2020 may be the Year of COVID, but there’s another descriptor — a far more positive one — that can just as aptly define it. How about the Year of Creativity?

That is, no doubt, what members of the Garden’s Sustaining Leadership Council (SLC) would choose to call it, as they spent their summer conjuring an alternative to Hats in the Garden, the annual fundraising event members host to benefit the Garden (and, unofficially, the kickoff to the social season in Southwest Florida). In true 2020 spirit, the Council’s 44 women are introducing something virtual: #HatsInOurGardens, a multilayered affair providing opportunities to don magnificent millinery, win fabulous prizes, and contribute to a Garden campaign to support the region’s essential workers.

It’ll take place November 11, the day the 17th Annual Hats in the Garden had been scheduled.

“We first said, ‘Let’s just skip it this year,’ and then Jane — of course it was Jane — saw on Instagram a campaign that they did around the Royal Ascot where people posted pictures of themselves in their hats,” says SLC member Kathleen Kapnick, referring to the ever-innovative Jane Berger, the originator of Hats in the Garden and a founder of the SLC. Photos of fans virtually celebrating the famed British horse racing event got the SLC to the starting gate, and then the ideas took off.

“The wheels are always turning in people’s heads. And someone will say something, and it will spark something in someone else, and they’ll say, ‘Hey, I have a great idea,’ and that gets the ball rolling into unknown territory. And it just goes from there,” says Karen Scott, another longtime SLC member.

Case in point: Early in the process, Berger, Kapnick, and fellow SLC member Cortney Beebe met for lunch, and Berger noticed the rings on Beebe’s finger.

“You see the wheels turning, and she says, ‘Those would make a beautiful raffle gift,’” Kapnick recalls.

The floral rings were designed by New York-based designer Guita Mortinger (Guita M Fine Jewels), who happens to be a dear friend of Beebe.

“I called her and said, ‘I’m not sure what we’re doing, but I want to give away your rings,’” Beebe says. Mortinger, in conjunction with Marissa Collections, her Naples retailer, and a #HatsInOurGardens sponsor, agreed to donate a set of three rings for the raffle. They can be worn together or apart. “That’s just the kind of person she is,” Beebe says of her friend, “a giving, sweet person.”

Raffle tickets are available for sale through the Garden’s website Monday, October 26 – Sunday, November 8. They are $100 each or $500 for six. You need not buy an event ticket to enter.

The raffle is just one element.

With a $250 virtual event ticket purchase, participants will receive a link through which they can access: a style shoot by Marissa Collections; a photo montage of attendees in their Hats attire; a chance to view the winners of the Most Creative, Most Chic, and Best Virtual Adaptation contest; and, for any attendees in town, a gift bag filled with treats to help celebrate the event from home. It will be delivered by the Naples Transportation & Tours Marissa Collections’ Trolley, decked out in flowers from Kaleidoscope Floral, another event sponsor. During the online event, participants also will learn more about the Garden’s special fundraising push to increase community access.

“We just make things happen with what we have,” says Scott, calling to mind the SLC’s formation during the Great Recession when the fledgling Garden desperately needed a financial boost. “We make things work with our little group of people.”

The Sustaining Leadership Council pauses for a photo in Kapnick Hall during Hats in the Garden on November 6, 2019.

Granted, nothing can compete with a 600-person garden extravaganza, but #HatsInOurGardens brings unique opportunities to reach a different — and potentially much larger — crowd. The in-person event has sold out for the past several years; there’s no limit on capacity for the virtual affair.

The SLC and Garden staff plan heavy social media promotions to spread the word, generate excitement, and introduce the Garden to people in Southwest Florida and beyond who are unfamiliar with it. The online raffle sales — a first this year — and reduced ticket price may lure an entirely new crop of Garden supporters.

“This is the year we can make more Garden friends and get the message out to a much bigger group. I think this year we’ll have a much bigger reach,” says Rhea Merrill, the Garden’s Philanthropy and Corporate Relations Officer, who has worked hand in hand with the SLC to create the event.

Merrill and SLC members agree: Elements of this year’s virtual event, such as the online raffle sales, are surely here to stay.

“It’s not very often that you have a fundraiser that has this much appeal that can go for 17 years,” Merrill says. “I think the Council’s ability to adapt every year and embrace change and look around and say how can we do it differently every year has been the key to its success, and it will be the key this year, too.”

Recasting the event has required much technological juggling, logistical considerations, and a robust marketing plan.

But SLC members, who enthusiastically renewed their memberships last spring during the Garden’s closure, feel it’s critical to support the Garden — for the organization’s health as well as the community’s.

“It’s just so important to have such a beautiful place to go — as an individual or as a family. It’s how I grew up,” says Beebe, who was raised in the Georgia foothills by a garden-loving mother.

Kapnick agrees. “We all need a place to relax and breathe right now,” she says.

A special giving drive will support a community appreciation campaign the Garden launched over the summer, offering free admission to essential workers and their families through the end of the year. It will also help pay to produce activity kits that families can enjoy during their visits while in-person group programming remains suspended.

“The one gift we can give back to our community, which is always giving to us, is sharing the Garden,” Merrill says.

For more information on #HatsInOurGardens, visit naplesgarden.org/hatsinthegarden.

This article originally appeared in Cultivate, the Garden’s seasonal magazine.

woman smilingAbout the Author

Jennifer Reed is the Editorial Director of Naples Botanical Garden and a longtime Southwest Florida journalist.




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