A Stunning Entrance
On a warm Charleston afternoon last fall, Jennifer Kirby Hackenberg walked out onto the portico of Drayton Hall, in Charleston, South Carolina, to join her fiancé, Joseph John Keenan III, who was waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs. As she descended, she was framed by the columns of the 1742 Georgian Palladian-style plantation house. She felt, she says, “like Scarlet in Gone With the Wind. The house is a beautiful holdover from another time, and I was wearing this big beautiful dress. I was the first bride ever allowed inside to get ready with my bridesmaids, and that felt extremely special.”
History in the Making
Drayton Hall is the oldest surviving plantation house of its kind in the South. The grounds are covered with winding paths and gardens and lawns that border the Ashley River. “Everything has such a sense of history,” Jennifer says. The couple exchanged vows beneath a giant oak tree. A friend recited “One River,” a poem by Southern poet Archibald Rutledge, and a gospel group sang “I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry.” As the ceremony came to a close, the couple embraced and kissed, then stood in a receiving line for their 515 guests. It wasn’t until the bridal party had gathered on the massive portico for photographs that Jennifer actually believed she was married. “Just looking over at all thirteen bridesmaids laughing and hugging made it real,” she says.
At the reception, held in two tents, guests immediately realized the theme of Gerbera daisies (the bride and bridesmaids all held bouquets of miniatures). “I love these flowers because of their range of color,” Jennifer says. “I think they make people feel happy.” Tara Gerard, the event planner and designer, used thousands of the bright daisies to decorate everything from the handmade barrel lamps to the cake.
A Colorful, Casual Reception
To create the atmosphere of a lounge in the bar tent, antique chaise longues were rented from a local antiques dealer; there, guests enjoyed Low Country lemonades served with daisy swizzle sticks. In the white dinner tent, large branches decorated with twinkling miniature lights and decorative balls fashioned of more gerberas hung over the main food table. The colorful flowers were stars of the table centerpieces too—popping out of cylinders full of ryegrass. Guests were free either to sit down and chat or move throughout the tent. They feasted on tenderloin, wild mushroom risotto in delicate porcelain cups, crab cakes, hand-rolled sushi and oysters on the half shell, among many other choices, all the while listening to the music of a full funk and soul band. “The tents were so vast, I never actually made it all the way through,” Jennifer says. “And I didn’t get to taste a bit of the delicious food—my only major disappointment.”
It’s all in the Details
Joe picked their wedding date—but only after he had carefully studied the local tidal charts and moon cycles. “Joe took all those details seriously, and what a difference they made,” says Jennifer. “We had a nice high tide, and the moon was almost full.”
Taking the details seriously also paid off with the wedding cake, a five-tier coconut confection with buttercream icing. Naturally, gerberas were part of the design, bordering each tier and crowning the top. On the sides were sugary bumblebees, dragonflies and butterflies. “It was almost too gorgeous to cut into,” Jennifer says.
At the end of the evening, after guests had strolled over the grounds and danced for hours, a Rolls arrived to whisk the newlyweds off on their honeymoon. “I remember leaving the reception and passing the plantation house,” Jennifer says. “It was all dark and quiet, and we were holding hands—I’ll never forget what a romantic moment it was.”