Gala: Pre-opening fest for botanical garden helps the cause

More than 520 partygoers enjoyed dinner themed to each of the new gardens under a tent lighted in floral shades. Vanessa Rogers Photography

More than 520 partygoers enjoyed dinner themed to each of the new gardens under a tent lighted in floral shades. Vanessa Rogers Photography

More than 520 partygoers enjoyed dinner themed to each of the new gardens under a tent lighted in floral shades. Vanessa Rogers Photography

More than 520 partygoers enjoyed dinner themed to each of the new gardens under a tent lighted in floral shades. Vanessa Rogers Photography

Barbie Hills, left, member of the garden's Inaugural Leadership Council, and Judy Herb, a board member, scrunch a bit to enjoy a kid's eye view from the Cracker House in Children's Garden during the pre-dinner tour.

Barbie Hills, left, member of the garden's Inaugural Leadership Council, and Judy Herb, a board member, scrunch a bit to enjoy a kid's eye view from the Cracker House in Children's Garden during the pre-dinner tour.

More than 520 partygoers oohed and aahed their ways past the plantings and installations in the new Brazilian, Caribbean and Children’s sectors of the about-to-reopen Naples Botanical Garden Tuesday evening. Strolling with frosty glasses of lemonade, iced tea or sparkling water offered along the pathways by roving waitstaff, adults congregated heavily in the children’s garden to relive their dungaree days. They clambered about the multi-level tree house and swaying ropeway, scrunched down to enter the crayon-bright cottage, and giggled at discarded handbag and shoe planters, as well as both a posey-filled old sink and commode. Mom’s old bowling ball bag and Dad’s retired golf bag received the “flower pot” treatment, too.

Guests at the pre-opening gala also marveled at the screened butterfly garden, where winged residents festooned bushes like blooms. They walked the winding path of the Brazilian garden to come close to the brilliant, eye-catching ceramic tile mural fashioned by the internationally lauded Roberto Burle Marx. It overlooks two descending pools containing fledgling Amazon lily pads that can grow bigger than manhole covers.

Focal points of the Caribbean Garden were a typical wooden island home, flora and fauna of those tropical countries and coral rock structures. “I was walking a guest down along the rock pergola when, just like out of central casting, our bald eagle swooped down and perched right in front of us!” exclaimed Jill Barry, garden director of external affairs.

An Orlando-based Living Garden “walking” vine and an ambulatory orchid popped up at various stops, to the surprise of many who hadn’t been able to sort them from the foliage.

Dinner was served within a massive tent guests entered from an extended veranda. A colorful, towering layer cake stood by, where a toqued pastry chef stood, creating the garden logo in frosting. Catered by the Ritz-Carlton Naples, the buffet menu was based on the three gardens, including taste treats reflecting each. From kiddie-inspired mac and cheese and chocolate cupcakes to Brazilian feijoada-like beans and rice, Caribbean jerk chicken and pork and a selection of salads, veggies — even demitasses of tomato soup with dipping cornbread — diners quickly heaped plates. Kathy Wheeler of dbr Marketing orchestrated the proceedings.

Executive Director Brian Holley kicked off the brief informal program with thanks and the introduction of Chairman of the Board of Directors Judy Sproul who raised her glass in toast with a spirited, “It’s here!” declaration that elicited rousing cheers of approval from everyone. Also on the podium were party co-chairs Jane Berger and Leslie Fogg. Fogg is to captain the $32 million capital campaign that will ensure the completion of the additional Asian and Florida gardens, making Naples Botanical Garden the largest cultivated garden in the state.

Net event proceeds topped $100,000 including ticket sales and sponsorship income, according to Naples Botanical Garden Communications Manager Amy Kessler. The garden was scheduled to open to the public Saturday, with 70 acres of cultivated gardens and 20 more of preserve area, including a waterfront birdwatching tower.

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