By Sharon Adams | Contributor

This month, the Mad Hatter’s Tea The Art of Chic would have celebrated its 32nd Year benefiting the Women’s Council of the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden and A Woman’s Garden amongst the glorious blooming gardens at the Dallas Arboretum.  One of the most anticipated parties each spring, Mad Hatter’s Tea is traditionally a fun day at the Arboretum featuring a high-style and beautiful crowd wearing artful and creative hats supporting the elegant and chic A Woman’s Garden, the only public garden in the nation conceived by women, funded by women, and dedicated to the spirit of women.

Unfortunately Venise Stuart, Women’s Council president and Patti Flowers, Mad Hatter’s Tea chair, had to cancel the event due to the coronavirus pandemic and the shelter-in-place order.

And now, in the spirit of Mad Hatter’s Tea, its historic beginnings and the vital role its fundraising plays in the maintenance and care of A Woman’s Garden, everyone is invited to tip toe through the tulips and flashback through photos and revisit this wonderful event’s history.

Carole Ann Brown, chair of the first Mad Hatter’s Tea in 1989, recalled that first event held as a marketing event to bring about awareness of the Women’s Council and the Dallas Arboretum in the Camp House gardens. “Scottie Buehler was the Women’s Council president and she asked if I would chair an event to help bring people to the Dallas Arboretum, an afternoon tea, and I thought that would be a fun event. With Mad Hatter’s Tea as our theme, we sent out invitations to the Women’s Council membership. The response was unbelievable!”

The event sold 100 seats and earned $10,000. Liz Minyard wore a grocery bag as her hat, filled with fruits and vegetables. Dee Simmons wore an Eliza Doolittle complete costume and hat inspired by her role in My Fair Lady. Marilyn Hailey worked with Frank Olive, a renowned hat designer through Neiman Marcus and they signed on as sponsor. The event also included a live auction and informal modeling of spring fashions from the events’ sponsors.

During the years of expansion construction at the Dallas Arboretum, the Tea had to move its location each year. The most unusual setting was in 2002 when the Galleria covered their ice rink, transforming it into a 1930s garden setting, chaired by Yvonne Crum and Dee Wyly. Over 640 attended.

Guest hat designers have also included Kokin, Victor Costa, Joe Bill Miller and Eric Javits. The fashion show has grown from informal modeling to a formal fashion show with sponsors such as Neiman Marcus, Lilly Dodson, Saks Fifth Avenue, Del Ann’s, Barney’s New York and longtime sponsor, TOOTSIES produced by the fabulous Jan Strimple.

In 2004, chair Connie Carreker created a must-see video themed “Hats Off to Heritage,” where she interviewed founders and supporters of the Dallas Arboretum including Nell Denman, Margaret McDermott, Ebby Halliday, Mimi Lay Hodges, Doris Anton, Liz Minyard and more. https://youtu.be/C95Psy932Xw

Hat judges for 2020 were announced at a delightful reception at Empressive Earth Gallery chaired by Regina Bruce and Joni Krieg and hosted by Empress Gilbert and her son, Micah Gilbert. The judges announced were Tanya Foster, lifestyle blogger; Empress Gilbert, Empressive Earth Gallery; Guiliano Matarese, Executive Chef, Mille Lire restaurant; Kim Noltemy, CEO, Dallas Symphony Orchestra; Tanya Taylor, TOOTSIES featured clothing designer; Joe Vilaiwan, Fine Jewelry. Robin Carreker is honorary chair.

While there is always a cheer for the over-the-top hats, some designed by the wearers themselves or by their favorite fashion designers, florists or milliners, there is a definite appreciation for the chic, lovely and sophisticated fashions, all designed with that year’s theme in mind.

Patti said that this year’s theme, The Art of Chic, was inspired by A Woman’s Garden and the Dallas Arboretum, which welcomes over a million people per year. “People treasure the pleasure of viewing the vibrant colors and texture of the flowers, the serenity of the Reflecting Pool and other water features, sculptures and everything the garden offers, including the beautiful sounds of nature,” she said. “A Woman’s Garden truly does give respite and peace to so many, some who may be struggling with a life issue or who simply want to escape and reflect.”

The Women’s Council is charged with the care and maintenance of A Woman’s Garden, a jewel of 3.3 acres at the Dallas Arboretum. The dollars raised from the annual Mad Hatter’s Tea are crucial to cover these ongoing costs.

Venise and Patti thank the loyal sponsors and underwriters who have given so generously to this year’s Mad Hatter’s Tea and hope they will continue to be thoughtful in their giving. Venise said, “After this crisis passes, the gardens and events at the Arboretum will be needed even more as we continue to welcome people from all over the world. We want, more than ever, to have a beautiful and pristine garden to embrace them.”  Everyone is encouraged to help by visiting www.WomensCouncilDallasArboretum.org.

Underwriters as of April 15, 2020:

Chic Chapeau: Empress Gilbert, Empressive Earth Gallery

Garden of Dance: Robin Carreker, Patti Flowers, Venise Stuart, TOOTSIES

Garden of Art: Sharon Ballew, Suzanne Caruso, Angela Fontana, Park Place Lexus, Pegasus Bank, Penny Reid-Nolan, SIDLEY, Veritex

Garden of Stories: Patricia Allen, Dr. Linda Burk, Patricia Dedman Nail, Vida Flores, Jacqueline Ondracek, Misty Smathers, Faith Spitz, Westwood Management

Patrons: Charlotte Comer, Lisa Cooley, Sara Martineau, Betty Secker, Joan Stephens, Donna Stracener, Marilyn Weber, The Wilson Foundation


Beneficiary:  Founded in 1982, the Women’s Council supports the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden and A Woman’s Garden. A Woman’s Garden is the only public garden in the nation conceived by women, funded by the efforts of women, and dedicated to the universal spirit of women.  All financial support for A Woman’s Garden comes from the fundraising efforts of the Women’s Council.

A Woman’s Garden:  Over the past twenty-five years, the major goal of the Women’s Council has been funding for the design, construction and endowment of a major garden at the Dallas Arboretum. To that end, A Woman’s Garden was conceived and became reality with the opening of Phase I in September 1997. Funding has been accomplished by the proceeds of events held annually by the Women’s Council and by the generosity of the benefactors who have honored the Women’s Council with financial gifts in the naming of features in the Garden.

Internationally recognized Landscape Architect Morgan Wheelock’s visionary Master Plan continues to unfold through WCDABG Garden Development projects. Working year-round with Texas Landscape Architect Warren Hill Johnson for the site analysis, planning, design and installation, the artisan “pocket” gardens through Phase II create aesthetically beautiful, meaningful spaces that offer the spiritual renewal central to Wheelock’s concept for A Woman’s Garden.

1989, Frank Olive Hat, Carole Anne Brown, Chair, the first Mad Hatter’s Tea


2004, Heritage Honorees, Mimi Lay Hodges, Doris Anton, Ebby Halliday


2004, Linda Ivy, Chair, 1993 Mad Hatter’s Tea


2009, DAndra Simmons, 2010 Honorary Chair


2010, Carmaleta Whiteley


2011, Shane Walker


2019, Elizabeth Smith Theis


2019, Sharl Bush, Chair; Linda Spina, President and 2017 Chair; Terry Irby, Chair


Photos from previous years can be found on the website. Just look for Photo Albums.