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Guests enjoying the preview of the show gardens at Opening Night. 

More than 400 guests attended our Valentine’s-themed Opening Night Party on February 14 and showed their love for the Arboretum. Our first in-person gala in three years, LOVE IN BLOOM raised over $425,000 in support of core programs such as tree care and environmental education.

The evening began with a champagne reception in the 4th Floor Atrium of the Washington State Convention Center. Then the doors to the Exhibition Hall opened, and our guests previewed the fabulous horticultural displays of the 2023 Northwest Flower & Garden Festival. They also signed up for unique private garden tours, nature adventures, and Arboretum experiences, and had a chance to audition for an “Oh la la” contest with celebrity gardener Ciscoe Morris.

Our guests then moved to the 6th Floor Ballroom for live entertainment, a plated dinner, and the party program. The Milo Peterson Quintet, with guest vocalist Michaela Miller, performed a buoyant set of jazz standards and kicked off the program with a rendition of the classic tune “What a Wonderful Word,” matched to a slide show of couples, friends, families, and flowers in the Arboretum and Japanese Garden. Actor Arlando Smith followed the band with wonderfully nuanced readings of love poems by Joyce Kilmer, Basho, and Langston Hughes.

Guests enjoying the preview of the show gardens.

Arboretum Foundation Board President Peter Rees then welcomed our guests, who included Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell, and Consul General of Japan, Hisao Inagaki. He also thanked our Arboretum partners at the UW and City, our event co-chairs Tyler Moriguchi and Jenny Wyatt, and our hardworking Board of Directors, staff, and volunteers. “I’m happy to report,” said Peter, “that after three years, the state of the Arboretum is strong.”

Peter then introduced our LOVE IN BLOOM emcees, husband-and-wife team Fred and Ashley Northrup. Fred and Ashley thanked our sponsors and table hosts and did a wonderful job conducting the flow of our “raise the paddle” portion of the event. In the build-up to the paddle raise, the band performed a version of the song “L-O-V-E,” set to a slideshow of wedding, engagement, and family portraits taken by professional photographers in the Arboretum. Arlando Smith also returned to the stage to recite from William Shakespeare and Tyler Perry.

Actor Arlando Smith reciting the poem “Trees,” by Joyce Kilmer, during the main program.

Arboretum Foundation Strategic Advisor Jason Morse then took to the stage to give the evening’s main speech.

“It warms my heart to see this group assembled here tonight,” began Jason. “For a number of us, the Foundation’s Opening Night Party almost three years ago was one of the last in-person events we attended, so this feels like a particularly happy homecoming.”

Jason then asked the question: What does love have to do with the Arboretum?

“Well,” he said, “we can start by looking around this room. How many hugs and happy reunions have we witnessed here tonight? And how many loving couples and groups of caring friends do I see enjoying a beautiful evening together? How many families are seated at tables in this room, continuing a tradition started by those who have now left us, but whose presence is still deeply felt?”

“But we’re not just here to show our love to those we are close to, but to the singular, exquisite, amazing place that has brought us together, AND to all the other members of our community who also love it—and need it—just like we do. I think it’s fair to say that a whole new swath of folks fell in love with our unique 230 acres during these last three years. And equally true that the Foundation doubled down on our mission to steward this Arboretum for current and future generations.”

Ron Schmaltz tells his story of finding new joy in life caring for the Arboretum’s plants.

Jason then spoke about some of the important recent accomplishments of the Foundation and its Arboretum partners—including the return of the Tsutakawa Gates, the restoration of Rhododendron Glen, a new agreement for the return of the 28-acre WSDOT Peninsula to the Arboretum, and the securing of legislative funding for a broad, inclusive community survey as we plan for the Arboretum’s future.

“Someone once said,” Jason, concluded, ‘Love is more than a noun, it is a verb; it is more than a feeling— it is caring, sharing, helping, sacrificing.’ By being here tonight, by supporting the Arboretum and all the great things we are doing and will continue to do together, you are all committing a profound act of love.”

The guests then watched a pre-recorded interview with Ron Schmaltz, a UW Botanic Gardens gardener at the Arboretum and the Foundation’s Garden Stewards Assistant. Ron described how he walked away from his career as a software engineer at age 58 and reinvented himself as a horticulturist, finding joy for the first time in many years caring for the Arboretum’s trees. He also talked about his deep personal commitment as a donor and supporter of the Foundation.

Fred Northup emceeing the paddle raise portion of the program.

Our “raise the paddle” concluded the program, and our guests gave very generously to help us exceed our fundraising goal for the evening. We were fortunate to receive a number of advance donations to start out the giving. These included a gift of $10,000 from Hilary and Liz Vonckx in honor of their late father Skip Vonckx, a longtime Arboretum volunteer and benefactor. Arboretum Unit 5 donated $1000 in memory of Elizabeth Moses, an Arboretum volunteer with almost seven decades of service. A matching grant of $75,000 from a longtime friend and volunteer of the Arboretum and the Aldarra Foundation provided wonderful momentum.

After the program, guests had the opportunity to return to the Exhibit Hall for more garden viewing, though many lingered in the ballroom, delighted to mingle with old friends and enjoy the band’s closing set.

Thanks to everyone who helped make LOVE IN BLOOM such a joyous success! A special thanks to the dozens of volunteers who helped with party planning, event set-up and breakdown, the paddle raise, sign-ups and raffle sales, the photo booth, and more. We couldn’t host this event without you!

Special thanks also to our party sponsors: Freestone, Friends of Arboretum Creek, Alaska Airlines Bellevue Children’s Academy, Berger Partnership, Bridge Partners, Marshall and Sullivan, Mithun, Safeco Insurance, Pacifica Law Group, Parkshore Senior Living Community, Arboretum Unit 86, WSECU, and the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival.

Some of our event volunteers and staff posing before the party.

Guests enjoying champagne in the Exhibition Hall.

Plant guru Arthur Lee Jacobson and friend in the Atrium lobby.

ALL PHOTOS: David Rosen, Slickpix Photography.