The largest wedding I’ve ever been to was here in Santa Barbara — 450 guests, and completely homemade. That is to say, the bride and groom — Elizabeth Poett and Austin Campbell — their families, and their friends all pitched in throughout the months leading up to the big day to build, grow, make, scavenge, and create nearly every aspect of the wedding.
“It began with the guest list,” Elizabeth laughed. “Austin and I put together a list of who we wanted and asked our parents to do the same. Luckily, I was drinking tequila when we got the final count. Austin and I went online immediately and looked for trips to Mexico. Eloping sounded romantic suddenly.”
In the end, they didn’t elope, but opted to get married at Rancho San Julian, Elizabeth’s family ranch, which provided the space needed for such a large gathering. It didn’t take the couple long to realize that putting on such a large wedding with a limited budget would mean utilizing the natural resources of their land and handling the majority of the preparations themselves. “We decided on the date of September 5 because we knew that was when the freshest foods would be available to us,” explained Elizabeth. Still, 450 guests is a heady number, and getting enough edibles from the Farmers Market would have been quite the challenge. “My parents and I began to really think: We have a garden, let’s plant what we want to eat. That was the beginning of our do-it-yourself wedding.”
Together, the family planted a variety of tomatoes, green beans, peppers, corn, lettuce, lima beans, and cilantro. “We figured then, that if we were planting all this food, why not grow our own flowers as well,” said Elizabeth. Flower choices were made based on what would be in bloom in the late summer season — zinnias, roses, and other naturally growing flora. In addition, family friends Walt and Patty Lewis donated a box of dahlias and tuber roses from their garden to add to the planting mix.
With the veggies and blooms sorted, deciding what to provide for the main course was next. Once again, the land provided the couple with everything they would need. “I had just started my business, Rancho San Julian Beef,” Elizabeth said, “so we would use our own cattle for tri-tip. Austin and his friend also caught three wild pigs from which we made carnitas.”
As word of the wedding plans got out, folks began offering their services. “We began to have ‘work weekends’ and that is where all the amazing help from friends came in,” she explained. The reception was to take place at the almost 200-year-old main Casa on the ranch, dinner would be held outside under a grove of pine trees, and dessert and dancing under the grape arbor. To make it wedding-ready, an overhaul of the grounds was required. “Friends and family from all over came to help and get dirty,” Elizabeth recalled. Austin, his dad, her dad, and some friends installed an entirely new lawn; scores of zinnias were planted to provide color; lights were hung; a barn was cleaned out.
Elizabeth and Austin found it was cheaper to buy dinnerware from thrift stores than to rent plates and utensils, so family friend Linda Botts spent the months leading up to the wedding scouring second-hand shops. Mason jars were used for glasses due to their inexpensiveness and ability to be recycled later for canning. Wine barrels, which were donated by their neighbors, the Sanfords, created the bases for cocktail bars at the reception. Friends also donated cast-iron chandeliers found in a Dumpster that were hung in trees to provide brilliant decoration and light.
“The week of the wedding was when everything really came together,” Elizabeth said. “It was the week of a lifetime. Help came from all over. Godmothers flew in from the East Coast, friends from around the country — a whole contingent came from New Orleans. Nearly 50 dedicated family and friends came, stayed, and worked for an entire week.”
During that week, pounds of fruit were cut for 50 gallons of sangria. Hundreds of tomatoes and onions were diced for homemade salsa. A team of 15 or so friends, led by landscaper Trace Robinson and florist Ruth Montgomery, cut and arranged the flowers for the 50 dinner tables and the bridal bouquets. Seven hundred empanadas were made by Elizabeth, her mother, Independent Editor-in-Chief Marianne Partridge, and her grandmother, Mary. “One of my best friends, Katie Rose Isaacson, bakes the most unreal cakes,” Elizabeth said. “So as our wedding gift, she, along with another friend of ours, made 450 cupcakes and one huge wedding cake.”
Theirs was a marriage of Spanish and Scottish ranch heritage, and Elizabeth and Austin wanted their wedding to reflect that, so touches from each culture were assimilated: white and red wine sangria was the drink for cocktail hour; cascarones lined the dinner tables; the bride and bridesmaids wore cowboy boots, the groom and groomsmen wore cowboy hats; the couple arrived at the reception in a neighbor’s horse-drawn carriage; and a bagpiper led the wedding party into the reception, playing “The Campbells Are Coming.” The ceremony was held at their parish church, the Old Mission Santa Inés in Solvang, which Elizabeth’s family has been attending for generations.
“If I had to give advice for putting on a wedding such as ours, it would be to work with people who you love working with,” Elizabeth said. “You need to be able to delegate and feel comfortable with the help you’re receiving. Be specific about what you want, yet flexible and trusting enough to let your friends do their work. Fortunately, we figured that out right away. Austin and I feel so lucky and honored to have such great friends.”