Botanic Garden's Summer Party Eschews Theme (and Speeches) in Favor of Flowers

The planners of the Chicago Botanic Garden's Summer Dinner Dance let the seasonal blooms be the focus of their annual fund-raiser.

By Wendy Wollenberg July 2, 2008, 12:00 PM EDT

The esplanade at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Photo: Dan Rest

Chicago Botanic Garden's Summer Dinner Dance
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The Chicago Botanic Garden's fifth annual summer dinner dance, a fund-raiser that also serves to kick off the season, took place on the garden’s esplanade Friday evening. The bucolic surroundings, including gardens of annuals in full bloom, stately elm trees, and a towering fountain spouting out of a small lake, made for a fitting backdrop for the warm-weather event.

“Hosting an elegant party at the Chicago Botanic Garden doesn't demand a theme in the traditional sense, especially considering the summer dinner dance is held in late June when the garden's splendor is at its most mature,“ said event co-chair Cathy Busch.

Event designer Bill Heffernan of Heffernan Morgan found inspiration for the event's color scheme in a porcelain ginger jar brought in by one of the co-chairs. He outfitted the openings of the dinner tent with blue-and-white fabric from the Lee Jofa showroom at the Merchandise Mart and panels adorned with porcelain plates bearing the iconic China export pattern. Dinner tables were topped with either periwinkle taffeta or white matelassé linens, as well as numerous vases of summer blooms in vibrant yellows, hot pinks, and rich blues. Each table also had a whimsical ceramic figurine, such as a rabbit, parrot, or elephant, in the same china pattern.

Before the dinner hour, some 550 guests mingled on the esplanade amidst blue and purple hydrangea. A dozen six-foot urns decorated in blue-and- white patterns and filled with orange blossoms or blue and purple delphinium perched on white pedestals throughout the space. Servers passed hors d’oeuvres from Calihan Catering such as manchego cheese-and-chive tarts, apple tarts topped with mini disks of foie gras, and shot glasses filled with cool cucumber soup while a string quartet from the Music Institute of Chicago played a backdrop of classical music mixed in with the odd Beatles tune.

Guests began taking their seats for dinner around 8 p.m., just as the sun began to set over the lake. The garden-inspired menu consisted of an organic floral salad, herb-roasted tenderloin, and a lemon-and-berry pastry wrapped in a blue-and-white chocolate band. Menu cards featuring an original watercolor by Chicago artist Patrick Roullier could be found slipped into each napkin. After eating, guests took to the dance floor while the City Lights Orchestra entertained with big-band, pop, rock, and R & B standbys.

Unlike most benefits in town, the event was markedly devoid of any pomp and circumstance such as speeches, auctions, and sponsors. “The tradition of the summer dinner dance is to create the tone of a grand private garden party,“ said Busch. “There is nothing overtly commercial to detract from the majesty of the environment and the highly social atmosphere.”

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