The typical “girl meets boy and girl brings boy home to meet mom and dad” story was different for Blake and Bennett Payne. In fact, it was a little backward from the usual.
Blake Gantt Payne grew up in St. Matthews on her parents’ land, which is called Hay Hill Farm, adjacent to her grandparents’ land, which is called the Relief Farm. While she was at Wofford, her dad, Fred Gantt, met Bennett Payne, a young Virginia Tech graduate from Warrenton, Virginia, who was working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in South Carolina.
When Fred met Bennett, they hit it off both professionally and personally. Fred owns Hay Hill Services, a commercial and residential landscaping company. They met at a Calhoun County Soil and Water Conservation Commission meeting where Bennett was speaking about managing the problem of wild hogs in the Congaree National Park and nearby areas.
After the talk, Fred introduced himself, telling Bennett, “I don’t have hogs, but I do have supper club every Sunday night.” He invited Bennett to his weekly gathering. Fred says, “He came over and hung out. We all liked him immediately. I picked him out as a good guy.” Little did Fred know that his daughter would think the same thing after graduating from college.
Before long, the farmer’s daughter and the Virginia native met and began spending more and more time together. That is when her dad began to get jealous, Blake says. “His buddy was now hanging out with me more.”
By the end of 2019, the two officially started dating. They spent lots of time at the Gantts’ farm with friends, family, and always lots of dogs. “All of my friends were at the farm a lot,” Blake says. “We would do farm things — drive four-wheelers, listen to loud music, and dance in cornfields. Sometimes there were more dogs than people.”
After college, Blake joined the family business, doing marketing and social media for Hay Hill. Bennett soon began working for Hay Hill Services running the concrete and hardscaping part of the business.
Bennett proposed in February 2022 while he and Blake were out riding around on the farm on a cold, misty afternoon. “Blake didn’t suspect anything at all,” Bennett says. He had made arrangements with Blake’s childhood best friend, Liz Conger, to hide nearby to catch the moment in photographs.
“Dogs were running around. It was a nasty day. He just got down on one knee with the ring,” Blake says. The proposal happened on the property’s bluff overlooking the Congaree River where they later held their rehearsal party.
Ever since Blake was a little girl, she had dreamed of holding her wedding reception at the Relief Farm. As the wedding planning got underway, Blake chose to work with Julianne Sojourner of My Friend’s Garden for the flowers and design elements for the rehearsal party, the wedding, and the reception. Blake knew she wanted the vibe to be fun and locally sourced, which meant incorporating lots of native plants along with personal items from around the family farm. This backdrop offered Julianne endless opportunities to incorporate visual elements that were meaningful, elegant, creative, and whimsical into the wedding weekend.
The Gantts had gathered many cherished family items that Julianne was able to incorporate into the decor for the rehearsal party and the reception. Julianne says, “There’s a building on the property called The Tavern that’s a family gathering spot. Blake and her family pulled out all these pieces from around the property that I called ‘wedding props’ that I could choose from to hold flowers and other needs. It felt like I could just shop for the perfect pieces.”
Planning an outdoor wedding weekend in the South Carolina spring isn’t without stresses about weather. Despite the large 60-by-120-foot sailcloth tent and two smaller ones to guard against weather issues, the couple threw in a little extra good luck by observing an old Southern tradition. Next to an old sweet potato shed on the farm, they buried a bourbon bottle upside down exactly one month to the minute before the wedding. And it worked. The wedding weekend’s late April weather was flawless.
The rehearsal party took place in a building called The Bluff on the family property that serves as a hangout for dove hunts, cookouts, and farm weekends. “It has a beautiful view of downtown Columbia sitting high on a bluff in St. Matthews,” Julianne says. “We held an outdoor affair with lots of taxidermy and block printed cloth and napkins incorporating items like hunt trophies for a casual, hunt club vibe.”
Julianne says they were able to use a new bar that Crisp Event Rentals had recently acquired. “We had a really cool bar with taxidermy and a fox on one end of it.”
The wedding party sat at a long family-style table with the bride and groom’s seats marked especially for them. “The bride had a carefree little bouquet that looked like wildflowers with daffodils, poppies, and white lace flowers tucked onto the back of her chair, while the groom had a tiny pair of antlers,” Julianne says.
The bridesmaids used the 1820s house on the Relief Farm as their headquarters for the weekend. On the wedding morning, a family friend who is a chef and was also Blake’s cross-country coach offered to cook breakfast as they prepared for the day. Blake and Bennett had spent much of their engagement updating the house and are now living there.
The groomsmen stayed nearby at a friend’s pond house. Many of Bennett’s family members and out-of-town friends were able to stay nearby at friends’ homes in St. Matthews. Bennett says, “It was important to me for my family and friends to be able to get back and forth easily. Transportation was a big deal.”
For her wedding dress, Blake chose a classic style. While she initially didn’t know exactly what she was looking for, it turned out the first dress she tried on was the one. “It was strapless with buttons down the back. Just simply timeless,” Blake says.
The wedding ceremony took place at St. Paul United Methodist Church in St. Matthews where Blake and her family are members. The church was adorned with two large arrangements on pedestals that included lilies and roses. Julianne also used lots of smilax to mark the pews and decorate the outside doors. A classical string duo, Elegant Strings, with cello and violin provided the traditional music for the ceremony.
The bridesmaids, wearing identical dresses, carried spring flowers including sweet pea, poppies, fern, and a soft fuzzy flower called tweedia. Dainty streamers on each bouquet added a whimsical touch. Blake’s mother, Lee, wore a sky blue off-the-shoulder column gown and a small wrist corsage tied with a ribbon.
Blake and Bennett left the church and rode to the reception at the Relief Farm in a 1928 Model A Ford, lovingly called “Miss A” by the family. Blake’s grandfather’s grandmother originally purchased it in 1928. The couple’s first stop was at the sweet potato shed to dig up the bourbon bottle and enjoy a quick sip before heading into the reception celebration.
“When we were burying the bottle we couldn’t find a shovel — and we’re landscapers,” Blake says. On the wedding day, Fred made sure they had a shovel on hand for the couple to dig up the bottle.
“And it was Earth Day,” says Blake. “I’m all ‘go, Earth’ and everyone says it was so fitting for my wedding day.”
Guests joined Blake and Bennett for a cocktail hour with Champagne, and Southern Way passed hors d’oeuvres, including tomato pie tarts and fried oysters. Also greeting everyone upon arrival at the reception was a vintage pink telephone that guests could pick up and leave a message for the newly married couple.
The party began in a tented cocktail area, where the music of the Bryce Waldren and Friends jazz trio entertained the guests. Later, under the large sailcloth tent, the high energy Atlanta Pleasure Band hit the main stage. “Booking the band was the first thing we did after getting engaged,” Blake says. Throughout the evening, guests enjoyed beef tenderloin with grilled vegetables, crabcakes over coleslaw, and pulled pork over grits from three main plating stations. Corndogs emerged as late-night snacks.
Julianne counted on the fact that Fred and Lee owned a landscaping company to bring in lots of ferns and blooming plants as part of her vision for the reception. “I put them all around in different places to soften any hard edges. If your family is in the landscaping business, your grass and pots will look good.”
All of the other flowers came from South Carolina-based floral supply companies — Hi-Cotton Greenhouses in St. Matthews, Floral and Hardy Farm in Lexington, Branham’s Floral Supply in Columbia, and Petal Pickers in Greenville.
The large perfectly sodded tent included a white and wood patterned dance floor and raised stage for the band. A grand square bar in the center of the tent accommodated eight bartenders. A light fixture originally purchased for the family’s house was a perfect fit to hang over the dance floor. Market lights glistened between tents to guide guests around the reception.
Julianne says one of her most pleasantly unexpected elements of the wedding decor was randomly finding the perfect filler for the large urns on the tables in the seating area under one of the tents. A couple of days before the wedding, Julianne happened upon water oak branches cut from a tree being removed in her neighborhood.
“I went running over to get them,” she says. “Four giant water oak branches still looked good. I dragged them home and drove them in my Volvo out to St. Matthews. It just goes to show how you will come across just the right thing at just the right time. I loved it.”
The cake, by Bonnie Brunt Cakes in St. Matthews, had four layers, each with a different flavor. The cake topper was a Waterford white china figurine of a dancing bride and groom.
The band had everyone on their feet dancing from the first song. The evening wrapped up with the bride and groom wearing oversized foam top hats while guests donned funny wigs and played along with the band using light-up tambourines.
Blake and Bennett left from the front entrance of the family’s home as guests threw “Earth Day-friendly” birdseed at them. They sped off in a 1956 red Thunderbird convertible from Fred’s collection of vintage vehicles. The couple honeymooned in St. Lucia before returning to make their home at the Relief Farm.