The annual San Diego Botanic Garden Gala is well-known for delicious food offerings and spectacular floral displays, but this year's event is being called "extra-special." It's honoring retiring president/CEO Julian Duval, who, during his 24-year tenure, has helped grow the Garden into a major tourist attraction, recently listed as one of the "Top 10 North American Gardens Worth Traveling For."
At the Sept. 8 gala, he will be presented with the Paul Ecke Jr. Award — named for the Encinitas horticulturist who transformed the poinsettia into the USA's top-selling potted plant — for his exemplary devotion to horticulture, his profession, and the community.
Duval originally planned to retire a year ago, but he's staying on to see his final pet project through to completion — the grand-scale, multi-purpose Dickinson Family Education Conservancy. The 8,200-square-foot, 30-foot-tall glass-and-steel structure is expected to open sometime before Jan. 25, Duval's actual retirement date. It will feature floating plant islands, tropical plant chandeliers, and a 15-foot-tall living wall, and will be used for community events, classes and weddings, accommodating up to 300 visitors.
But first comes the gala, where, hopefully, enough money will be raised from generous sponsors to finish the building and support some of SDBG's conservation and horticultural needs in the year to come.
More than 600 guests are expected at the event, which starts at 5 p.m., and includes five bands, strolling musicians, 50 food vendors, and a silent after-party with dancing until 11 p.m. It all takes place around the Garden's beautifully planted 37 acres, enlivened with inventive displays by award-winning floral designer Rene van Rems and his team of local designers.
Guests at the gala will be introduced to Dr. Ari Novi, SDBG's new president/CEO, whose appointment was announced earlier this month after a year-long nationwide search. Novi, a plant biologist and prominent researcher who is currently chief scientist at the Leichtag Foundation, was formerly executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C.
"I've known him for years and I'm thrilled with his appointment," said Duval. "He's got all the earmarks of a great leader here."
And what does Duval plan to do after his retirement? He'll be cultivating his own garden, in Vista, and coming back to SDBG as a volunteer. "Many retired staff are now volunteers here," he said. "It's a labor of love."
Tickets to the gala are still available at (760) 436-3036, ext. 218 or sdbgarden.org/gala.htm
About San Diego Botanic Garden
• The gardens at 230 Quail Gardens Drive in Encinitas (formerly known as Quail Botanical Gardens) started out in 1957 as a 22-acre gift to the County of San Diego by Ruth Baird Larrabee, designated as a park to preserve the resident California quails.
• Quail Gardens officially opened in 1970, and gardens featuring plants from around the world were added over the years.
• In 2009, it became San Diego Botanic Garden, and now contains more than 37 acres, 4 miles of trails, more than 4,000 plant species and 29 different gardens, including the largest interactive Children's Garden on the West Coast.