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New York Botanical Garden Hosts Annual Conservatory Ball (PHOTOS)

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This is the way the spring social season ends. Not with a bang but with a swing band.

And with a garden filled with plants painted by Claude Monet, in a setting so beautiful that -- with all due respect to the borough's residents -- you simply can't believe you're in The Bronx. And with a tent big enough for 600 well-dressed people, with giant leaf-covered chandeliers and bright red floral centerpieces, all designed by the evening's sponsor, Chanel.

Yes, the New York Botanical Garden hosted its annual Conservatory Ball last night, raising $1.7 million for its children's education and plant research and conservation initiatives. The evening began with cocktails in the Perennial Garden, where glamorously attired guests mingled amid the blooming blossoms and tried to subtly attract the attention of legendary photographer Bill Cunningham. The Garden's longtime director, Gregory Long, formed a greeting line with Gala Chairmen Barbra Civka, Cosby George, Gillian Miniter, Caroline Williamson and Anne Johnson.

After the sun set behind the famous Conservatory dome, the assembled social figures, captains of industry and exceptionally generous plant lovers (tickets started at $1,500 apiece) made their way through the historic Victorian glasshouse for a special viewing of Monet's Garden -- or, as one attendee referred to it, "Giverny in the Bronx." The highlight: water lilies descended directly from the ones in all those paintings.

Inside the Conservatory Tent, Bob Hardwick's band struck up a set of swing tunes that had the over-60 set showing off their moves. (After dinner, the band tried out a rated-PG version of Cee-Lo's "F--k You" that wasn't quite as enthusiastically received.) At first, the appetizer appeared to have a giant falafel at its center, but upon closer inspection the morsel turned out to be an artichoke heart crowned with caviar. There was chicken for the main course and chocolate cake for dessert.

The Conservatory Ball is the Garden's biggest fundraiser, and one of the city's top social events of the year. It is among the last events of the bustling spring season and, for some, marks the beginning of summer, when the charity-circuit crowd decamps to the Hamptons, the Hudson Valley and beyond. The event itself reflects this transition -- it's held partly outdoors and partly indoors, and its location a half hour or more from Manhattan means party-hopping is not an option. You have no choice but to relax and enjoy yourself.

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