SPECIAL EDITION: SPOTLIGHT FEATURE ON JOAN SELWYN

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Each month we will spotlight a volunteer, staff member, donor or sponsor of Virginia Robinson Gardens (VRG)—those that have made an impact on the organization. We want to let you, the reader, know a little bit about these wonderful people and corporations that give so much to the Virginia Robinson Gardens and community, and what they do that is so impactful.

This month, we spotlight Joan Selwyn, our beloved founder of the Friends of Robinson Gardens and Board Member.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START THE FRIENDS OF ROBINSON GARDENS?

Our dear friend, Supervisor Edmund Edelman, was a compassionate and dedicated politician as well as a cellist, student of history, and the arts. His enthusiasm for the preservation of the historic Robinson Estate combined with my passion for history and gardens was a natural combination.  

When he approached me to organize a support organization of interested women, I felt he was giving me an opportunity to give back to the community I love. My many years of involvement with the Friends of Robinson Gardens was a gift that will last a lifetime.

 

HOW HAVE YOU SEEN THE GARDEN TOUR EVOLVE OVER THE PAST 30 YEARS?

The Garden Tour, as most new ventures do, started out on a smaller scale. Year by year the tour has expanded, been refined, and now has included more celebrated vendors and designers than ever.

Our attendance has grown significantly, and we have broadened our ticket categories to include Concierge, VIP, General, as well as tickets for children. Concierge is the highest price ticket and includes a docent tour, a luxury van, specially decorated reserved tables, a gift bag, and valet parking. A great feature of the VIP and Concierge tickets is the opportunity to visit a bonus garden. Concierge and VIP tickets were sold out last year.

 

WHAT MAKES THIS PROPERTY AND THIS EVENT SO EXCEPTIONAL?

The First Lady of Beverly Hills, Virginia Robinson, led a life of style, grace, and romance. In designing the Garden Tour, we strive to carry on her elegant tradition by spotlighting the most distinguished designers and florists in each room in the home.

The Garden Tour is also the public’s only opportunity to see the inside of the luxury estate as public tours are only allowed in the foyer of her home. Since Mrs. Robinson loved her garden most of all, we focus our efforts on finding exquisite gardens that have historic relevance.

Now, we have not even talked about the delicious lunch that is served at the Robinson Estate, the Fashion Show, or the amazing shopping opportunities that await you on the tennis court.  There is not enough room in this article to cover all the wonderful surprises that will delight attendees at the 30th Annual Garden Tour, “The Art of Living.”

 

IS THERE A SPECIAL STORY THAT YOU HAVE ABOUT VIRGINIA OR FROM THE PAST 30 YEARS OF FRG THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE?

In her later years, Virginia was so well known and admired that she never made a reservation in a restaurant. When she walked into the fabled Le Restaurant or Chianti with her majordomo, people stood up to offer her their table.

She had a staff of 20 to 25 people, which was overseen by her majordomo Ivo Hadjiev. In traditional European style, everything in the household was precisely planned and conducted around the time of the 17th-century grandfather clock. The staff was the orchestra, and she was the conductor.

Her majordomo, in formal dress, would greet her every morning after her personal maid prepared her for breakfast. She arrived at the table in a long pink gown with feathers trimming her sleeves. A fresh, single-stemmed pink rose, picked by her majordomo, was placed in a silver vase where she dined.

In spite of the formality of her lifestyle, and the traditional limitations that confined women of her era, Virginia was an independent, strong-willed charitable woman with a sense of humor. After her husband passed away, she became a member of the Board of Directors of Robinson Department Stores. She played tennis and swam until she was 85.

Ivo Hadjiev, her last majordomo, told us this story about her. He said, “When people asked Mrs. Robinson how old she was, she always would say, ‘100 years old.’ I would say, but you are only 93. She would say, ‘What difference does it make?’  She was proud of her age because she portrayed her age vigorously.”

So here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson! You were a woman of yesterday and today!

 

WHAT IS THE FUTURE THAT YOU SEE FOR THE VIRGINIA ROBINSON GARDENS?

Walk through the Virginia Robinson Estate, and you will be inspired. For many years now, I have observed tour groups as they approach the entrance to the gardens. Inevitably, smiles break out on their faces. It is so beautiful!

The Friends of Robinson Gardens work closely with the County of Los Angeles to restore and maintain the Virginia Robinson Estate. President Reagan praised us for the example our partnership set for other institutions. With hard work by the “Friends” and the guidance of our amazing County Superintendent Tim Lindsay, we have significantly increased the money we raise each year.

Together we have worked on the restoration of all of the gardens and buildings on the estate. In addition to the continued maintenance of the property, there is still much to be done. At present we are hard at work raising funds to restore the antiquated irrigation system in the Palm Forest — a primary feature of the estate and the largest stand of King Palms outside of Australia.

The New York Times printed an article about us. The title, “An almost Secret Garden,” has some amount of validity. We find that even people in our own Beverly Hills community are not aware of our existence. We need to expand our online presence as well as our outreach to the public through the media.

Another important goal is to achieve formal museum status. This is a detailed and thorough process. To that end, we have installed a new air conditioning and heating system which stabilizes the temperature and prevents deterioration of the furnishings and the interior of the home. Also in process is the categorization of the plants in our gardens. They will eventually all be expertly documented and clearly labeled.

Fortunately, we possess a lot of Mrs. Robinson’s personal correspondence, garden receipts, and memorabilia. They are further evidence of her lifestyle and complete the story of privileged life in Beverly Hills in the early 1900’s. I hope that we will find a way to put them on display.

We have a lot more to accomplish, but we also have the talent and enthusiasm to meet the challenge.

Interview by Caroline Scott
Social Media Marketing Specialist for Virginia Robinson Gardens

 

One Response

  1. Tim Lindsay
    | Reply

    What a fascinating and wholesome story Joan tells here;, steeped in her affection and dedication to the historic wonder we know as ‘Virginian Robinson Gardens!”

    We are all so grateful Joan had the courage and commitment to bring the estate to the public domain, fulfilling the dream of Virginia and all of those who work to advance the “Art of Living.”

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