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Delaware Center for Horticulture’s Rare Plant Auction at Longwood Gardens

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A party ain’t a party until the green thumbs run through it? This just might be the new general rule to an excellent soirée. Need a guest list? Simply page through the names in the Delaware Center for Horticulture’s 32nd annual Rare Plant Auction program, close your eyes, and point. Trust me. You won’t go wrong.

This year’s extravaganza, set against the backdrop of Longwood Gardens’ fabulous flora, was poppin’ with big color and even bigger style. It was, without a doubt, the best-dressed crowd I’ve seen in 2012.

Diane Hillyard’s out-of-this-world collared jacket. Ronal Fenstermacher’s deliciously citrus blazer. Marilyn Hayward’s beautifully luxe pantsuit. And Michael Bowell’s … well. Basically, all of Michael Bowell. The hiply-hatted, leather vest-wearing Michael danced a jig—without sloshing a drop of his martini on his baby pink shirt—when he won a bidding war against Gregory Hillyard, much to the amusement of Gregory’s wife, Diane, and her gal pal, Kathy Nassau (props for your most excellent plant-themed green pants, Kathy). “You have no idea how much I wanted this plant,” Michael gushed upon making his way to the podium. “I’ve been thinking about it all night.”

While drama was unfolding on the bidding room floor, some guests chose to max and relax with bubbly in their hands in the Fern room. I caught Marilyn and Nathan Hayward laughing with friends, and spied the night’s most in-demand accessory—hint: it was not a famous pair of red-soled heels. More like a personal horticulturist, like Lori Hollis, who creates dreamy landscapes for Renee and Scott Simonton. The constant gardener Charles Cresson stepped away from his gorgeous Hedgleigh Spring for the evening to hang with fellow aficionados—poor guy. It seemed everyone wanted a word with the master.

Most telling, however, of what a grand party the DCH threw, was the plant experts who flew in from all over the country. “This is as first class as you can do an event,” said Ed Lyon, who brought himself a pair of custom Mexican cowboy boots and a slightly askew fedora all the way from Madison, Wis., to swoon over what we’ve got going on right in our backyards. “This is the gardening, horticulture mecca … outside of London, this is the largest single concentration of public gardens in any area of the world.” Hear that, 302? Dirt beneath the fingernails is the new black.

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