Hales Corners — A guest who pays $5 to stroll through Boerner Botanical Gardens is likely to discover more than a horticultural showcase.
Weddings at Boerner, 9400 Boerner Drive, are blooming in summer almost as vibrantly as the gardens' perennial and annual flowers. Between June and August, brides and grooms can be seen inside the lush landscape as naturally as Boerner's display of native Southeastern Wisconsin plants.
'Our weekends are crazy with weddings — a good crazy,' said Jackie Nelson, office assistant at Boerner.
Between 2010 and 2013, Boerner has hosted about 300 weddings and 600 photography sessions, including wedding, engagement and graduation pictures. Another 100 wedding permits were purchased for 2014, as well as 200 photo permits.
'This place sells itself; it's so cool,' Nelson said.
The only downfall is the outdoor elements for weddings scheduled as late as October.
On June 28, Boerner saw one its busiest Saturdays yet for weddings, as four were scheduled for two-hour time slots in various gardens. Gardens Director Shirley Walczak said one year, 18 wedding-photography sessions were scheduled on one day. Two weddings are already scheduled for next Fourth of July.
'There was one limo after another,' Walczak said.
Nelson said a plethora of ethnicities, religious traditions and marriage customs have been through the gardens. Some couples mix holy water during the ceremony to display their unity. Others have been driven to the aisle in a vintage car.
'Weddings can be whatever anybody wants them to be,' Walczak said. 'It's a good place to sit on a Saturday afternoon and watch. Every wedding brings its own character.'
As wedding planning websites such as TheKnot and WeddingWire have helped brides simplify their search for ceremony and reception locations, the key for outdoor sites such as Boerner is to provide options.
Guest lists from two to 200 people can be accommodated at one of Boerner's gardens, which include Juniper Grove, the Rose Garden, Annual Garden Gazebo, the Rock Garden, Shrub Mall and the Fragrance Garden.
Boerner Botanical Garden is owned by the Milwaukee County Parks system and was designed by Alfred L. Boerner more than 75 years ago. Staff does not know if the botanical gardens were ever intended for weddings, but it has easily become such a destination. Generations of families have celebrated weddings at Boerner, Walczak said. Many new brides choose to marry at Boerner because their parents did, she added.
It has also drawn brides from the tropics of Florida and Hawaii, Nelson said.
The vibe for weddings at Boerner is relaxed. Garden staff are quick to accommodate seating arrangements and special requests for ceremony traditions.
'We wanted (our wedding) to be nice, relaxed and I guess ... flowing,' said Ken Hecker, who married his wife Stacy Hutper in the Annual Garden Gazebo during Memorial Day weekend. While the two had begun planning their wedding one year in advance, there was one component they didn't plan — 'the hundreds and hundreds of tulips in bloom,' Hecker said.