New York Botanical Garden’s Conservatory Ball ushers in the summer season

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The sun sets on the Spring season.

A few weeks ago, The New York Botanical Garden hosted the annual Conservatory Ball in the Bronx, replete with its 250 acres of dazzling beauty and magnificent landscape, to celebrate its summer exhibition, Wonderland: Curious Nature.

This is always a great benefit because it is a grand dinner dance in the old fashioned sense. It is traditional in its perfection. And as you can see, everyone turns out in their best and brightest — Black tie and long dresses.

This party used to be the milestone ending the official social season in New York. It’s not anymore because the Social Season in New York doesn’t end. Many of those who attended (and still attend) the Conservatory Ball would afterwards then depart the city for their summer places (hence the idea of “the end”), whether to the beaches of Rhode Island, Nantucket and the Vineyard or the Hamptons and the North Fork of Long Island. Friends bidding farewell until Labor Day.

Cocktails on the Conservatory Lawn.

The evening always begins with cocktails in the blooming gardens surrounding the conservatory as the sun is setting. On the Conservatory Lawn, guests meandered through the topiary garden — a Victorian favorite — with Shrumen Lumen, kinetic mushroom sculptures by FoldHaus Art Collective, that dazzled audiences at the Burning Man festival and around the world, changing size at random and allowing everyone to experience the natural world from a fantastical point of view.

FoldHaus Art Collective’s Shrumen Lumen at dusk.

Other guests went straight for the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory to experience thousands of vibrant flowers with Victorian garden displays, transporting them to the era of Alice in 19th-century England.

This year’s garden-wide exhibition, a whimsical and botanical experience inspired by the classic story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, features a magnificent flower show, contemporary art installations, engaging daytime programming, fantastical tea parties, and exciting night experiences for the curious and adventuresome at heart.

The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.
Victorian garden displays in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory are made possible by the Estate of Enid A. Haupt.
Floral dress designs by Oscar de la Renta.

We asked Jennifer Bernstein, NYBG’s Chief Executive Officer and The William C. Steere Sr. President, about this year’s exhibition: “This was an idea that the garden has been talking about for a long time, and it’s sort of a perfect fit because the Wonderland story is so inextricably tied with with nature. It’s really a journey through nature, and we were very excited about bringing that level of whimsy to the garden.” Jennifer also reminded us that the Bronx is the greenest borough in New York City, with more parkland than any other borough.

The Garden just launched a new podcast called Plant People, which Jennifer is hosting. “It’s an opportunity for us to talk to the experts here at NYBG and other experts in the world of botany and in the environmental world. And it’s a way of introducing and bringing awareness to the fullness of the institution.”

Something else we learned that night: The Garden has the largest botanical library in the world. “We have 8 million plant specimens in our herbarium, which are used by researchers in all kinds of world ways. We have collections that are hundreds of years old. We have collections that were made by Charles Darwin!” exclaimed Jennifer.

William D. Rueckert, Fleur Rueckert, Jennifer Bernstein, J. Barclay Collins II
Honorees William D. Rueckert and Fleur Rueckert, Jennifer Bernstein, and J. Barclay Collins II.

Perhaps most importantly is the Garden’s commitment the neighborhood. “We have a program called Bronx Neighbors, through which residents in the Bronx can have free access to the garden. Accessibility is really important. We have paid a lot of attention to that as an institution, to the physical accessibility of the garden. We have other programs like low sensory hours for various exhibits. So there’s a lot of ways people in our neighborhood can benefit from the beauty of the garden. Which is, of course, the way that many people know us.”

At the tail end of cocktails, we caught up with longtime NYBG supporter Gillian Miniter who stressed how important it is for children’s mental and physical health to spend time in nature, “I love the Botanical Garden. It’s a big, beautiful green space where people can go and lose themselves in the Bronx in New York City where most people don’t have back yards. And to be able to spend the day and see wonderful, beautiful natural things and feel like you are transported to another world is one of the things that makes the Garden special. And needed.”

NYBG Conservatory Ball Chairs
J. Barclay Collins II and Jennifer Bernstein with NYBG Conservatory Ball Chairs.
NYBG Conservatory Ball Vice Chairs
NYBG Conservatory Ball Vice Chairs Arielle Patrick, Kerry Joyce, Stella Jacob, Cecilia Jacob, Hope Chilton, Bosilika An, Gillian Miniter, and Holly Lowen.

And so with the bars closed and cocktails over, guests were ushered into the Conservatory Tent for a sit-down dinner and dancing, this year with music by DJ Runna, where everybody gets up and dances. And dances and dances and dances. That’s always the best party.

This year’s attendees included Honorees William D. and Fleur Rueckert and Lead Chairs Maureen K. and Richard L. Chilton, Jr. as well as Chairs Sasha and Edward Bass, Friederike K. Biggs, J. Barclay Collins II and Kristina Durr, Ravenel Curry and Jane Moss, Sharon and Bill Jacob, Jill Joyce, Bethany and Robert B. Millard, Janet M. Montag, and Deborah and Charles Royce.

This year’s Vice Chairs were Bosilika An, Hope Chilton, Cecilia Jacob, Stella Jacob, Kerry Joyce, Holly Lowen, Gillian and Sylvester Miniter and Arielle Patrick. They were joined by other New York notables, including Tina Leung, Sai De Silva, Muffie Potter Aston, Jennifer Creel, Sophie Elgort, Peter Som, Jessica Wang, Sophie Sumner, Michael Ward and Manel Garcia-Espejo, Marcus Teo, Eric Rutherford, Jessel Taank and Isolde Brielmaier, along with Eliza Reed Bolen and Oscar de la Renta Co-Creative Directors Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia.

In celebration of the evening, diamond jewelry creations from De Beers Jewellers graced a number of the evening’s guests, including Tina Leung, Jessica Wang, Sophie Elgort, Sai De Silva, Jessel Taank, Laura Kim, Sharon Jacob, Holly Lowen and Ashley McDermott.

The evening’s Adventures in Wonderland theme continued into the dinner tent.

The table centerpieces under the tent.

The Conservatory Ball evening, sponsored by Oscar de la Renta, De Beers Jewellers, The Bancorp LLC, Bartlett Tree Experts and Hearst supports the support the core mission of the Garden, including internationally acclaimed programs in children’s education and plant research and conservation. The ongoing generosity of their loyal friends is crucial. It helps the Garden continue its mission of public education, scientific research, and stewardship of this landmark site.

To learn more (and head down the rabbit hole), click here.

Jennifer Creel, Marcia Mishaan, Muffie Potter Aston, Ashley McDermott, Hilary Dick
Jennifer Creel, Marcia Mishaan, Muffie Potter Aston, Ashley McDermott, and Hilary Dick.
L. to r.: Courtney Bachrach and Bosilika An; Marcus Teo.
Hunt Howell, Catherine Kerr, Dale Guldbrandsen, Sally Dodge
Hunt Howell, Catherine Kerr, Dale Guldbrandsen, and Sally Dodge.
Pamela Ford, Stephan Chenault, Fontaine Davis, Paula Bowen, April Bethune, Simone Bethune
Pamela Ford, Stephan Chenault, Fontaine Davis, Paula Bowen, April Bethune, and Simone Bethune.
Peter Som, Isolde Brielmaier, Marcus Teo, Jessel Taank
Peter Som, Isolde Brielmaier, Marcus Teo, and Jessel Taank.
Deborah Royce, Chuck Royce
Michael Kovner, Deborah and Chuck Royce, and Jean Doyen de Montaillou.
Bailey Foote, Lizzie Asher, Alexander Hankin, Brittany Beyer Harwin, Megan Melbourne, Guilio Dalvit
Bailey Foote, Lizzie Asher, Alexander Hankin, Brittany Beyer Harwin, Megan Melbourne, and Giulio Dalvit.
Jennnifer Santos; Raymond Vargas
L. to r.: Jennifer Santos; Raymond Vargas.
Marilyn Kirschner, Laurel Marcus
Marilyn Kirschner and Laurel Marcus.
Freya Drohan, Sophie Sumner, Lizzi Bickford
Freya Drohan, Sophie Sumner, and Lizzi Bickford.
Ileana de la Cruz, Paul Pierson
Ileana de la Cruz and Paul Pierson.
Charlotte Chilton, Hope Chilton, Axel Getz
Charlotte Chilton, Hope Chilton, and Axel Getz.
Jeffrey and Daniellle Hirsch.
Jeffrey and Danielle Hirsch.
Sharon Jacob; Sophie Sumner.
L. to r.: Sharon Jacob; Sophie Sumner.
Sophie Elgort.
Sophie Elgort.
J. Barclay Collins II, Eliza Bolen, Alex Bolen, Jennifer Bernstein
J. Barclay Collins II, Eliza Bolen, Alex Bolen, and Jennifer Bernstein.
L. to r.: Muffie Potter Aston and Gillian Miniter; Lynda Lopez, J. Barclay Collins II, and Julia Recaman.
Jessel Taank, Sai De Silva, Lizzi Bickford
Jessel Taank, Sai De Silva, and Lizzi Bickford.
Fernando Garcia, Laura Kim
Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim.
L. to r.: Isaac Thweatt and Rhett Wilson; Serena McDermott, Eliza Bolen, and Ashley McDermott.
Eric Rutherford, Tina Leung, Peter Som, Marcus Teo
Eric Rutherford, Tina Leung, Peter Som, and Marcus Teo.
Jessica Wang, Sai De Silva; Laura Kim, Tina Leung
L. to r.: Jessica Wang and Sai De Silva; Laura Kim and Tina Leung.
Caption/Description: Hope Chilton, Richard Chilton Jr., Charlotte Chilton, Maureen Chilton
Hope Chilton, Richard Chilton Jr., Charlotte Chilton, and Maureen Chilton.
Tiffany Gardner
Tiffany Gardner.
Fleur Rueckert, William D. Rueckert
Fleur Rueckert and William D. Rueckert.
Sarah Lou Kiernan, Freya Drohan, Sophie Sumner, Jessel Taank, Sai De Silva, Isolde Brielmaier
Sarah Lou Kiernan, Freya Drohan, Sophie Sumner, Jessel Taank, Sai De Silva, and Isolde Brielmaier.
Mauricio Diazgranados and Melissa Clark.
Lawrence Smith, Kelsy Estevez-Smith
Lawrence Smith and Kelsy Estevez-Smith.

Photographs by BFA

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