As any seasoned city dweller knows, to love it, you gotta leave it. At least the concrete, even for an hour. For me, it only took one season — summer — to feel seasoned. One year is like dog years in the city.
Central Park gets you out. The New York Botanical Garden — even more so.
It’s for everyone. Its gala is for social swans. “It’s the most elegant evening in New York,” said Conservatory Ball Co-Chair Gillian Miniter. “You walk through the rose gardens into a private party under an exquisite tent, where everyone is beautifully dressed for summer.” We donned floral finery, shined the car and headed over.
We were greeted by Perrier-Jouët flowing from its on-theme bottle, women in floral frocks, and stunning, glittered vultures pecking at the grounds. They were part of the site-specific exhibition …things come to thrive…in the shedding…in the molting… by Ebony G. Patterson. To create it, she had spent several years immersed in the midst of the park’s 250 acres, collaborating with its horticulturists, scientists, and exhibitions team.
Surveying the pretty predators was longtime supporter and evening Co-Chair Sigourney Weaver. “It’s spectacular to go around the garden, which one already loves,” she told me, “and see these installations, which are provocative and make you think about things differently.”
Of what, ahem do they remind her? “I’m trying not to think about my industry,” she laughed, adding, “Obviously Patterson’s saying this is part of the cycle of nature, that things are reborn from being destroyed. And if I get it, they are starting the next cycle. So many all together look fabulous. They glint!
“It’s especially lovely to come here at this time of year, to celebrate spring and what spectacular shape our garden is in, how well taken care of it is. I’ve just been in Europe looking at other botanical gardens. I honestly think ours is the most beautiful of any place in the world.
“It’s here for people from all over New York and particularly the Bronx. We have an Edible Academy with school classes, where families can plant vegetables, come back, see them grow and eat them.”
We love watching this New Yorker continue to grow and shine on screen. “I’m very fortunate to keep working,” she replied.
“The industry finally realized, especially in the last few years, that people are interested in seeing older women in stories, not necessarily about older people, but just as part of a good tale. I’ve never been particular about leads versus supporting parts, so I’ve been able to find such an incredible assortment of roles in the last couple of years. Now, I’m about to go off to Budapest to do a wonderful small movie called Dust Bunny. I play another person who’s not so nice, opposite Mads Mikkelsen, the brilliant Danish actor (‘Casino Royale’), with a really talented writer/director, Bryan Fuller (“Hannibal’). And I have really beautiful costumes!”
In beautiful garb that night were other Chairs, Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Bartlett Jr., Friederike K. Biggs, Georgina Bloomberg, Maureen K. and Richard L. Chilton, Jr., J. Barclay Collins II and Kristina Durr, Ravenel Curry and Jane Moss, Gillian Hearst, Sharon Jacob, Jill Joyce, Deborah Goodrich Royce, Tina and Steven R. Swartz. Vice chairs included Michael Kovner and Jean Doyen de Montaillou, Gillian and Sylvester Miniter, Barbara Robinson, Jean Shafiroff, Elaine and Donald Textor, Douglas Dockery Thomas and Mr. and Mrs. Edward K. Weld. This year’s junior chairs were Hope Chilton, Cecilia Jacob, Stella Jacob, Sean Joyce, Arielle Patrick and Sophia Robert. Additional guests included Amy Fine Collins, Fe Fendi, Alex Lundquist, Eric Rutherford, Flora Collins, Shar Simpson, and Lili Buffett.
For many of them, the park is a family tradition. As a child, Georgina Bloomberg came with her family after holidays. Now, she brings her son. “I learned to appreciate it as a kid,” she said, “to re-appreciate it with my kid and to understand its importance to all city kids.”
The name Bloomberg is synonymous with grand scale philanthropy. “Giving back is what we were raised to always do, never question and genuinely enjoy,” Georgina continued. “We understand that we’re in a fortunate position to be able to actually help the causes we love. It’s our duty and our passion.” Taking care of the environment — as well as animals (she’s a champion equestrian) — are key to her.
“It was always very important for me to appreciate nature and animals. This park is possibly the only way that any New Yorkers can access, connect and interact with nature in so many different ways. You can’t really care about the environment unless you experience it.”
Gillian Miniter also came as a little girl. “I think big public open spaces, especially green ones are very important,” she explains of concentrating her support here and at the Central Park Conservancy.
Lili Buffett says the park taught her son to eat vegetables. “He wouldn’t eat carrots until he took them from the edible garden,” she told me. “During the pandemic they provided the local community with fresh produce from the garden, teaching children about healthy meals and giving them hands-on experiences to learn about our planet and how to engage with nature.”
It was family night for Amy Fine Collins. “I love an excuse to hang out with my daughter,” she told me. “Her name is Flora, the goddess of flowers in Roman Pagan mythology. She’s a novelist with a second book out, A Small Affair.” Fine Collins was wearing an all embroidered, one-of-a-kind Thom Browne. “I always have have something specially made for me from Thom for these events,” she said, adding, “Tonight, I feel everyone has risen to the occasion. They said people wouldn’t want to dress up after the pandemic, but I always knew the naysayers were wrong. You can’t kill fashion!”
Yes, art will always survive. Just look at Patterson’s black birds on the green lawn, which she called “a metaphor for postcolonial space,” on the podium.
“With this work I pose questions in nature and in society: How do we reconcile the tension between the visible and invisible, desirable and undesirable? What happens when we acknowledge that even the most exquisite beauty can dissolve? And how can living things that we might otherwise overlook, as weeds, as pests, become catalysts for disruption and change? … This work now belongs to you all, in all its shifts, its layers, its explored histories, between all the vultures, its plantings, its ghosts, its persisting weeds, its beauty, its bounty and its ugliness. … Just remember, the future becomes in a matter of seconds. It’s precious. Claim it. It’s yours.”
Supporting Ebony Patterson’s site specific installation is an example of the depth and breadth of the NYBG programming, which also includes botany graduate programs and adult education.
The evening, supported by The Bancorp, Bartlett Tree Experts, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Hearst, Perrier-Jouët and French Bloom funds the Botanical Garden’s preeminent botanical research, Horticulture, and Children’s Education programs.
Founded in 1891, The New York Botanical Garden is the most comprehensive botanical garden in the world. Besides its library, and community programming, garden scientists work on-site in cutting-edge molecular labs and in areas worldwide where biodiversity is most at risk to protect our natural varietals and resources.
After all, when the smoke clears, it would be nice to have some trees and grass left.
Photographs by Yvonne Tnt & Darian DiCianno/BFA.com.