When John Gardiner whisked Tamara Lee away to the Sonoma Coast, she assumed he was surprising her with a whirlwind trip to celebrate her recent graduation from nursing school. However, Tamara soon discovered that they would have an even more special occasion to celebrate. “It was raining and there was no one on the beach,” the bride describes of the moment John got down on one knee and proposed to her with a custom-designed engagement ring. A romantic stay at a nearby inn followed, and upon their return home they began planning their nuptials, making every decision together.

There was hardly a question that the couple’s spring celebration would take place at the groom’s family’s cattle ranch. The charming location provided the perfect setting for the “rustic elegant” wedding the pair desired. “We wanted something special and unique to us,” shares the bride. “We love going up to his family’s ranch, so the choice [was easy].” Beneath a magnificent oak tree enveloped with lush white roses and hydrangeas, the bride and groom exchanged heartfelt vows in front of 200 guests.

Though the alfresco ceremony was traditional in practice and officiated by a pastor, John and his groomsmen chose to forgo classic wedding tuxedos and boutonnieres and wear dapper navy blue suits instead. Bridesmaids dressed in floor-length gowns in an ivory hue carried nosegays composed of hot pink peonies and roses in shades of cream, peach, and apricot to offset the otherwise neutral color palette of the event. Tamara was breathtaking in a lace wedding dress featuring an open keyhole back. She wore her long brown hair down in loose curls and carried a bouquet of vanilla roses with accents of dusty miller. “I will never forget watching her walk down the aisle,” shares John of his favorite moment of the day.

Following an outdoor cocktail hour boasting impeccable valley views, guests passed beneath an arch constructed of greenery and white roses into an aged barn for the enchanting reception. The rustic space was transformed into a refined setting by way of elegant details and ambient lighting. Tin walls were covered with luxurious ivory drapery, and sparkling crystal chandeliers were suspended from wooden ceiling beams. Loved ones were seated at either dark wood rectangular tables topped with lace runners or round tables covered with embroidered champagne linens. Romantic centerpieces consisted of antique-style lanterns, clusters of mercury glass candlesticks, and small floral arrangements composed primarily of garden roses in soft peach tones.

Each guest’s place setting featured a glass charger and a linen napkin tied to a sprig of lavender with a sheer golden ribbon. Tamara and John’s reception menu featured a variety of hometown, country dishes including short ribs and fried chicken, as well as classic comfort-food sides, such as macaroni and cheese, served family style. Following the sit-down dinner service, attendees helped themselves to selections from a dessert bar and enjoyed slices of an elegant four-tiered white wedding cake embellished with fresh flowers in shades of light pink before dancing the night away.

Though the newlyweds celebrated with friends and family until the early hours of the morning, they both admit that the magical evening went by much too quickly. John attests that he would not change a thing about their special day, except to have the chance to do it all over again. His advice to future grooms is simple: “Try to be a part of the planning as much as you can. Some of it can be painful, but it’s your day too. When the time comes to take it all in, it goes by way too fast.” His bride agrees completely, “Embrace and enjoy every bit of it.”