How to plan an affordable luxury wedding that’s also eco-friendly


Quite often when browsing Instagram and Pinterest the most stunning styled shoots takeover your grid that absolutely take your breath away. But often, it’s difficult to comprehend the expense behind these gorgeous events. Not all types of wedding styling are achievable for everyone’s budgets, but that’s also what makes every wedding so unique – you can get creative!

Wedding photographer Danielle Watkins approached me about a styled shoot she was planning in Dorset and as a Dorset based Celebrant, I was more than happy to help! Her vision with Effortless Elegance was to create a beautiful boho luxe styled shoot that was eco-friendly and affordable.

As a 2020 pandemic bride herself, Danielle’s wedding plans had been scuppered. She had gone from Country Manor House wedding with 200+ guests to back garden with 30 people. But do you know what? She remarked she wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Danielle shares with us her top wedding planning tips and how she pieced together the styled shoot of dreams at the glorious Marshwood Manor near Bridport, with all of the above in mind.

“When planning a wedding you have to make a list of your wants, needs, and budget. 

It’s important not to run away with your planning. Ask yourself what’s the best wedding you have ever been to? Did they hand out free puppies at the end? Or did you eat some super tasty food or weren’t hungry all day. Perhaps you’d had far too much to drink and danced the night away surrounded by amazing people. When planning a wedding I always think pop yourself in your guests shoes as the day is to be enjoyed by everyone.

Technically speaking of course it’s just about the bride and groom but, if your guests are cold, tired and hungry and it costs £10 for a pint from a photographers point of view, it won’t make for great candid snaps. These people are coming to your wedding because they want to celebrate with you.

If 2020 and 2021 weddings have taught us anything it’s that love wins, its the root of it all so, embrace it! It’s not all about the posturing. I promise you in 2 years time no one will remember how many swans Jessica had milling around as the canapés were served. 

When planning this styled shoot, my vision was to find local wedding suppliers that all complimented each other and were on parr as a price range. I wanted to use environmentally minded suppliers too by using more dried flowers, previously loved wedding dresses and family rings.

1. Venue

So let’s start with the basics. First things first the venue. I wanted a venue that wasn’t a purpose built venue for weddings or parties. It had to be well used and well loved and restored. I had to look no further than Marshwood Manor in Bridport. This venue was everything my vision embodied. The old barn has been restored using its natural elements to a very high standard. When meeting the owner Romla, I could tell instantly this house and these grounds weren’t just a home to her but a passion. A love of bringing something back to life and watching it being enjoyed by others was her goal. 

Marshwood Manor also has something a little special tucked up its sleeve. A short walk from the main house there is a path leading you to the woodland area. Your very own fairytale woodland wedding aisle and bower for your ceremony. Getting married amongst the trees, under a arch from an ancient church that has married hundreds of people before you, declaring your love whilst the river follows under the bridge beneath your feet. The bower is something that quite literally takes your breath away when you are tucked away in this little sanctuary. Its natural, raw and real. 

2. Styling 

Next I wanted to explore the styling. I have heard of styling and floristry costing thousands and what breaks my heart is the very next day its all forgotten. What can we do to turn the tables and create something equally as beautiful that is reusable and attainable to everyday brides. Now this isn’t a kept secret but its a fantastic alternative. Dried flowers and artificial flowers.

Now the newly engaged fiancee I was years ago would have quite literally gasped if I had been offered anything less than freshly picked florals for my big day but guess what? I was wrong! What Holly from Effortless Elegance created was nothing short of a dream. Each detail carefully thought out from colours to textures. Dried grasses and leaves along side artificial bases and leaves on the pillars of the bower. Tables set using recycled vases and medicine bottles with pampas grass and bunny tails. Even the light installations from Melissa Rose Design were made from natural resources! 

In the woodland we used vintage rugs from Winterborne Hire & Styling as the aisle runners and they were so impactful and really dressed the ceremony area.

3. Dress 

Ok I’m going to say the words second hand now. But, don’t freak out. Embrace this! You are obviously just like me and love a bargain or you wouldn’t have found yourself upon this blog so here goes. eBay is my not so secret addiction. I have to delete the app at times to stop myself. I just begrudge buying things brand new. When I turned around 20 I fell head over heals with an Inbal Dror bridal gown and I would find myself googling it most days.

I knew every detail including the price tag. It was one of those fairy tale wedding dress choices. Then low and behold one day I was scrolling my Facebook feed and a 15 minute away local Bridal Reloved store posted a picture. My heart skipped a beat, I wasn’t engaged but I was having it! I was MY dress, I couldn’t actually quite believe my luck. So 2 days later I made an appointment and I had in on and it and it was quite literally a fraction of the price. 

So when organising this shoot I knew exactly who to call. Bridal Reloved in Dorchester. I picked a selection of dresses to cater for different budgets and styles dependant on the theme or the mood.

Tell me this, if someone offered you your dream dress at a fraction of the price that had been worn for one day beautifully cleaned just like new – would you say no? Do you fear you would miss out on that bridal experience? Well I can tell you right now you won’t. You shop exactly the same you just don’t pay the hefty price tag and you don’t even have to tell your best mate or Aunt Mabel where you got your dress. Its your dress, your money, your wedding! 

4. Flowers 

Everyone visions fresh flowers for a bouquet and button holes so I wanted to reflect that. As we used the stylist for the dried and faux displays I had a think about florist who could fit with the brief. I remembered I had met a wonderful lady who owned Old Chapel Flowers at a wedding showcase around 5 years ago. She told me all about her flower garden and how she grows her flowers herself and doesn’t outsource unless it is 100% necessary. Home grown beautiful flowers right on your door step!

I gave Sue my brief of boho chic and she ran with it. Cute little bunny tails pampas and pinks. She didn’t disappoint and I think we had the best of both with the contrast of a little fresh flowers amongst the dried. You can do so many wonderful things with a bridal bouquet after the day. You can dry it out or set it into resin to name a few ideas.

5. Confetti

Romla from Marshwood Manor was so on my wave length for this shout and asked if our confetti would be biodegradable, obviously I replied with a big YES. I found Polly’s Petals just 15 minutes from my house that produced 100% natural and biodegradable confetti. No dyes or chemicals are used to treat the petals so we have no risk to the dress. Win Win. We had the fabulous Dorset Dub Hire attend with one of their beautiful campers, situated in the courtyard and the confetti shot was perfection!

6. Jewellery

Are you a less is more kinda girl/guy or the magpie type? Well these days with the affordability of costume jewellery and the fantastic quality you wouldn’t know if that pair of studs needed an armed guard to accompany you for the day or Claires accessories had a sale on. Im a mix and match girl. Im sentimental when it comes to certain things.

I think if you have the opportunity to pass down a special ring or have the opportunity to receive one its a great honour so I chose to include my grandmother’s ring in this shoot.  I adore the romance of an item. I will one day hand down my own engagement ring to one of my sons to welcome another person to join our family and I will do it with love because you cant put a price on these things. Something that is sentimental to you is invaluable. 

7. Wow factor 

So we have covered ways to be environmental mindful and how save a penny or two. Now let’s talk about your luxury finishing touches. Now don’t get me wrong this doesn’t mean ££, what I mean is what do you envision as your show stopper moment of the day. As a photographer my job is to think or find you the epic shots that you cherish. So lets just say we aren’t traveling from the venue so we cant pop up a mountain top for a hour whilst I snap a shot from the helicopter we hired for the day (but if we can do this then yes I’m packing my bag right now!)

For this shoot we used some pretty magnificent smoke bombs from Ginger Ray. I found a secret little spot and let the smoke fill up the river bed as the bride and groom embraced on the middle island. I mean boom. It cost us £7 had a laugh and got some great images. I sound like I don’t love extravagance I really do, but I want coupes to have options and do what Is right for them. 

8. Celebrant

When most couples think of their wedding ceremony, they don’t really think. Did you know you can have a personalised bespoke ceremony with a Celebrant who will handwrite your love story for you? I didn’t! Some couples may perceive a Celebrant as a “luxury” to have but essentially the ceremony is the bit that is your marriage. The words you will take forward for the rest of your life. So why not have it your way?

Add some theatre and some visual elements whilst you’re at it! Laura and Lou of Fox & Star Ceremonies brought exactly this. From demonstrating handfasting, hand tying and a gin and tonic mixing ritual… it was pretty special and incredible in the woodland.

9. Stationery

I came across Lydia of Confetti Designs on Instagram and realised she was only 5 minutes from my house! Her designs are absolutely stunning and she has options to print on recycled paper vellum and Kraft. She provided the most dreamy suite of invitations and place cards for our shoot and Fox & Star Ceremonies a beautiful ceremony certificate keepsake.

10. Cake

It’s a little known secret that often when you visit wedding cake studios or at styled shoots that the cakes are actually made of polystyrene. I had no idea, did you? It means no baking time which saves the planet but showcases the cake maker’s icing skills. Blossom Dream Cakes shared with me that actually some couples opt for this on their wedding day for a photo and then have some accompanying cupcakes for people to eat instead after posing for their “cake cutting photo.” This is much more covid secure too!

11. Additional fun

I touched base with ABC Adventures who provide the most gorgeous teepee and outdoor picnic setups. I wanted to explore this option for outdoor dining in the meadow. The photos were just so dreamy. Dudley the manor’s dog was on hand to scoop up the cheese and meats from The Cured Olive’s charcuterie board!

Swit Swoo Photobooth set up in the bar area to provide some keepsake images with a vintage setup that fitted the brief. We couldn’t get the models Samantha and Matt out of it!

The shoot also couldn’t have been possible without the help of Melissa Rose Make-up (yes we had 2 Melissa Rose’s involved!) and Holly Elizabeth for hair. We were so lucky to have some gorgeous Bridal items gifted for photos from Dolly Heads. I’m so proud of the hard work from all the businesses that put time and effort into the day. They pulled off my vision and brief perfectly and I met some pretty great people along the way. 

So tell me after reading this will be making any changes to your big day? Perhaps I’ve changed your mind on what eco-friendly means or how you can make little changes without impacting on your luxury wedding day vision. Either way, I hope you loved it. I am so happy with the results and I can’t wait to photograph Marshwood Manor again!”

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