By Christiana Roussel
If there is one consistent theme with Antiques at the Gardens show honorees, it is that each carries a deep-seated love for the beauty of the Gardens as well as for the important resource it is to the metro area.
Conversations that begin with discussing annual plant sale treasures, favorite sections of the Gardens or memories of family photographs taken among the roses gradually unfold into something greater. Quite organically, talk turns to the important work the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens does with support from this annual event.
As this year’s honorees, Maggie and Will Brooke exemplify this dedication to the enduring commitment of support.
Over lunch at General in Forest Park, Maggie and Will each take a moment from their busy lives to talk about what Birmingham Botanical Gardens means to them and their family.
Their faces light up when considering their earliest memories at this Birmingham landmark, recalling a time before the larger administration building was built and the lauded Conservatory was the welcome point for all visitors.
Maggie confides that this building remains her personal favorite aspect of the Gardens.
“My mother used to bring me here as a child. We would just marvel at everything thriving in this glorious space,” she says.
Will has a similar childhood memory, in which entering the Conservatory was tantamount to visiting another world.
“Just the banana plants alone were amazing to see,” Will says.
They didn’t know then that the building would become their location of choice for hosting fundraising events, including the United Way’s Tocqueville Society gala years ago.
Maggie notes, “We wanted the event held at the Gardens, putting up a tent in front of the Conservatory so that everyone could see how beautiful the space is, especially lit up at night.”
Speaking of looking gorgeous at dark, the Brookes both note how much they look forward to the Thursday night gala that is the kickoff to the annual Antiques at the Gardens show.
“It is always a fun party when you know everyone there,” Will says. “The food and music will be outstanding, and you get to check out the dealers.”
They love visiting returning vendors, discovering something new that has been added to the schedule and taking home new-to-them treasures.
Each remarks on how special the show is – in size and scale, in the quality of vendors and those who return each year, and in the caliber of speakers the show draws to Birmingham.
“I love the intimate size of our venue,” Maggie says. “You really have a chance to get to know the dealers, and with the variety of spaces used, each area is unique and makes for a beautiful show.”
While this year’s speaker list is still a closely held secret, many showgoers have fond memories of the time they saw Richard Keith Langham, Charlotte Moss, Matthew Carter or Martha Stewart take the stage.
“The speakers are always great,” Maggie says. “There are so many options, whether morning or afternoon, or panel discussions with an esteemed moderator versus single speaker. The committees go above and beyond, working to attract true design talent.”
At this point in the conversation, it seems we could while away the afternoon, reminiscing about past shows and the joy found in acquiring a collection-worthy piece. But the conversation goes deeper, and you can feel the connection the couple has to something far greater than the highly anticipated three-day event each fall.
To Maggie and Will, each antique and vintage find serves not only as a symbol of their years of volunteerism at the Gardens, where both have served on boards and committees, but also of the opportunity the institution provides visitors.
Maggie speaks affectionately about seeing the parking lot midweek filled with yellow school buses teeming with children, special educational opportunities made possible through donor support and the longtime partnership between the city of Birmingham and the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens. She leans in to stress how this urban oasis functions as a place of connection and community for visitors.
Hearing the Brookes speak, it is easy to see that this connection has come full circle. The dedication this couple has to supporting the Gardens is creating the same types of opportunities they had as children – to discover the larger world around them, one visit at a time.
This year’s Antiques at the Gardens, presented by First Horizon Bank, will be Sept. 29-Oct. 2. Co-chairs Mark Thompson, Anna Cooper and Catherine Pringle invite home and garden enthusiasts, antiques lovers and loyal supporters from across the region to join them in celebrating Maggie and Will while benefiting the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens.
Individual and corporate sponsorships are available. Tickets will go on sale Sept. 1.
Visit bbgardens.org/antiques to explore speakers and dealers and to become a sponsor. Follow show announcements and reveals on Facebook and Instagram @antiquesgardensbham.