Awhile back, I posted these photos I was obsessed over of a newly engaged couple who brought their cats (yes, you read that right—cats!) to their engagement session. I was so head over heels with this couple and how fun, quirky, and in love they were. When I learned they’d be having a Topeka Zoo wedding, I was so excited for what their day would be like. Let me tell you, it was every bit as amazing as that cat shoot!
Before I get too far into the wedding details, I should start by explaining more about Rachael. She is—and bear with me, I’m going to use a new term I learned from a 12-year-old this week—BEAST. She’s an education specialist at the Topeka Zoo who teaches environmental education to kids and Topeka residents—and anyone she draws in online. She’s done research throughout the globe, has worked with and has been honored by National Geographic and the American Association for Environmental Education and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Plus, she’s currently working on her PhD in Educational Sustainability. I mean, I think you get the point. This girl is insanely talented and incredible. So a Topeka Zoo wedding was a must-have for Rachael and Brandon.
I’m a little obsessed with the little details of this couple’s wedding, too. True to form, they chose Do Amore for their rings, which make ethical rings from recycled and eco-friendly materials. They also use diamonds and gems sourced from responsible mines. Her flowers even had an amazing story. The flowers and greenery came from Pendleton’s, a farm and Community Supported Agriculture provider in Lawrence, and the Topeka Zoom’s horticulturalist, Rick, who is also a close friend of Rachael’s, designed them. Another dear friend of Rachael’s, Adrianne Jackson, did her hair and makeup.
The wedding was held at the McFarland Japanese Garden and Venue, a space so new there was still a bit of construction going on. (It helps to have an “in” sometimes, you know?) I absolutely loved this spot, which is landscaped with a Japanese garden filled with Koi points, bridges, and gorgeous ornamental features. Rachael’s bridal suite opened to a secluded garden with wood and bamboo fencing. In other words, it was the perfect spot for a relaxing morning.
The guys got ready at the Cyrus Hotel in Topeka, a stunning new boutique hotel in downtown Topeka. It is quickly becoming one of my favorite places to shoot in Topeka. It has a historic vibe but still feels contemporary. And with an insane amount of natural lighting, I was in love with every moment I captured with Brandon and his party there.
Then came that first look. These moments are always my favorite. There is truly nothing better than that moment a couple sees each other just before they’re about to say, “I do.” Seeing Brandon get teary eyed is something I could watch over and over again.
The ceremony was incredibly unique. Let’s start with that ring bearer—a skunk named Phoebe. (Don’t worry, she’s had her spray glands removed!). With windows overlooking the Japanese garden, the couple was wed by the Reverend Dr. Nori J. Rost, Rachael’s aunt.
Rachael and Brandon then got to go get their photos taken with some of the animals in the zoo. We had already met Phoebe, but then we also got to go meet Vision the hippo (and yes, obviously, I fed and petted Vision!). I was okay without petting or feeding Garrus, the Ball Python, even though I’m sure he’s lovely.
Then, the party began! It’s obvious everyone adores this couple. Their toasts brought tears to our eyes. We laughed at everything from silly games to the life-size cardboard cutout of one of the bridesmaids who, due to COVID restrictions, couldn’t come from Australia. There was so much joy and love in the room, and I loved every moment of it.
I again don’t want to forget to list a few additional details from Brandon and Rachael’s day. Her dress came from Celebrations of the Heart Bridal Shop in Manhattan. The men’s tuxes were from Sew Forth in Lawrence. They chose Premier Catering of KC for the reception. Dillons supplied the cake, while Jason Spencer of Lawrence DJ Service supplied the music. Also: I can’t recommend a Topeka Zoo wedding enough. I checked a few things off my bucket list thanks to this wedding!