After I got engaged, my fiance and I were looking for a Detroit wedding ceremony venue that didn’t have a religious connection. Somehow (I don’t remember how exactly) I came across the Anna Scripts Whitcomb Conservatory on Belle Isle. My 2 best friends (and future bridesmaids) scoped it out with me.
The Conservatory consists of botanical gardens with an amazing fountain, and a greenhouse that is connected to the Belle Isle Aquarium. The conservatory was built in 1904 on Belle Isle, and is open to the public free of charge (to visit, there is a charge to have a wedding.) See the gallery below of our first visit during the wedding venue search:
I loved the garden, but was very intimidated by an outdoor wedding – this is Michigan, and there’s a high chance of weather. When I found out that the main section of the greenhouse could serve as a back-up in the case of weather (and it’s beautiful), I decided I could handle this place.
At this point, I Google-searched for every bit of info I could find on this place. I learned that the DNR owned the land and building, and that’s about all I found. I scoured the internet for photos and info from other weddings/ brides who held weddings there – I couldn’t find much. I just wanted details, as well as a visual on what the garden and the greenhouse looked like with a wedding setup. I found a tiny smattering of photos, some very disgruntled reviews from former brides about working with the DNR, and a list of rules for renting the grounds. Now I’m intimidated again.
I called the number (that I had to search the internet to find), and reached someone to talk to. She sent me details and a contract. It turns out that the cost is not out of control – $200. I worried about securing a date and continued to contact the office to discuss availability. I began having difficulty reaching someone and getting phone calls returned. This is what the disgruntled reviewers had warned me about! Finally my fiance took a day off from work and went to their office to secure a date and a deposit. The deal was sealed. We were getting married on Belle Isle!
Planning for the wedding begins, and we found a vendor for the white folding guest chairs (OK to Playy Rental Company), and learned about the long list of limitations, and how to work around these. Here is a small list of the “rules” as I remember them:
- You cannot put anything on the ground except the guest chairs and an arbor (that you must provide). This means: No aisle runner, no flower petals, no shepard’s hooks or other decor.
- You cannot have a band, musicians or amplifier (unless they are acoustic, I suppose).
- You can rent a 2-hour time slot, and you must setup, have the ceremony, teardown, and have photos within the allotted time.
- If you want to take photos outside of your timeslot or anywhere else on the island, you must purchase a $75 photo contract from the DNR.
- You are not allowed to have guests throw rice/birdseed/ flowers at a reception line.
- If you want a rehearsal, you must have it within a designated time (Mon-Fri before 4pm… what person is available at those times for a rehearsal?!).
- There is no electricity
- If you have to use the greenhouse (in the case of inclement weather) only 10 chairs, and 30 people are allowed.
Even with these rules, an awesome wedding ceremony is possible. Patrick’s parents created an arbor, the chair vendor agreed to our tight time slot, and we found a battery-powered bluetooth speaker for music.
I stressed out about possible disaster scenarios including the weather, the DNR losing our reservation, random people visiting the park destroying our day, or any other array catastrophes.
In the end, it couldn’t have been smoother. The weather was great, the gardens were lush, we stayed within our 2-hour time slot, and the photos were spectacular. Our ceremony had to be short, but it was just fine that way. The day was beautiful with partly sunny skies and 70 degrees with a slight breeze.
See our photos below:
In closing, I’m delighted about how the day went. A few pointers if you are considering having a wedding at the Conservatory:
- Visit the park and gardens multiple times to get acquainted with the area, and the “goings-on” at Belle Isle so that there are no surprises on the big day. Check the park’s calendars to see if any other events are happening on the same day as your wedding to prepare for any conflicts.
- Check on road construction in and around Detroit. We didn’t realize that Jefferson Ave was going to have a closure during our wedding, and we were delayed for the wedding reception. The traffic getting onto the island can be heavy as well.
- Use the side gate as access for the bride and bridesmaids to get into the garden without guests seeing you. If the gate is locked, have someone talk to a Conservatory worker on site to get it unlocked.
- The ground is not even. I was wearing wedges, and I still struggled walking down the aisle. My bridesmaids purchased a high heel cover for their shoes (you can find a similar kind HERE on Amazon.com) that really helped out.
- If you are a bride that needs frequent affirmation and communication with the venue staff, you may find the DNR difficult to deal with. In the end, everything worked out for me though.
- Be organized because you only have 2 hours. Schedule everything out. Plan more time for setup than teardown. Teardown is quicker.
All of my wedding photos by: Ramy Photography