Romance in the Gardens: Vow Renewal Ceremony on Valentine's Day
by Melissa LaScaleia
Brookgreen Garden’s annual event celebrating love, Romance in the Gardens, returns during the season of love, and will be held this year on Friday, February 14. The event is organized and directed by Charlene Sitas, Brookgreen’s director of food service and private events, and Jay Rowe, the vice president of Brookgreen’s public operations.
Seventeen years ago, Charlene and Jay worked together on a wedding at a venue, and then synchronistically found themselves at Brookgreen, where they continue to use their talents to help make magical memories for couples.
Romance in the Gardens is an opportunity for couples to celebrate their marriage and renew their wedding vows— remembering the day that they got married or committed to one another on an iconic day for romance, Valentine’s Day. Vow renewal ceremonies have gained in popularity in recent years, and the reasons why couples choose to participate in one are as unique and multifaceted as the couples themselves.
For some, it’s a way to commemorate a love that has deepened or matured over time. It can be a celebration of a milestone anniversary, like 10, 20 or 25 years, or a celebration of a shorter length of time, 1 or 2 years. For some, it’s a reaffirmation that they still want to be together, a solidifying of their commitment after a rough patch. And for others, it’s a way to strengthen their bond.
Today the pace of life is faster than it ever has been, and a vow renewal ceremony can act as an anchor for couples pulled in many different directions by work and life demands. Whatever a couple’s motivation, they can honor it here.
Brookgreen’s ceremony originated with Page Kiniry. It was the first new event she helped implement when she began her tenure as Brookgreen’s president three years ago, and it has now become a much beloved annual tradition, growing in participation in a short time to upwards of 50 couples.
“We have a diverse array of couples who have participated,” Jay says. “There are young couples who have only been married a few years. We had a couple come who had both lost a significant amount of weight and wanted to come and celebrate that. We have numerous couples for whom February 14 is their actual anniversary and wanted to celebrate with other couples who had the same date. It’s definitely a happy event. It’s a nice gathering of folks who have something in common, who are all here to celebrate their relationship.”
Brookgreen’s ceremony is non-religious so as to be accessible to everyone, and is in no way legally binding. Ron Daise will lead this year’s event which promises to be beautiful.
“We have a new location this year, on the bank of Brookgreen creek,” Jay says. “We’ll have a harpist playing by the water, and each couple will receive a small wedding bouquet of fresh flowers, some seasonal and cut from our gardens. They will also receive their photograph together, and a certificate to commemorate the event.”
One of the fun things they’re doing this year is to calculate the total number of years that all participating couples have been married. And they’ll recognize couples who have been married the longest and the shortest amount of time.
As the event will be held publicly in their private gardens, everybody is welcome to attend. A reception at the Leonard Pavilion, a new venue for this year, will follow the ceremony. The Paul Grimshaw Duo will play during the reception for dancing and entertainment.
The reception is molded along the lines of a Southern style cake-cutting reception, which was popular back in the ’50s and ’60s. In contrast to the formal sit-down dinners that often accompany weddings today, these events were simple affairs often held in the church social hall directly after the ceremony.
People would enjoy a slice of cake, some pecans grown on the farm, punch, and mints. Brookgreen’s ceremony will include all of the traditional aspects of the Southern classic, plus the addition of champagne. It’s a light and fun time to be reminiscent.
Couples come bedecked in attire as diverse and personal to them as their reasons for renewing their vows.
“Some come in their original wedding attire,” Jay says. “Sometimes they purchase new clothing, or matching outfits. One couple were simultaneously celebrating their one year anniversary as well as their joint weight loss, and purchased new clothes to celebrate both milestones.”
Pre-registration for the event either online or by phone is required. There is no deadline for registration, but the event usually sells out. Tickets are $50 per couple, $40 for members, and includes admission to the gardens for the day, should couples choose to meander along the paths or have a picnic lunch on the lawns.
“We’re a historical location, and our gardens lend themselves to romance,” Jay says. “And of course today, we host many lavish receptions and grand receptions with dinners and cocktail hours on our premises. But the Southern reception takes us back in history to a tradition that led us to what and how we celebrate marriages today.”
And in the event that couples choose to host their wedding here at Brookgreen Gardens and not just renew their vows, Charlene is the women to call to help you make those plans.
They can accommodate weddings and receptions for 2 people up to 600.