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The champagne reception.

More than 400 guests attended our 32nd annual Opening Night Party and Auction at the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival on February 25. They helped us raise over $370,000 for Washington Park Arboretum—breaking last year’s record by about $50,000!

“Flower Power” began with a champagne reception in the South Atrium Lobby of the Washington State Convention Center. While enjoying the reception, guests had the opportunity to sign up for unique plant and wildlife experiences, such as a tour of the private garden of famed rhododendron hybridizer Ned Brockenbrough.

Enjoying the gardens.

Then the doors of the Exhibit Hall opened, and guests savored an exclusive first-look at the Garden Festival’s stunning displays, including the Arboretum’s “Gateway to a Greener Earth” garden, which won multiple show awards. Guests also enjoyed a wine grab and silent auction.

When it came time for the dinner and live auction, dancers dressed as “flower children” in full 1960s hippie garb led guests to the sixth floor banquet hall. Right before our program got underway, the dancers were joined by singers from Premier Vocal Entertainment and performed a rousing rendition of Aquarius—Let the Sunshine In.

The Age of Aquarius.

Then, Arboretum Foundation Board President Jason Morse and Executive Director Jane Stonecipher came on stage to welcome our guests and thank our event committee, sponsors, partners, and volunteers. Jason spoke about how the party was a celebration of the Flower Power movement that ushered in the first Earth Day in 1970. Thanking the performers, he said, “In astrology, the Age of Aquarius describes a hopeful new era—one of light, love, peace, and sustainable living. So, the song tells the story of tonight’s message of ensuring a greener future for all.”

Jane talked about how the Arboretum team is celebrating this year’s 5oth anniversary of Earth Day with a series of events, including our work service day on April 25, and then explained how we are also “looking forward to the next five decades with a fierce commitment to protecting the environment and our community.”

Jane Stonecipher and Jason Morse.

We’re accomplishing this in three key ways, continued Jane. Firstly, through modelling sustainability—in our ecological horticulture practices, by restoring the Arboretum watershed, and with green infrastructure. Secondly, through building climate resilience—by protecting imperiled plant species from around the world and planting a diverse collection. Thirdly, by fostering the next generation of environmental stewards and leaders, through innovative and inclusive education and volunteer programs, “which teach youth and adults the value of nature through direct experience.”

Jane then invited Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz to the podium. Elected to office in 2016, Commissioner Franz protects and manages nearly six million acres of public lands in our state—from coastal waters and aquatic reserves, to working forests and farms, and recreation areas. She spoke movingly about how fortunate we are to live in such a beautiful region as the Pacific Northwest, but also about how fragile nature can be and how crucial it is to defend and preserve it.

Commissioner Hilary Franz.

She spoke about her efforts to push for a greener future, and how the Arboretum is an important part of a larger movement and catalytic moment. After her speech, our always entertaining auctioneer Graham Crow emceed the Live Auction portion of the evening. Guests bid on exciting and unique items such as a behind-the-scenes tour of Nathan Myhrvold’s cutting-edge food lab in Bellevue and a signed color lithograph by famed Northwest School artist Mark Tobey.

We then dimmed the lights and showed our guests a short video about how the Arboretum is making our future green by connecting children and adults alike to the beauty of nature. Produced by Laura Malatos, it featured interviews with a visitor and a corporate volunteer, as well as students and parents in the Fiddleheads Forest School—all against the beautiful backdrop of the park. Click below to watch.

Jason returned to the stage and spoke about how the video “perfectly encapsulates what we’re doing—all of us—when we support the Arboretum. As Jane and Hilary eloquently expressed, we are creating and protecting a place of extraordinary natural beauty and scientific value that’s accessible to all. And as you saw, we are fostering a connection with plants and an appreciation of nature in children and adults, so that they will follow in our footsteps by sustaining these magical 230 acres—and also their own home and community gardens, and their surrounding public lands, and the larger natural environment.”

He returned the mic to Graham, who then led a raise-the-paddle that resulted in more than $170,000 in gifts to the Arboretum! At the end of the dinner and auction program, our guests returned to the main exhibit hall for one last look at the display gardens.

Event co-chair Joan Affleck-Smith raising her bid card.

MORE PICS: See our Facebook page for more event photos.

PHOTOS BY: SlickPix Photography