May Day arboretum gala celebrates spring in Raleigh

The annual Gala in the Garden fund-raiser at JC Raulston Arboretum is traditionally a beautiful herald of the spring season in Raleigh, whether the weather is fine, rainy, sweltering or windy. For this year’s May 1 festivities, it was more than fine: Gentle breezes and intermittent sunshine-and-clouds made for a comfortable and relaxing time for visitors to the renowned gardens at N.C. State University.

And it was a day bursting with color, flavors, scents and music in this garden of earthly delights for the more than 500 guests in attendance.

This year, the silent auction tents were arranged around the perimeter of the arb’s central Ellipse, a large oval-shaped greenway that was formerly the site of the trial plant beds. At the heart of the ellipse, in observance of May Day, stood a May pole, beautifully festooned with rainbow-colored ribbons and flowers. Here, gala guests enjoyed garden drinks and locally grown buffet treats, while the soft sounds of live music by the Southern String Band drifted from the vicinity of the Japanese Garden.

Ruby McSwain, benefactor of the arboretum.

The gala not only is the JCRA’s annual fund-raising event, but it also serves as opportunity to celebrate and thank the donors, sponsors and volunteers whose generosity and support help the arboretum to continue in its efforts as a teaching and research garden, serving students, the green industry and the local community.

This year,  Jere Stevens, a landscape business owner, Wake County Extension Master Gardener and wife of state Sen. Richard Stevens, was event chair and leader of the gala committee. Susan Woodson, a graphic artist and first lady of N.C. State University, served as 2011 honorary chair. They joined Dr. Johnny Wynne, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences dean; Dr. Randy Woodson, N.C. State chancellor; and Dr. Ted Bilderback, JCRA director, for an evening program at the York Auditorium in the McSwain Center.

Chancellor Woodson called the arboretum “a vital community resource that serves as a tranquil green space families of all ages can enjoy” and said that the facility’s research, education, extension and public outreach “are legendary and of course vitally important to our community and even our nation. The arboretum serves as a living laboratory for our students and is committed to its mission to train the next generation of horticulturists, while supporting the economic growth of the state’s nursery and landscape industries.”

The chancellor then introduced his wife, Susan, who called the gala a May Day to remember.

She announced that the event was “over our net profit goal of $80,000,” including pre-gala plant sales, with the total to grow with the finalized auction tallies. According to Anne Porter, JCRA development director, the auction sales came to nearly $33,000.

Dean Johnny Wynne (right) and Jackie Wynne enjoy the 2011 gala.

Those funds will go toward the continued support of the 10.5-acre research and teaching garden. As Bilderback, the arb director, put it, “We are Raleigh’s garden – a special green space that is admired and enjoyed by visitors from all over the country and the world.”

— Terri Leith

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