By Belinda Jackson
With COVID-19 wreaking havoc on the best-laid wedding plans, elopements have moved out of the realms of star-crossed lovers (think Romeo and Juliet, Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton) and into fashion as a way to dodge lockdowns and border closures.
Wedding celebrants Megan Jordan (pictured above) and Christine Pedley suggest you think outside the box when deciding where you’ll elope, and not to look past even the most beautiful little site, from an art gallery to a maze or a cosy café. After all, what is a wedding but the exchange of a promise between two people?
Café scene: budget-friendly micro-weddings
An antiques barn in a former life, Gallery 7 six 5 in Watsons Creek is Megan Jordan’s top pick. “Enjoy champagne and cheese, and get married surrounded by art,” says Megan, who says you could have the ceremony outside in the surrounding bushland, or inside surrounded by plants and beautiful artwork.
She also tips the beautiful Healesville Hotel, with its amazing food and leather studded couches. “Get the legals done with a glass of wine and brandy, and stay for lunch,” she says. “Getting married doesn’t need to be crazy expensive, and with just five people required for a legal wedding, you can get the best bottle of wine in the house.”
Elope to the country: garden ceremonies
Other favourite locations include the popular backdrop of weeping wisteria in the Alowyn Gardens and Nursery. “But there are so many different styles of gardens here, from the beech trees to the hedge maze, for a brief, heartfelt elopement,” adds Megan.
With its amazing views of the Yarra Valley and the Great Dividing Range, the pretty rotunda at the RJ Hamer Arboretum is a popular choice, so Megan suggests eloping midweek for the chance of privacy. “The energy is so different to a big wedding, it’s about the two of you and the commitment you’re making to each other.”
In the same vicinity as the arboretum, Christine suggests couples consider Serenity Point, off Falls Road in the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Gardens. “It overlooks all the Warburton Valley, for the most amazing backdrop for a wedding,” she says, adding that the location’s leaf-shaped shelter provides a wet-weather back-up.
Reading the fine print: wedding permits
Both Megan and Christine name the Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens in Sherbrooke as a top pick, but both give the same warning – like many of the gardens in this area, it is managed by Parks Victoria, so you’ll need to apply for a permit to get married there. Permits take eight to 12 weeks to process, so advance planning is vital. However, with the trees of a million colours and sweet little bridges curved over calm lakes, the gardens are the perfect site to make a promise.
Less well-known, turn off Hacketts Road in Olinda to reach Pirianda Gardens. “It’s the quintessential Dandenong garden,” says Christine. Photo backdrops include a maple grove, paths lined with stone walls, towering Mountain Ash and a beautiful, historic gazebo.
King Henry’s at Sassafras also gets a mention from Christine. “When you’re sitting outside, it’s almost like you’re above a canopy of trees. The grounds are beautiful, and their high tea, which can be served with French champagne, is perfect for a small wedding.”
“Don’t discount using the gardens of people you know,” she says, adding that her own garden has been the site of several ceremonies. “There’s no cost involved, and you can finish with a picnic or a meal in a local restaurant.”
However, when asked to name her favourite place for an elopement, Christine’s choice is Stonehurst of Sassafras. The house can sleep up to 10 and is surrounded by the most wonderful trees: there are a lot of different vistas, including the back garden, with its broad views. “If I was eloping, that’s the place I would be going to.”