DetroitAugust 28, 2013
Fundraiser is an ‘enchanting’ evening in an enchanting garden
By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer
DETROIT — With its exotic blooms and tranquil atmosphere, stepping inside the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory on Belle Isle is like stepping into a world of natural wonder.
There, visitors will find an acre of cacti, blooming plants, tropical trees, ferns and unusual orchids in the World of Horticulture alone, along with the elegant formal perennial garden and lily pond gardens.
“‘Enchanting’ is probably the perfect word,” said Belle Isle Conservancy President Michelle Hodges, of Grosse Pointe Park. “You really know you’re somewhere special.”
And people who want to preserve this local gem can do their part while enjoying the conservatory during the seventh annual Belle Isle Conservatory Benefit, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Sept. 5 at the conservatory. Proceeds will help the Belle Isle Conservancy restore the Marshall Fredericks-designed Levi L. Barbour Memorial Fountain, which was dedicated in 1937, and the Children’s Temperance Fountain, which was dedicated in 1910. These historic bronze sculpture fountains are both on conservatory grounds and have greeted visitors for decades. The Barbour fountain, which features a wheeling gazelle, is believed to have been the first significant sculpture in Fredericks’ career.
“We’re really happy to get these restored,” said one of the garden party co-chairs, Janice Ellison, of Detroit, who’s also a board member of the Island Stewardship Committee. “That will really make these gardens look beautiful.”
She said they hope to raise enough money to cover the cost of cleaning the marble bases, as well.
The benefit is being co-chaired by Carol Gove, of Grosse Pointe City, and Sarah Ollison, of Grosse Pointe Park.
Ellison said about 400 people usually attend this event, and that number has been growing since the fundraiser began. They’ve raised about $75,000-$100,000 since its inception, and their goal this year is to raise another $30,000-$40,000, she said.
“We’d like to think big,” she said.
Anyone who has been to the conservatory in recent years can see evidence of their work. Over the last few years, Ellison said they’ve been able to fix the flagstone pathway, restore the lily pond and crumbling garden stairways, install botanical signage throughout the conservatory and create a viewing deck for the lily pond.
“There’s really no funding source for the conservatory, other than the city of Detroit running it,” Ellison said. “There’s no funds to do the kind of landscaping and improvements that we do to the conservatory and its gardens.”
Hodges said the conservancy’s projects have “made meaningful and visible improvements” to a place that’s historically and architecturally significant. The 109-year-old conservatory was built and designed by famed architect Albert Kahn, who drew his inspiration from other historically significant domes, such as Monticello and the Pantheon in Rome. Kahn also designed the Belle Isle Aquarium.
The conservatory is now getting more visitors, with the reopening of the neighboring aquarium about a year ago, Ellison said. The conservatory is open for visitors year-round, free of charge, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, she said.
The Belle Isle Conservancy hopes to add more botanical labels and signs in the future. Ellison said these signs have proved very popular with visitors and include information such as the Latin name of the plants and their country of origin.
“It’s really kind of a learning experience for the people going through,” she said.
Garden party attendees will be treated to live music, hors d’oeuvres and an open bar, with an emphasis on Michigan-made beverages. A special tasting garden will offer craft cocktails from Civilized Spirits, along with samples from craft breweries, such as North Peak and Jolly Pumpkin. Art lovers can enjoy an exhibit of work by local artists, and a portion of the proceeds from the sale of those works will also benefit fountain restoration.
Party organizers say this has become increasingly popular.
“It really is a great event in the evening on Belle Isle,” Ellison said. “At that time (of day), the island is quiet. You’re looking at downtown from Belle Isle. You can see the downtown skyline. Everyone just has a really good time.”
Tickets for the fundraiser are $50 per person. Checks made payable to the Belle Isle Conservancy can be sent to Belle Isle Conservancy, 8109 E. Jefferson, Detroit, MI 48214. They can also be purchased online. For tickets or more information, visit www.belleisleconservancy. org or call (313) 331-7760.