• Home
  • News
  • Guests Shower the Arboretum with Birthday Love at Opening Night

A total of 325 guests attended our annual Opening Night Party at the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival on February 13 and helped us raise more than $425,000 in support of core programs at the Washington Park Arboretum. This year’s party marked the 90th year of the Arboretum (1934–2024), and guests joined with us for a BIRTHDAY BOTANICAL BASH to celebrate the past, present, and future of this beloved green space.

The evening began with a champagne reception in the 4th Floor Atrium of the Seattle Convention Center. During this time guests had the opportunity to sign up for behind-the-scenes tours of the Arboretum and other adventures, bid on silent auction items, and enter a raffle for Alaska Airlines tickets. Then, the doors to the Exhibition Hall opened, and our guests got to enjoy an exclusive preview of 20 fabulous Garden Festival displays.

Guests enjoying the show gardens.

Our guests then moved to the Sixth Floor Ballroom for live entertainment, a plated dinner, and the party program. Violinist Swil Kanim performed a special piece he composed for the Arboretum, while our Events Manager Tess Forte spoke a land acknowledgment.

Then, Arboretum Foundation Board President Peter Rees welcomed guests, who included Consul General of India Prakash Gupta, Consul General Eunji Seo of Korea, and former governor of Washington State, Christine Gregoire. Peter also spoke of his excitement about the recent passage of the Doors Open legislation, thanking representatives from Inspire Washington and 4Culture in the audience, as well as Claudia Balducci of King County Council. “As a science-based organization,” said Peter, “we are excited to work with you on expanding access for our entire community.”

Peter also thanked our Arboretum partners at UW Botanic Gardens and Seattle Parks and Recreation, the Arboretum Foundation Board of Directors, and party co-chairs Joanna Thiagarajan and Tyler Moriguchi, before introducing the emcee for the program, Fred Northup, Jr.

Swil Kanim performing an original piece dedicated to the Arboretum during the land acknowledment.

Fred talked about his and his family’s love of the Arboretum, saying “When you support the Arboretum Foundation, you enable vibrant collections, innovative education programs, and a space that is safe and welcoming for all.” He thanked our party sponsors and table hosts, and then introduced a short program video celebrating 90 years of the Arboretum. Featuring an array of interviewees, the video talked about the unique value of the Arboretum as a prized plant collection, educational hub, and resource for recreation and well-being. It also talked about how we can become a more welcoming space for diverse communities in our region as we count down to the centennial in 2034.

Fred then welcomed singer and rapper Michael “The Wanz” Wansley to the stage to assist him with the live auction. Guests got to bid on three exciting items, including a dinner and private tour of the Arboretum installation “Union,” with artist John Grade.

Click to watch the program video on our YouTube channel. 

It was then time for our three keynote speakers to take the stage: Jane Stoncipher, Executive Director of the Foundation; Christina Owen, Director of UW Botanic Gardens; and AP Diaz, Superintendent of Seattle Parks and Recreation. The leaders of the three Arboretum partners provided guests with a short retrospective on the Arboretum’s 90-year history, including its Olmsted legacy, the development of the plant collections, the origin of the WSDOT peninsula, the creation of the Japanese Garden, the importance of the 2001 Master Plan, and more.

They talked about “the many passionate advocates whose investment of time, energy, and money made the Arboretum a reality.” And how the Foundation, UW, and City partners have weathered storms over the decades to continue their collaboration and “stand together more united and more deeply connected than ever before.”

Arboretum partners: AP Diaz, Jane Stonecipher, and Christina Owen.

Turning their focus to the Arboretum today, the partners underlined some of the work they’re doing to uphold the park’s rich legacy, including adding new horticulture staff to care for the collections and restoring iconic gardens such as Rhododendron Glen.

Christina thanked the Foundation for its support in raising funds to keep the UW’s education programs affordable for all. And its funding of public art works such as the restored Tsutakawa Gates and John’s Grade new installation. “The green spaces that we steward are so impactful,” said Christina. “We are always thinking about how to engage with new audiences. Sparking imagination, wonder,  and joy is the key to cultivating the next generation of plant lovers.”

Christina also highlighted a grant that the team was just awarded from the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust to support the development of a Climate Adaptation Plan for the Arboretum.

Our party co-chairs Joanna Thiagarajan (left) and Tyler Moriguchi (third from left) with friends.

AP Diaz spoke about the new 10-year agreement signed between the City and the Foundation for the operation of the Seattle Japanese Garden. “We appreciate the Foundation’s partnership in providing free cultural programs, working with our wonderful docents and promoting the Garden out in the community.”

He also spoke about the recent community survey and how that will help us shape the Arboretum of tomorrow. “People want to see more programs and gathering spaces, while still preserving the ability to create a deep connection to nature.”

Jane wrapped up the keynote presentation by asking guests to imagine the Arboretum of 2034, with the newly returned WSDOT Peninsula forming a “connective tissue” with natural areas of Union Bay and Yesler Swamp to the north.

Guests enjoying the program in the ballroom.

Planned in partnership with the Coast Salish tribes, who were the original stewards of the land, the new parcel will feature native plantings and a newly restored Arboretum Creek, which will again be a fish-bearing stream. And there will be recreation and education opportunities, accessible to folks with all sorts of different backgrounds and abilities.

“It’s a generational opportunity to have what amounts to a new 28-acre park right in the urban heart of the city,” said Jane. “That will be the story at the Arboretum’s centennial. Under our 90th banner ‘Strong Roots, Bright Future,’ let’s focus on initiatives that lay the groundwork for the next decade—and the next century.”

Michael “The Wanz” Wansley signing The Beatles Birthday Song.

With Fred back on the mic, our “raise the paddle” concluded the program, and 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 help build momentum for the paddle raise, including generous gifts from Foundation board members Josh Dickson, Noriko Palmer, and Larry Hubbell, as well as from Hilary and Liz Vonckx, honoring their father, longtime Foundation volunteer Skip Vonckx.

We were also thrilled to offer a $90,000 match in honor of the Arboretum’s 90th year, pitched together by a small group of friends and board members—including Maribeth O’Connor and Chuck Nordhoff, Sanjay Kumar, Foundation director Jane Stonecipher and husband, Chuck, and a longtime, anonymous friend of the Foundation.

Guests dancing along to the Birthday Song.

The gifts, among other things, will allow the Arboretum to purchase a new spider lift, which will be a game-changer in how our arborists care for the health of the trees in the collection. In a nod to our 90th birthday, the spider lift will allow the arborists to rise up to 90 feet into the canopy with ease.

The Wanz rounded out the evening with a lively rendition of The Beatles Birthday Song, which had guests up on their toes and dancing around the dinner tables.

Our generous guests raising their bid cards.

Thanks to everyone who helped make our BOTANICAL BIRTHDAY BASH 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, and more. We couldn’t host this event without you!

PARTY SPONSORS: Special thanks to Freestone, Bella Vida Women’s Wellness Center, Aegis Living, Alaska Airlines, Bellevue Children’s Academy, Berger Partnership, Bridge Partners, Brighton Jones, D.A. Davidson, Davis Wright Tremaine, GGN, Gobo Enterprises, Goldman Sachs, Marshall and Sullivan, Mithun, Pacifica Law Group, Parkshore Senior Living Community, Safeco Insurance, Unit 86—Seattle Japanese Garden Docents, and the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival.

Guests enjoying the show gardens.

Party guest posing with some fairie folk during the show garden preview. 

Guests enjoying the show gardens.

ALL PHOTOS: Alabastro Photography.