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It's the most exclusive, lavish — and pricey! — garden tour of them all

It's the most exclusive, lavish — and pricey! — garden tour of them all
A highlight of 30th Annual Garden Tour & Showcase Estate at Virginia Robinson Gardens: The pool pavilion. (Courtesy of Friends of Robinson)

Garden tours are a lovely dime a dozen in Southern California, but leave it to Virginia Robinson, the fabled first lady of Beverly Hills, to inspire a daylong extravaganza that incorporates sumptuous food, fashion and floral design with tours of her historic mansion and gardens as well as other Beverly Hills gardens, some so exclusive their owners are unnamed.

Of course, the 30th annual Virginia Robinson Gardens tour costs $250 to $500 — far more than a dime, But the proceeds go to restoring one of the Los Angeles County's least known parks, and supporting its educational programs for children, said Joan Selwyn, founder of the Friends of Virginia Robinson Gardens, which organizes the event.

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Many "called it a hidden gem," Selwyn said, "because there are even people in our own community who may not know about us."

Virginia and Harry Robinson, heir to the Robinson's department store chain, bought 6 acres in 1911 on a small hill with a massive view in what later became Beverly Hills.

The Robinsons were famous for lavish celebrity parties, Selwyn said, hosting Hollywood royalty such as screen legends Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and Fred Astaire. Virginia was also a big supporter of Los Angeles orphanages and the Hollywood Bowl, which re-created its season openers on her grand lawn.

When Virginia Robinson died in 1977, just shy of her 100th birthday, she left her estate to the county, which would need to do lots of work to restore the property to its original splendor, Selwyn said.

Hence the creation in 1983 of the garden's friends organization, which has raised enough money to replace the house's sagging roof, update the electrical and irrigation systems and restore all the mansion rooms while continuing Robinson's legacy of supporting children.

"Everything we do, no matter what it is, we try to do in the tradition of Virginia Robinson," Selwyn said. "We say to ourselves, 'If she were here, would she approve of what we are doing?'"

Judge for yourself. The May 19 event includes a chance to talk with Sunset magazine editor in chief Irene Edwards (Sunset is a major sponsor), a tour of the Beverly Hills garden of interior designer Richard Shapiro, who is the grand marshal of this year's event, a Ted Baker London fashion show and food by chef Timothy Hollingsworth of Otium, and the Kitchen for Exploring Foods.

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 19

Where: Virginia Robinson Gardens, 1008 Elden Way, Beverly Hills

Admission: Tickets range from $250 to $500, $75 for children (with accompanying adult), $40 for valet parking.

Info: robinsongardens.org. More modest tours of the grounds and foyer are available Tuesdays through Saturdays for $11 by reservation only.

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