dining Al Fresco
The couple envisioned an elegant outdoor dinner after their ceremony. "We wanted to have dinner under the stars on the front lawn. I found beautiful farm tables which we lined up in one long row so everyone was together for the meal," says Katy. "We wanted it to feel luxurious, but not overly done or stuffy."
Hand-dyed runners in a rich slate blue ran the length of the wooden tables, while brass taper holders and low, Ikebana-style floral arrangements cemented the elegant atmosphere. "I wanted to bring the feel of the garden to the table and really centered the entire wedding around our blooms," says Katy. "We also had a custom wedding scent made—for my bachelorette party, we curated a custom fragrance at Penn & Beech Candle Co. We had the candles burning all throughout the Manor House at the The Clifton Inn on the wedding day. Of all the other senses, scent has the strongest tie to memory and emotion. We wanted to be able to transport ourselves back in time over the years. I absolutely love coming home to a house filled with our special scent."
Bridesmaids bumped hips as they were announced at the start of the reception.
In Your Arms
Ryan chose the couple's first dance song, "How Long Will I Love You" by Ellie Goulding. "We dance to this song in our kitchen quite frequently," says Katy. "It just felt right."
International travel restrictions prevented Ryan's best man from traveling to the wedding, so Katy enlisted his fraternity brother, Jason, to step in and offer a toast. "He gave the most heartfelt, off-the-cuff speech that had people doubled over in laughter and shedding a tear by the end," she says. "Our groomsman Joe, also a fraternity brother and best friend, gave the most charming toast as well. Ryan felt so loved. I'm grateful he had that moment."
The bride's mother cast a proud look at her daughter during the speech portion of the evening.
Ryan and Katy didn't hold back on their love for dessert: "We had three cakes, because on your wedding day you should have your cake and eat it, too—all the cake," says Katy. Cake Bloom provided a two-tiered semi-naked rainbow carrot confection with vanilla cream cheese frosting, a salted caramel finish, and vanilla buttercream; a surprise espresso mini cake for Ryan with coffee liqueur cream cheese frosting and buttercream; and a lemon sour cream cake with lemon and blackberry curd and lemon buttercream as a birthday treat for Katy's mother.
By postponing the wedding, Ryan and Katy were able to accommodate his mother's travel plans from the UAE. "Having Ryan's mom there and seeing her smile throughout the day really made the wedding day for me," says Katy. "She is the kindest woman and has become like a second mother to me. We couldn't have imagined our wedding day without her."
After the Party
The couple and their guests took full advantage of the Inn's accommodations to keep the party going after the reception. "We didn't want to have to stop all the fun once 11:30 p.m. rolled around—we wanted to party until the sun came up! We had everyone join us in the Manor House for a nightcap and special toast. We surprised my mom with a birthday cake, balloons, and party horns. It was a sweet end to the perfect day."
Photography, Brian D. Smith
Venue and Catering, The Clifton Inn
Flowers, Steel Cut Flower Co.
Officiant, Jeremiah Dillon
Cake, Cake Bloom
Music, Justin Everson, Black Tie Entertainment
Rentals, MS Events
Bride's Gown, Pronovias
Bride's Accessories, Pronovias veil; Liv Hart for Bella Belle shoes; Tania Maras jewelry
Hair and Makeup, Anna Breeding
Bridesmaids' Dresses, Jenny Yoo
Menswear, The Black Tux
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