Real Couples // UC Botanical Garden Wedding in Berkeley: Laura + Lark

I (Laura) am a queer femme student in medical school and also currently pursuing my PhD in medical anthropology. My work focuses on healthcare for LGBTQ communities. I adore science fiction, any kind of dancing, and our two cats, Comet and Nova. Lark is a Midwestern-born clinical social worker, serving as a therapist for children and families in Oakland. They identify as queer and transmasculine, and hold a deep love for postmodern poetry, ancient history, and petting all the cats. 

Our story began with what was supposed to be a brief drink at a dive bar near the Pacific Ocean to exchange San Francisco tips. Instead, it turned into three hours of captivated conversation with unexpected sparks. Lark arrived on their bike with rumpled helmet-hair, and I remember being blindsided by how handsome they looked, and the fascinating twists of our conversation. I came straight from a clinic (stethoscope and all!) and Lark says they were "struck by my brilliant intensity" with my "dark curls and excitement about critical theory."

Things really heated up that weekend at a queer soul dance party where we excitedly chatted, nervously flirted, and finally kissed. Ever since the moment we met, there has been electricity between us that quickly grew into a deep and brilliant love. This love has led us through cross-country road trips, intense clinical training programs, camping (mis)adventures, and (most often) nights on the couch playing with our wild kittens.

To be honest, our discussions about marriage started one fateful night when, after many margaritas at our favorite restaurant, Lark blurted out “I want to marry the fuck outta you!” After some time passed (and the margaritas wore off), we began to talk more about what marriage meant to us personally and politically, especially since we both have complex feelings about the social and political primacy given to marriage. Like we do with most big decisions, we critically explored the topic: reading books, talking to friends about their decisions around partnership, and researching legal issues. We eventually decided that marriage was right for us as a way to celebrate our relationship, as well as a legal necessity to protect our growing family. Overall, this commitment makes us more dedicated to fighting for even more inclusive justice and equity.

Neither of us wanted a surprise proposal, so instead we decided to plan a weekend engagement-vacation (or “engation” as we took to calling it) to Big Sur, one of our favorite places we’ve visited as a couple. The first night, I asked Lark to come stargaze on the deck (they were tipped off that I might have ulterior motives, since it was a foggy—and therefore starless—night…). Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, I got down on one knee and asked Lark to marry me. After a resounding "yes!!" and many happy tears, Lark got down on one knee and proposed back to me. 

We know we said many meaningful words to each other, but honestly now neither of us can remember what they were. Instead, Lark distinctly remembers the smell of my blood orange perfume, a special scent reminiscent of our early days falling head-over-heels in love. When we got back home, we celebrated with family and friends at the same restaurant whose margaritas started it all.

We didn’t have engagement rings—instead we exchanged engagement kittens! A few months after our engagement, we adopted our kittens Comet and Nova from the SF SPCA. We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate our commitment than by expanding our family with two furry beasts.

We chose matching rose gold wedding bands made of ethically recycled metal from Brilliant Earth.

We had already looked at many wedding venues (everything from event halls to dive bars), when we discovered the UC Botanical Gardens at Berkeley. The moment we stepped into the Garden, we knew it was an incredibly special place—from the majesty of the Redwood Grove where we held our ceremony to the charming patio in the Palm Garden that hosted our evening dance party. It was also meaningful to us that the Garden is a space of environmental conservation and education, and therefore our wedding would support that mission. Additionally, the Garden supported us turning their bathrooms into all-gender restrooms during our wedding, so all our guests would feel welcomed.

We were incredibly thrilled to support all of our vendors’ beautiful work, and honored by how they affirmed and celebrated our love. It was important to us to be thoughtful about where we spent our money. Weddings can be a big expense, and we wanted to showcase the vibrant local Oakland community. Our goal was to support as many local businesses owned by members of the LGBTQ community, people of color, and/or women as possible. The wedding industry is also frustratingly binary, and as a queer couple with a non-binary member, it was important to find affirming vendors. We didn’t want to go through our wedding cringing anytime someone called us “brides” by default. The vendors we ended up working with were beautifully supportive of our identities.

Before meeting Chanda of A Monique Affair, we didn’t really know what wedding coordination was, but working with the AMA team was truly one of the best parts of our wedding! We absolutely couldn’t have done it without them—they supported us through emotional questions, logistical decisions, and made our wedding flow perfectly. 

I am a bit of a photography nerd, so hiring a photographer was an important decision. Working with Vivian Chen was incredible. With a botanical garden as our venue, it felt perfect to have a photographer who also focuses on nature photography. Her presence was equal parts joyous and grounding, and her photos were amazing representations of the intimacy of our love and the support of our community.

Lark wore a custom suit from Kipper Clothiers. The experience of being fitted for and wearing this suit was particularly special for Lark. As a transmasculine person, Lark has felt that the intersections of their identity, body, and style haven’t been accepted in many menswear spaces. At queer-owned Kipper Clothiers, they felt truly affirmed and seen. Lark also wore a tie bar that I gave them, that is engraved with the date we first met.

I wore a gown from Novella Bridal. As a femme who enjoys dressing in styles that let me feel powerfully feminine, I tried on a range of outfits in all colors and styles. The dress I eventually chose felt perfectly retro-inspired, glamorous, and comfortable. Later in the night, I changed into a shorter dress and sneakers so I could more fully “get down.”

We walked down the aisle to “You Send Me” by Sam Cooke—a song that reminds us of our early dates when we would dance together in my kitchen with that song in the background while cooking (burning) dinner.

Our ceremony was a joyous, meaningful, and deeply personal event with one hundred guests. We wanted to celebrate our love and share how our marriage is a commitment, not only to each other, but also to our community and the causes to which we are dedicated. Our officiant was our dear friend Katie, who was actually accidentally on our first date (we all happened to show up at the same bar!) so she’s seen our relationship develop from the very beginning. She wrote an incredible ceremony that described our electric love and deep community bonds, as well inspiring both raucous laughter and joyous tears from everyone present.

For the processional, we wanted to honor our families, but it didn't feel right for us to walk in with just our fathers (and our fathers agreed) so our multiple sets of parents processed down the aisle before us. Then we each entered escorted by our sisters. 

Lark’s 93-year-old grandmother was our ring bearer, and she presented our rings in the same ring box that my parents used at their wedding thirty-two years ago. We asked our two sisters and two best friends to each write a piece to read. Thanks to them, our ceremony ended up containing the perfect mix of references to bell hooks, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, RENT, and Star Trek.

Throughout the whole wedding, we did away with any traditions that didn’t speak to us. No flowers, first dance, parent dances, cake cutting, bouquet/garter toss, or basically anything scripted. Instead our goal was to have our reception be a delicious community dinner followed by a wild dance party. It was particularly wonderful that our friend served as the "Mistress of Ceremonies" and guided our guests through the evening with her characteristic humor, love, and fabulous sparkle.

We were the DJs! As the daughter of a musician, I have a deeply ingrained love of music, and often design playlists for various events. We spent months planning our music; choosing songs that multiple generations could enjoy, had special meaning to us, and that would keep the dance floor hot. One of our favorite parts of the wedding was dancing wildly surrounded by our loved ones on a dance floor that stayed packed from the first song to the very end of the night.

Our caterer was a local restaurant called Los Moles, which specializes in molé. We still reminisce with our friends about how amazing the food was, and we love that we can pop in to the restaurant and relive that dinner. Our cocktails included our favorite liquors (gin for me and whiskey for Lark) and were named Comet and Nova, after our engagement kittens.

Instead of flowers, our family planted ivy and ferns in terra cotta pots to decorate the tables. Guests were encouraged to take them home afterwards, and watching our friends stumble out of the venue at the end of the night loaded down with potted plants was hilariously charming.

A generous family member gifted us a rental of Glassbaby candles for the tables as well. A portion of the candle’s rental fee is donated to support cancer research, a cause particularly close to Lark’s family’s heart. Instead of favors, we donated to the National Center for Transgender Equality in honor of our guests, because our commitment to each other is also a commitment to our communities. 

For dessert, we had donuts! They came from a little shop near our apartment that makes delicious classic donuts we adore.

At the end of the night no one wanted to stop celebrating, so there ended up being an impromptu after-party with guests all squished into one hotel room. When we finally returned to our own room, we were met with rose petals strewn across our bed in the shape of (what else?) a kitten face that our friends had sneakily prepared. It was the perfect sweet surprise to close an incredibly loving and joyful day.

Words by Laura, the bride, as told to Amber Marlow.
Photos by Vivian Chen.

UC berkeley garden wedding sign reading "university of california botanical garden"
uc berkeley garden wedding lark suit details
uc berkeley garden wedding jacket lining with couple's initials and date embroidered in
uc berkeley garden wedding lark
uc berkeley garden wedding laura among cacti
uc berkeley garden wedding first look
uc berkeley garden wedding first look
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uc berkeley garden wedding laura looking over shoulder
uc berkeley garden wedding couple embracing
uc berkeley garden wedding chalkboard sign reading "laura and lark" with an arrow beneath
uc berkeley garden wedding lark's shoes and space socks
uc berkeley garden wedding couple walking on garden path
uc berkeley garden wedding couple on sunlit path
uc berkeley garden wedding lark on path
uc berkeley garden wedding laura on path
uc berkeley garden wedding couple kiss
uc berkeley garden wedding pose among tall trees
uc berkeley garden wedding invitations among clovers
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uc berkeley garden wedding guests gathered on bleachers in garden
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uc berkeley garden wedding laura walking with sister
uc berkeley garden wedding lark and guests standing for bride
uc berkeley garden wedding bride approaching partner
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uc berkeley garden wedding kiss at ceremony
kiss by tree and shrubs
uc berkeley garden wedding couple holding hands
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uc berkeley garden wedding donut tower
uc berkeley garden wedding couple's nameplates on table
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uc berkeley garden wedding couple at table
uc berkeley garden wedding lark and guest dancing
uc berkeley garden wedding laura and guests dancing
uc berkeley garden wedding lark and guest
uc berkeley garden wedding lark and laura smiling for camera

 

VENDORS

Photography | Vivian Chen Photography | Instagram:@vivianchenweddings

 Caterer | Los Moles | Instagram: @losmolesWedding

Venue | University of California Botanical Gardens | Instagram: @ucgarden

Tabletop Lighting | Glassybaby | Instagram: @glassybabyberkeley

Wedding Day Direction | A Monique Affair | Instagram: @amoniqueaffair

Lark's Suit | Kipper Clothiers | Instagram: @kipperclothiers

Laura's Dress | Novella Bridal

Laura's Manicure | Melody at Fig & Clover | Instagram: @mzmelodymagic

Donuts | Golden Gate Donuts

Rings | Brilliant Earth


vivan chen

VIVIAN CHEN PHOTOGRAPHY

Vivian Chen is a documentary travel and wedding photographer focused on community, candid moments, natural portraits. She is infatuated with the great outdoors, epic landscapes and redwood forests.