The Conservatory Garden is the crown jewel of Central Park. Covering just six acres, the stunning formal garden includes a manicured lawn, two tree-covered walkways, and an epically beautiful walled flower garden, complete with koi pond. The NYC Parks Department knows the value of their real estate, and they keep the garden in tip-top shape. But such beauty has a price, and there are certain hoops you have to jump through in order to get married here. So in today’s blog, I tell you everything you need to know to plan your Central Park Conservatory Garden wedding, from permits to photo locations and everything in between.
Central Park Conservatory Garden Wedding –
If you will recall from my previous article on getting married in Central Park, if your wedding guest count is less than 20 people then you do not need a permit. But things are so, so different at the Conservatory Garden. The garden is manned by security guards to ensure that everyone there has the correct permits in hand. In all of New York City, there are only two places where small-time shoots and weddings really need to get a photo permit: Gantry Plaza State Park and the Central Park Conservatory Garden. (Obviously, large TV/film photo shoots don’t apply to this rule.) When I first began my photo career in New York, I was not aware of this and happily agreed to photograph a couple’s engagement session in the Conservatory Garden. Almost immediately, we were chased out of the garden by a security guard. Things have not changed much in the ten years I have been taking wedding photos. While the guards are very nice, you absolutely must have a permit to walk in here with professional photo equipment.
The good news is that getting a permit is fairly straightforward. Simply go to the Central Park website and fill out the application. The permit to get married in the Central Park Conservatory Garden costs $400. Bear in mind that this is a very competitive location for weddings, and you need to book close to a year in advance if you are thinking of getting married here during the most popular months of the year (April, May, June, September, October). Also, you can only reserve a space in the Conservatory Garden for one hour, maximum. And while you can have your ceremony in the Conservatory Garden, no receptions are allowed.
Here are a few things you need to know about your Conservatory Garden wedding permit:
- There is a cancellation fee of $200. However, if you choose to reschedule your event within one year from the original date, Central Park will hold your payment and apply it to the new date. This offer is valid for one year only from the date of your wedding, after which time no portion of your payment will be refunded.
- Date, time (one hour maximum), and location within the garden must be reserved
- Wedding parties are limited to 100 people
- Use of the lawn in the Central Garden is prohibited except for wedding photography (you can’t have your ceremony on the front lawn)
- The ceremony permit is non-transferable
- Bring your permit with you on the day of your event; park or security personnel will ask to see it
- The permittee is liable for all damage or injury to property or persons that may occur or be caused by use of the permit, and by accepting the permit, the permittee agrees to save the City of New York, the Parks Department and the Central Park Conservancy, Inc. harmless from any claim whatsoever which may result from such use
- Payment for the permit can be made by check, money order, or credit card
- Questions? Call 347-386-4866 or email email@example.com, Monday through Friday.
For any additional portrait sessions, the photo permit process works much the same as applying to get married in the Conservatory Garden. You will need to contact Central Park and fill out a photo permit application (same application as for a wedding permit). The permit costs $100 and allows you only thirty minutes, maximum, to take photos within the garden.
And, of course, there are additional rules for the Conservatory Garden photo permits:
- Non-refundable permit fee is $100, but you may reserve another date upon cancellation of the original date
- Date and time (30 minutes) must be reserved in advance
- Wedding parties may use the lawn in the Central Garden for 30 minutes only and are limited to no more than 25 total guests who are part of the bridal party and/or parents
- Photography permit fees are non-transferable
Central Park Conservatory Garden Wedding –
You have several choice spots within the Central Park Conservatory Garden to choose from for your ceremony: wisteria pergola, walled garden, or rose garden. There are pros and cons to each location, so here is a breakdown:
Wisteria Pergola – This location can hold the most guests comfortably, and best of all, the pergola has built in seats. There are benches surrounding the pergola, perfect for immediate family and any guests with mobility issues. Expect to have the rest of the guests stand, and note that Central Park does not permit you to set out chairs (though one or two chairs are allowed for guests in medical need or for any musicians should you bring any). The pergola provides probably the most privacy of all the wedding spaces within the Conservatory Garden simply because visitors to the park can see the ceremony in process and hopefully won’t then try to come up the stairs. And speaking of stairs, remember that if you have guests with any mobility issues, the trip up can be a doozy. While the wisteria vines covering the pergola will only be in bloom from April to May, the vines do offer fairly substantial coverage in case of inclement weather and bright sun. In addition, the pergola offers a stunning view of the main lawn and the Vanderbilt gate. In terms of photo locations, I think the terraces flanking each side of the wisteria pergola are perfect for family photos because the areas are shielded from the sun (more shade can be found on the south terrace) and fairly private. The wisteria pergola is where Katie and Zack held their ceremony, and while we did have to (kindly) chase out a few visitors, the ceremony was completely private and we had no visitor interference during the family portrait session on the south terrace.
English-Style, Walled Garden (South Garden) – This spot is the most coveted area for weddings in the Conservatory Garden, but it is also the most popular with visitors. As such, don’t expect to ever have this place all to yourself for photos, much less your ceremony. The garden is in bloom all year round, and the koi pond is the main draw to the garden. Central Park is a public space, and you are not permitted to bar people from entering the garden. So expect to have extra (unwanted) guests wandering in to your space. That said, the walled garden is truly beautiful and is worth the hassle. My recommendation is to stage your ceremony surrounding the koi pond and schedule your wedding early or late enough in the day so that you can avoid the crowds. The garden has dappled light provided by a few trees, but there is not much coverage in case of bad weather.
French-Style Garden (North Garden) – Roses will be in bloom from May to September, so schedule your wedding during this time to have your guests surrounded by flowers. Otherwise, you will simply be in the middle of some thorny bushes. I have to be honest, this is my least favorite part of the Conservatory Garden simply because it feels so exposed. When the roses are in bloom it’s beautiful, but otherwise it feels like sun is beating you down. There is no shade in this part of the park. Still, the pond and sculpture with the three dancing maidens is lovely.
Central Park Conservatory Garden Wedding –
Park Rules and Hours
Central Park is a very public space, and there are rules in place designed to keep the park accessible and in working order for every guest. As a reminder, here is a list of the general rules for Central Park:
- No set-up (includes tents/tables/chairs); chuppahs may be hand-carried in and out with prior permission
- No amplified sound (acoustic music is permitted)
- No vehicles or pedicab drop-off permitted
- No alcohol
- No flowers, balloons, or decorations
- No banners or signs affixed to Park property or trees; no staking into the ground
- Cleanup is required; the venue should be in the same condition as it was before the event
- The public must always have access to the park
The Conservatory Garden is a special place, and thus also has a special set of rules:
- The Garden is a “Quiet Zone;” amplification for musical instruments, sound systems or other purposes is not permitted
- Rules and directives of Park employees must be followed
- Only scheduled, half-hour wedding photography sessions are allowed on the lawn area
- Wedding receptions are not permitted in the Garden
- Alcoholic beverages are not permitted
- Chairs, tents, tables, podiums, rugs, runners or other props are not permitted
- Floral pieces, balloons, ribbons, ropes, banners or draping around plantings are not permitted
- Throwing rice, birdseed, real/artificial flower petals or confetti is not permitted
- Drones of any size or functionality
- Late arrivals must check in with security staff before proceeding to their event or photo session
- The visiting public has access to the Garden and can only be requested to stay clear of the immediate area of the wedding or photography session. Wedding parties/planners may not demand that other visitors leave the area. Only staff or security can request that the public stay clear of the immediate area.
- Pursuant to Section 1-04(i) of the NYC Parks Rules, the release of birds or animals of any kind in the Garden is prohibited.
The garden is only open during certain, seasonal hours:
- November – February: 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
- March: 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
- April: 8:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
- May – August 14: 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
- August 15 – 31: 8:00 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.
- September: 8:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
- October: 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Central Park Conservatory Garden Wedding –
Best Photo Locations
The walled garden is my all-time favorite spot within the Conservatory Garden. You may have to wait in line to get a clear shot by the koi pond that doesn’t also include a reflection of extra tourists, but it is worth the wait. In addition, the walled garden has several side pathways that you can have all to yourself for photos. If the garden gets too crowded, then move to the outside walkway. I used this space for photos of Zack and his family prior to the ceremony.
Next up for prime photo locations are the two, tree-lined walkways on either side of the main lawn. These two walkways are immensely popular with visitors, so you will most likely never have a clear shot without having a tourist also parked on one of the benches. Pack your patience and wait for your moment. Not to be missed in the walkways are the knobby wisteria vine trunks at the end of each walkway. (Around the corner is where you will also find the public restrooms.)
Other prime locations include the wisteria pergola – both on top of the pergola and the stairs leading up to the pergola – and the main gate. Finally, don’t be afraid to venture into the rest of Central Park or onto the city streets. The area of the park going towards 102nd Street is woodsy and you can include the city skyline in the background of your photos. Furthermore, you are in the middle of a major metropolitan city, so why not cross the street and include a few skyscraper or taxi shots?
Central Park Conservatory Garden Wedding –
Here are my parting words of advice for anyone planning a Central Park Conservatory Garden wedding:
Have a rain backup location. The garden has no place to run to in case of bad weather. Unfortunately, this happened at the end of Katie and Zack’s wedding. While the rain clouds held off for the ceremony (and no rain was in the forecast, natch), it started to pour during their portrait session. It’s sad, but true, that bad weather is a daily threat in NYC. For Katie and Zack’s wedding, the couple made arrangements with their reception location to hold the ceremony there in case of rain.
Plan for mobility issues. If you have elderly or infirmed guests, know that it is a trek to make it up the stairs to the wisteria pergola. Plan on bringing chairs if need be.
Plan for where to meet and have a greeter to direct people. On any given Saturday at the Central Park Conservatory Garden, there are three weddings going concurrently. While the garden is limited in size, it is easy to get lost and wander into the wrong wedding. You can’t put up signs in front of the main gate to the park, so instead plan to have a few ushers to direct people to your wedding ceremony location.
Pack your patience. You won’t have the Conservatory Garden all to yourself, so plan for a little extra New York ambience. Most people are respectful and won’t interfere with your wedding, but then again at Matthew and Travis’s wedding we had a foreign tourist walk right up to the couple during the ceremony. Why, people…why?
Warn people ahead of time that there are no seats. Guests should know that they will be standing the entire time. This means that your bridal party will be standing the entire time. So of course, this also means that you should keep your ceremony short.
Small guest counts only. A wedding in Central Park really only works for a guest count of 50 or (much) less. While guests will be standing, there isn’t that much room to get a good view if your guest count balloons past that number. This is especially true in the walled garden.
Try to schedule for early morning or late afternoon. You won’t have the park to yourself, so try to schedule your event around the tourists. Early morning or late afternoon weddings also have the best light because it will be closer to ‘golden hour.’
Make sure you bring your own clean up crew. If you will be holding your wedding ceremony in the wisteria pergola area, you will want to dust off the benches and sweep the floor. Bring a broom and perhaps some cleaning solution and paper towels to handle anything gunky on the seats.
Coordinate your flowers with the Central Park bloom guide. I came across this fantastic link when researching the details for this article that tells you everything in bloom in any given part of Central Park. Can you imagine – your bouquet will look like it was plucked from the Conservatory Garden itself! Also, using seasonal flowers is a lot cheaper than shipping in out-of-season blooms. This Citywide Bloom Guide from the NYC Parks Department is also immensely helpful.
Katie and Zack – How They Met
So there you have it – everything you need to know for your Central Park Conservatory Garden wedding. Now let’s get the details of Katie and Zack’s wedding, starting with how they met (as per their wonderful website on The Knot).
‘Katie and Zack met nine years ago, at Viera High School in drama class. They were both new to the drama department–Katie having just transferred high schools, and Zack trying something new after being persuaded by a friend to take a drama elective.
The first memory they have of a spark between the two of them is when Zack somehow ended up with Katie’s car keys in his pocket after helping unload theatre equipment. Flustered, Katie had to call Zack out of class to come and give them to her so that she could make it to a doctor’s appointment on time. Zack texted her later on, apologizing and offering to take her out to make it up to her. Katie, completely oblivious, responded, ‘No that’s okay! Don’t worry about it :).’ Zack, a little embarrassed, shrugged it off and moved on.
In the spring, the drama department spent a week out of town at the Florida State Drama Competition. Zack and Katie spent a lot of time together that week working on a piece for the competition. Katie, a senior at the time, was directing the piece Zack was in, and wasn’t so sure she was interested in a junior. Zack however, had his own plans to change her mind and Katie became unable to resist his charm. One thing lead to another, and at the closing festival dance they shared their first kiss and spent a long night dancing together under the stars. Looking back on that night, Katie and Zack describe the feeling of knowing instantly that they had just experienced something significant. A few weeks later, Zack took Katie to her senior prom. It didn’t take long at all for them to realize what they were dealing with — love.’
Katie and Zack – The Proposal
‘After many years of dating, Zack proposed to Katie on July 18th, 2016. With the help their good friend Carly, Zack planned out a perfect evening. Carly had to rush out of town, and told Katie to take a nail appointment “that she had made for herself but wouldn’t be able to go to.” Little did Katie know, this was a ruse to make sure her hands were photo-ready.
Zack then took her out to dinner at her favorite vegetarian restaurant, under the guise of a nice evening together before she started rehearsals for her next show. He was nervous throughout, still a small fear in the back of his head that she might inexplicably say no. Throughout the meal, Zack kept brushing his chest pocket to make sure the ring hadn’t somehow fallen out. After dinner, they went for a walk through Central Park, where Zack conveniently had a photographer-friend waiting on standby. As they were passing over a stone footbridge, he turned her to point out a pretty building (and to better position her for the photographs) and then dropped down to one knee. She said yes.’
Katie and Zack – Wedding Details
After getting ready separately at the Refinery Hotel, Katie and Zack decided to hew to tradition and did not see each other before Katie waltzed down the aisle on the wisteria pergola. It was a bit tricky to find secret spots for each soon-to-be spouse to hide in before the ceremony, but I managed to keep Zack hidden away in the walled garden and Katie around back near the tree-covered walkway. We took as many family photos before the ceremony to save on time. The ceremony was beautiful and was officiated by a friend of the couple, Carly. Zoe, Katie and Zack’s fur-baby, was the flower girl and the star of the bridal party portraits. Finally, take special note of Katie’s beautiful veil that was custom created from vintage, French-imported, Chantilly lace used previously in both her grandmother and mother’s wedding dresses.
Unfortunately, rain prevented any photos of the couple in the garden, but we did manage to snag a great photo of the bridal party in the walkway before the skies opened up. All of the family portraits were taken before on the patio to the right of the wisteria pergola (a.k.a., south terrace).
The reception was held at Bottino Restaurant, and I can’t say enough good things about the staff here. The food was excellent, and the staff went above and beyond accommodating guests. The restaurant has room for two dance floors: the patio, where the first dance was held, and the indoor dance space where we held the parent dances. For decorations, the couple kept things simple and made their own table numbers that told the timeline of their love story. The couple also made their own seating chart from a mirror.
Enjoy the photos from Katie and Zack’s Conservatory Garden wedding, and drop me a line if a Central Park love story is in bloom for you.
- ‘Getting ready’ hotel – Refinery Hotel
- Ceremony venue – Central Park Conservatory Garden
- Officiant – Friend of the couple
- Bride’s attire – Dress by BHLDN; belt from Blossom Veils and Accessories; veil custom created by Sew Elegant Bridal; shoes by Badgley Mischka
- Bride’s hair stylist – Danielle Ruiz at Natasha Vallejo
- Bride’s makeup artist – Carley Oser at Natasha Vallejo
- Groom’s attire – Charles Tyrwhitt and Brooks Brothers
- Bridal party attire – BHLDN
- Reception venue and catering – Bottino Restaurant
- Florist – Park and Bloom
- Cake and dessert (banana pudding!) – Magnolia Bakery
- DJ – Ben Boylan
- Invitations – Invitations by Dawn
- Limo – Luxor Limos
If you would like to see more examples from my wedding photojournalism portfolio, then please visit my website – www.KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com