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So I just got back from my first JC Raulston Arboretum Gala in the Garden…I became a member of the Arboretum this year from a unique birthday gift from blog partner, Chris. If there is one garden membership you want, this one is it. Pre-sale plant picks, awesome workshops and much, much more.
I must admit I was nervous. New event, I knew no one…I didn’t know what to expect, and certainly didn’t know what to wear….so I put on one of my favorite sun dresses and bucked up and bought a ticket to see what it was all about. There were some highlights and lowlights, which I will share with you.
Overall it was a cool event. Great weather didn’t hurt of course when talking about an outside party. Plus, the arboretum was all a bloom for the spring. A truly majestic setting….the food was awesome…classy, yet filling for a 3-7pm timeframe. Sliced beef with a surprisingly wonderful balsamic horseradish sauce, veggies and fruits and this wonderful fruit-cheese spread of dried appricots and curried cream cheese. Strawberry lemonade and vino and premium beer to boot. The setting was amazing with a May pole as a centerpiece to the event.
I was nervous and if you know me that is a rare state. I usually take new situations as a fun challenge head on…but I knew no one. I walked in and the greeting was welcoming but unfortunately they acted like I knew where I was going. I picked up my name tag and all I heard was the “credit card machine was down.” What was that all about I paid for my ticket. I asked the lady what do next and she said just walk through the garden….ok…but the Arboretum has all sorts of paths, so I inquired as a newbie…ok..but where do I walk and what should i be looking for? It seemed the wonderful volunteers were only used to veterans not newbies…Oh well, I figured I would find my way…and I did. It was a wonderful set up on the new front lawn part of the Arboretum with silent auction tents lining the area of the party. It was a cool set up, but was really vast. And you really didn’t feel like you were in a garden, more like someone’s back yard….I heard this was the first time they did it in this location…which was met with mixed reviews….you really had to go out of your way to walk among the garden. For me…not a good idea. The Arboretum should want to show off its gardens, force you to walk along the paths and experience all the wonder. The gala wasn’t set up to do that, which I think for a fundraising event was a total missed opportunity. You would be far more likely to bid on auction items if you really experienced the arboretum for the garden wonder…not a backyard, BBQ setting. Again…the food and bluegrass band does lure you and make you feel the real NC experience…but not the extraordinary experience of the Arboretum–NC’s premiere public garden. JC Raulston revolutionized gardening world-wide and the setting didn’t reflect that. A missed opportunity if you ask me.
Then upon entry in the scene, I wasn’t really welcomed…volunteers admittedly were looking for older gentleman with money to bid…instead of newbies like me to experience and want to invest in the Arboretum…I was certainly offended. I have money I donate to charities every year…why were they not trying to pursue me. Well, as I looked around…I saw why…I was out aged by 40 years. Blog partner, Chris, warned me garden events skew older. Which for me would be why if I was a volunteer or into development, volunteer acquisition…i would be like…wow, this chick spent $70 to be here…wonder why? what is her interest? perhaps there are more of her…maybe I should investigate and see how we could grow our visitor base, volunteer base, donor base…nope…no one saw the opportunity. In true KMK fashion, I didn’t let that slow me down. I made a plate of fabulous food and a glass of chilled white wine and went to a table and introduced myself. Met wonderful people…Genelle, Amy, Lou Raye, Lena, Mitzi….and started the convo…asked their affiliation and they asked mine. I told them about this blog…told them I really felt passionately about gardening and if I hadn’t met a garden enthusiast like blog writer Chris, I would have been lost in Big Box Store gardening hell–where they sell stuff that may or may not grow. They made their own gross generalization about young people..you can imagine….but I fought the young person’s good fight and said…well most people my age don’t know about this place. They buy new homes and dont’ know how to engage…except maybe pay an overpriced landscaper and plant generic crap. No one tries to invite them in.
I tell them stories of people I have recently turned on to gardening…either it be, former gardeners that just downsized and moved to a town house or new moms that end up loving sharing their garden with their children. They all seem to be inspired. They all said…well we need to figure out how to reach them…share our knowledge, passion…I smile passionately and say yes.
I used to work for NC State after I got out of college and re-introduced myself to people I used to know…they did the pleasant grin and nod as if they remember me. I don’t blame them…that was 8 years ago…but instead of saying wow….you are into this…how can we engage more people like me….they look past me for one of their traditional donors and try to b-line there. I get it…they are their bread and butter….but I felt like they missed an opportunity. An opportunity to grow…share one of the most transformational things like the garden to people of my generation and below. The opportunity to build and nurture new garden lovers, new long-time, lifetime contributors…the future investor in the Arboretum….they of all people should know that something is worth nurturing….but that aside…I enjoyed it.
My wonderful friends Diane and Joe were there and I shared my experience with them…they agreed a missed opportunity. They said they met JC and he was one to welcome and embrace anyone into the garden…I hear it was just his natural way and hence why he is/was so famous. He made unique gardening accessible. I wished I could have met him…Perhaps because it is affiliated with NC State they think they have it covered…that they teach the next-gen landscaper….but they have an opportunity to look beyond just the traditional student and look for people like me…
Nonetheless we enjoyed the garden…
You should go visit the JC Raulston Aboretum…now the roses are in bloom, the mixed perennial border is quite breathe-taking.
I plan to follow-up with many of the Arboretum leaders and advise them on how to engage gardeners of all ages, levels and interests. There is an incredible opportunity to grow.
You should become a member…there are great benefits and you can help the revolution….gardening is for all….not just the retired. I plan to make it my mission to share the joy of gardening to all…hence this blog…so do what I have done. Tell a friend…share a plant with them…tell them that in this world dominated by digital that there is nothing like getting your hands dirty…nothing like planting a bunch of bulbs in the fall and watching the majesty of the blooms in the spring. Nothing like growing a tomato, picking and making a delicious tomato sandwich of caprese salad….nothing like the joys of gardening.
PS: I would go to the gala again….it is a wonderful cause…wonderful celebration of the garden, which for me has truly changed my life…you should too.