Ashley + Michael’s Idyllic Garden Wedding by Erin Lee Allender | Nashville Real Wedding

One Sweet Day… Ashley + Michael’s marriage was in the works for quite some time. The couple met in 11th grade and started dating shortly after… and it lead to the aisle! It was meant to be as their fathers had known each other and served together in the military. Family from many states showed up to celebrate the couple’s Nashville garden wedding at Riverwood Mansion. From there. Erin Lee Allender took the lead on photographing their elegant yet fun-filled day! Check it all out below!

How did you meet?

Ashley: We were high school sweethearts! It only took us over a decade to seal the deal however. We met in high school, lost touch after college, then reconnected when living in Nashville.

Mike’s dad and my dad were both in the Army, even once working in the same Pentagon office. Our families knew each other and were stationed in the same places. I even met his dad on two separate occasions in DC and Korea! So the universe worked hard to put us together, but we didn’t meet until the first day of school in 11th grade. I had just moved there and we had a class together. He waited for me outside the classroom to walk me to lunch, trying to get to know the new girl! He was a jock that claimed to like music and play guitar and I so I totally didn’t believe him. It wasn’t until a few months later, connecting over music like Guns and Roses, that Mike asked me randomly to prom. We started dating a little after that and the rest is history!

Tell us your proposal story!

Ashley: We planned a beautiful spring trip to New Orleans for French quarter Fest. It’s one of my favorite cities and Mike had never been – so we did it up! We stayed in the Garden District right on Magazine Street, hit up all the best spots, caught legendary shows, explored every dive bar, and ate all the food. It was a jazz soaked and oyster filled weekend. On our last day, we caught the streetcar for brunch and on to Audubon Park (another favorite of mine). We strolled through the park and Mike goes, “that’s a very nice bench”.  It was off the path, bathed in sunlight, framed by live oaks, overlooking the lagoon, with animals playing in the water – so yes, it was a very nice bench!  We sit down when Mike begins to chuckle to himself. I’m starting to sense that something is up. He then gets down on one knee and takes out the most gorgeous ring I’ve ever seen. He had this beautiful proposal speech but I honestly don’t remember a word, I was so excited in the moment! I’m sure it was very lovely but good lord, that ring and that man!! I was so excited. We spent the rest of the trip celebrating our engagement and reporting back to our families, who obviously had kept the surprise a secret for months.

Tell us about your wedding!

Ashley: We love the outdoors and wanted a storied, historic venue to kick start our marriage. We fell in love with Riverwood Mansion for it’s garden ceremony, beautifully designed interiors, lush serenity in the heart of Nashville, proximity to key areas, and history. Plus who can resist big magnolias and Italian string lights?! Our palette built off the beauty of the mansion with it’s stark white and deep green contrast. Our floral goal was to bring the outside, inside and only enhance the beauty of the garden. We used predominantly greenery such as magnolia leaves, eucalyptus, and succulents. The spray of flowers that were interspersed were in muted tones such as white peonies, white ranunculus, ivory garden roses, and white hydrangeas as a family nod to my grandmother and great grandmother (departed) as their favorite flower. The majority greenery held the white tones in a deep, beautiful contrast which was set off by string lights and candlelight that glimmered off gold accents. Even our name cards for seating were magnolia leaves with each guests’ name handwritten in gold. The groomsmen wore succulents, eucalyptus, and ruscus (all greenery) as boutonnieres against their navy blue suits while the groom’s boutonniere was white ranunculus, eucalyptus, and ruscus against his dark royal blue suit. My bouquet had a small personal touch of sunflowers both as my favorite flower and personal meaning. I’ve always loved sunflowers and Mike always made sure I had sunflowers for every occasion. Once going so far as to send me sunflowers in Alaska for my December birthday. I’m still not sure how he found anyone to deliver sunflower to Alaska in the dead of winter to make me happy!

As for the location choice: Nashville is a central location for our Southern and Northern families. My immediate family lives in Alabama, then Florida and Georgia. Mike’s family is from Virginia and predominantly Boston area. Any location would have been a destination wedding with our guest list, but Mike and I live in Nashville, fell in love here, and it’s the current “It city”. As the bride, Nashville as our location gave me great peace of mind that while I couldn’t be with all my guests 24/7 (hello honeymoon), they would enjoy themselves in Nashville.

Our vision for the wedding was both a celebration of our new marriage and celebration of all the friends and family that were a part of our journey as a couple. With guests coming as far away as Arizona and Hawaii, our first goal was to create a sense of community and love for everyone attending. The second goal was to throw a fantastic party. These goals informed every decision from venue, floor plan, even music selection. We wanted everyone to feel included, welcomed, and loved. The floor plan had to flow and allow all 200+ guests equal access to each event while still feeling intimate. Riverwood seamlessly transitioned from garden ceremony to mansion cocktail hour to full property reception. We included personal touches in every aspect. The penny in my shoe (sixpence) as I walked down the aisle was for Mike’s grandfather. We had a table of all our family’s wedding photos spanning generations. We toasted at the reception with traditional Italian champagne as a nod to Mike’s Italian roots. We chose food that honored our diverse backgrounds (such as hor d’oeuvres oysters from the Gulf coast to honor my childhood, and Massachusetts bay oysters to honor Mike’s childhood). Our beverages were locally inspired to give our guests a taste of Nashville, while our signature drinks were renamed for our two dogs “Sydney’s Old Fashioned” and “Kona’s Moscow Wolf”, which included their pictures. We played our parents’ and grandparents’ wedding first dance songs – which caused my grandmother to cry multiple times. We included regionally relevant music like “Sweet Home Alabama” as a nod to my alumnus, “Country Roads” as a nod to MIke’s WVU, and “Sweet Caroline” heralding memories of Fenway and Boston. In retrospect, it was the most singing, dancing, pointing, shouting, happiest wedding. Everyone was loved, had time to sing and dance and talk with everyone, and actually continue the fun long after Riverwood‘s gates closed. I was enjoying everyone so much I never even made it past the tables to the outdoor area until our sparkler exit. We created a classic, timeless wedding ceremony (complete with string quartet) to honor our marriage then kick started with the best party that honored all our friends and family. We nailed our wedding goals!

What were your favorite parts of the day?

Ashley: Whoo, there were just so many! Of course my favorite memory was seeing my husband at the altar’s floral arch and walking towards him down the aisle.

Funny thing is that we forgot to mention that I had a cathedral veil, and as we stood ready to enter the garden, the coordinator goes ‘uh oh’ and tells me that my veil may catch (and effectively yank my head back) on the small rocks on the ground as I’m walking down the aisle. She said to just ask my dad for help if I got stuck, HA. Thankfully, it did not catch as I was walking down, but it did catch behind me on the altar, which ended up looking really lovely in pictures. If my veil looks really beautifully wind blown in our ceremony, it’s not! It just caught nicely on the perfect rock. Our wedding was full of fun little moments like that.

Mike wrote and performed a song for me for my wedding present. The DJ announced that Mike wanted to give me my surprise and for us to please make our way to the dance floor. We both walk out and there is one chair in the middle of the floor, which I’m motioned to sit in. Slightly concerned, I had to ask Mike if he was about to dance up on me. “This isn’t magic Mike”. Thankfully a guitar appeared and my worries were gone. So on our wedding day, my husband performed his song written for me in front of all our friends and family. I don’t mind saying he’s the most attractive man in the world.

I loved our father daughter dance, dancing with my daddy, to “My little girl” by Tim McGraw. My dad has three daughters and he danced with us all growing up, and I assumed he’d pick one of those songs. To have that come on and listen to the words was certainly fitting. And seeing him so happy our whole wedding day was a dream come true for a family. All of our family members were just incandescently happy!

I loved all the regional songs where everyone was just singing and shouting every word. “Sweet Caroline” turned into 4 separate yelling matches, one indoor and one outdoor singing the different parts. On another song, we were on the dance floor and I’d forgotten all the “extra words” that people add to the instrumental portion of a popular song (which include some choice words for other rival colleges). Suddenly, my friend’s husband, the nicest man in the world, is shouting all the somewhat terrible extra lines. I just about died laughing. Everyone was singing and laughing and dancing their heart out all night.

I loved that at the start of our ceremony, the officiant (for our vows) said to “repeat after me”. I ABSOLUTELY thought we were just going to say “yes or no” and suddenly I was going to have to remember a few words at a time! Whoo I was just hoping to get out English. We loved that we were able to help pick out the officiants’ speech and verses we loved and to make it personal. It was such a precious moment. And I loved that after our vows, the officiant laughed at Mike’s emphasis on words such as “till death”, to which he responded “said with emphasis, I like it”. To announce us, he said he was happy to present this “deliriously happy couple” – which we obviously were. It was like jumping into heaven. We were there and we were married! To then turn around and be with all of our closest friends and family as man and wife, it was unbelievable and beyond incredible!

I loved that my youngest sister caught my bouquet (and that the pictures almost look like I was aiming for her maybe). I loved her face and determination to catch it. I also love that we didn’t discuss how to throw the garter so they made Mike rethrow the garter, twice. The boys’ reactions were incredible – from my sister’s boyfriend (now fiancé) being like “well, I tried” to another groomsman just pretending to try to catch it (with his girlfriend looking on) but the whiskey and cigar in his hand demonstrated his effort otherwise. Similar incident for the cake cutting. Mike and I did not discuss the cake cutting and when we were called to cut the cake, we were standing up there and I suddenly realized there was a fairly large crowd. I wasn’t quite sure why so many people were so excited for this cake cutting. I then remembered that the tradition is to try to decorate each others’ faces in cake and I WAS NOT HAVING THAT. So I quickly tried to send that message to my groom and it didn’t work out so I quickly had to dodge his first attempt to get it on me. He did a good job though!  It was fun cutting the first slices with my grandparent’s vintage cake cutters for the occasion.

I loved dancing with my husband to our favorite songs. I loved our first dance to Jack Johnson’s “I Got You” (and that we danced to that multiple times again on our honeymoon in Belize). I loved playing our parents’ wedding songs and our grandparents’ wedding songs. I loved all the kids dancing – and so talented! I loved how often someone jumped into a conversation to say how much they absolutely loved everything and were having SO MUCH fun. I loved that we partied until the very end and when the wedding coordinators told us it was time for our exit, Mike was shocked because he assumed only a few hours had gone by. We essentially were kicked out of our own wedding reception because we were having so much fun.

I loved that while I was talking, friends would bring me refresher drinks without asking. I never once made it to the bar (and I’m not sure I ever finished a drink either). Just the thoughtfulness to take care of me because they knew I would never make it through the crowd that far! I loved that between Mike & I, we talked to each person there and had special moments with each. Though we had the whole property, I even love that I never made it further than the tables (meaning I never got past all the people)!

I loved our signature drinks that were renamed for our two dogs, who are the other loves of our lives. I loved that their pictures were included in our big day!

I loved that although this was such a big group of people from all over the country, many of our family friends actually knew each other from way, way back! One family friend realized she knew another lady there from her first year of teaching! They’d taught together in Texas. Another family friend realized that she had mutual friends with some of our Boston relatives! It was just so serendipitous. I loved seeing my best friends interacting with my younger cousins. One of my best friends played tag on the lawn with some of the children! It was just amazing seeing all our of loved ones connecting and having a great time.

I loved our “bucket list” guest book. We set out a mirror that listed the instructions, along with a polaroid camera, strips of paper, and pens. The instructions read to “(1) take a picture or paper”, then “(2) leave us a note, a wish, or a plan, but most importantly an adventure to add to our forever list and we will complete this list in our lifetime”. The polaroids with the responses and papers with responses were then displayed on the same board that the magnolia leaf place cards had been. So the result was a beautiful wall of priceless pictures decorated in wishes, goals, and adventures for our married lifetime. Those pictures are still some of my favorite moments, and the inscriptions crack us up!

Some of my favorite parts of the day are the personal stories I’ve heard of people’s experiences after the fact. I hope to write them all down so I can keep all the hilarious memories of how much fun we had!

Oh and I also loved that in between the ceremony and the reception, we had a private dinner upstairs set aside for us. This gave us a brief moment to be together, decompress, and get some food in us before going back to our guests as husband and wife. The guests continued cocktail hour while we had a few moments to talk about the tremendous milestone we’d just reached together and lord, how emotionally exhausted we already were. Taking that time to be together as a couple recharged us to go back to our guests and continue the celebration! We still had so much more to celebrate! Our coordinators and family made sure we had samples of all the food provided to our guests that we may not have the time to eat later, so we got to try a lot of the food we otherwise would have never seen (like cocktail hour and charcuterie items). I never did try our cake, but that’s what our first anniversary is for!

I loved my younger cousins’ excitement. I was never someone that planned my wedding or looked up to brides, but it was cool seeing that to the little girls, this was a real life fairy tale. And they were so excited and happy to be a part of it. I may have shown off my sparky shoes a few times too!

Ashley – thank you so much for sharing all of your super fun garden wedding in Nashville with us! You can find more on photographer Erin Lee Allender here and also be sure to follow her over on Instagram!


Erin Lee Allender/Riverwood Mansion/Enchanted Florist/SheHeWe Photography/8 Lavender Lane/Grand Central Party Rental/Altra Salon/Justin Alexander/Men’s Wearhouse/Jimmy Choo/David’s Bridal/The Something Blue Shop