Chicago Flower & Garden Show’s Evening in Bloom blends florals and fashion for a cause

Spring came early to Navy Pier, thanks to Evening in Bloom, the opening-night benefit party for the seventh annual Chicago Flower & Garden Show

The March 13 event featured a high-energy floral fashion show, Hort Couture, that spotlighted the talents of 11 of Chicago’s leading floral designers, fashion designers and landscape artists whose garments and accessories were made of flowers, plants and natural materials.

Produced by Flower Show Productions, the party benefited Bernie’s Book Bank, a nonprofit that focuses on book ownership for at-risk kids in Chicagoland, and Get Growing Foundation, the charitable arm of the Chicago Flower & Garden Show that produces educational programming and yearlong public outreach initiatives to cultivate the next generation of gardeners.

More than 600 attendees enjoyed a first look at the show, meandering through 170,000 square feet of space with more than 21 unique gardens, each drawing on literary inspiration in keeping with the show’s theme, “Flowertales: Every Garden Has a Story to Tell.”

A garden presented by Subaru was inspired by the literary classic “The Wizard of Oz.” The colorful storybook set featured performers dressed as Dorothy, Cowardly Lion, Tin Man, Scarecrow and Toto; and a yellow brick road led to a backdrop of Emerald City and a new Subaru Forester. The characters posed with guests and mingled with the crowd.

A garden designed by students and teachers from the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences was inspired by J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Kendall College students created a tablescape based on Shel Silverstein’s book “The Giving Tree.”

Before the show, backstage bustled with activity, as designers hurried to prepare their models for the runway. Participating designers included Debi Lilly (A Perfect Event), Ali Martin (Big Al’s Wonderland), Stacey Carlton (The Flora Culturist), Elda de la Rosa (Elda de la Rosa Couture), Sheryl Timmerman (A Special Touch), Melinda Whitmore (Vitruvian Fine Art Studio), Amy Crum (Amy Crum Designs), Laura Daluga and Brian Skol (Department of Floristry), Ian Hargrove (Against All Odds), Ramsey Prince and Borris Powell (Ashland Addison Floral and Event Decor) and Tami Smallwood (Tami Trace Designs).

The fragrant fashion show opened with magician Nick Roy and singer Blake Edwards, followed by a rousing performance by Caitlin Simone and Molly Callahan (from Arlen Music Productions) of “Rather Be” by Clean Bandit. DJ Corey Sanford (Talent City Inc.) spun music throughout the night.

WCGO-1590AM’s Mike Nowak announced details for the upcoming Chicago Excellence in Gardening Awards, and Brian Floriani, founder and executive director of Bernie’s Book Bank, spoke about the nonprofit that, since its founding in 2009, has donated more than 11.5 million books to kids in underserved communities.

Tony Abruscato, Chicago Flower & Garden Show director, dedicated the evening to his mother, Judy, who sat proudly in the front row. “She and my father, Mario, helped mold the stories of my life, which made it possible for me to stand here tonight and present the stories of ‘Flowertales,'” he said.

Marilynn Gardner, Navy Pier president and CEO, spoke of the transformation Navy Pier has undergone over its centurylong history. She mentioned the completion of Polk Bros. Park; the unveiling of the Fifth Third Bank Family Pavilion; Prismatica, the temporary public art installation; and the upcoming 220-room hotel set to open on the Pier in 2020.

The party continued after the floral fashion show, with guests strolling through the luxurious gardens and enjoying culinary creations from popular local restaurants, including included Gene & Georgetti, Armand’s Victory Tap, Artango Bar & Steakhouse, Imperial Lamian, Texas de Brazil, Riva and many others.

Freelance writer Candace Jordan is involved with many local organizations, including some whose events she covers.

More coverage: Find more photos and events at www.chicagotribune.com/candidcandace. Visit Candid Candace’s website at www.candidcandace.com, or follow her on Twitter @CandidCandace.

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