By Daphne Nikolopoulos and Karen T. Bartlett
Photography by Carrie Patterson
On an early evening in November, Elizabeth Bradshaw Kapnick took her father’s arm and walked down a tree-lined boardwalk to a long stretch of lawn. At the end of this carpet of green was an arch made with hundreds of white hydrangeas and, beneath it, the man who would soon be her husband.
Elizabeth—EB to her friends—took a long look at her surroundings so she’d never forget that moment. Palm trees swayed in a gentle breeze. Water lilies bloomed on the surface of a placid pond. In the distance, a thousand shades of green trumpeted Florida’s native scrub lands and rivers of grass.
Could this really be the same place she remembered as a little girl? Sixteen years before her wedding day, she’d taken a tour of the raw, jungle-like piece of land that, with her family’s personal and financial support, would become the Naples Botanical Garden.
Her mother, Kathleen Kapnick, remembers the day well. Harvey Kapnick Jr., Kathleen’s father-in-law, had just gifted the 170-acre parcel of land to the nascent garden effort when the young Kapnicks came to visit. “We were visiting [my husband] Scott’s parents in Naples during spring break,” she says. “Harvey and one of the [garden’s] original board members, Connie Alsbrook, piled several of us into a golf cart for a tour. It was hot and buggy as we crashed through bushes and bounced along a rugged melaleuca path.”
EB was 12 at the time and saw the tour as an adventure, a fun outing with grandpa. She could not have imagined that the unwieldy thicket would become a LEED Gold-certified destination showcasing a myriad of plants, flowers, and habitats—and Naples’ No. 1 attraction. Nor did she know that, one day, she would be married in its verdant embrace.
Hosting the wedding at the Garden was particularly important to her mother. “I asked her to please keep an open mind, and she agreed,” says Kathleen, a member of the Garden’s Sustaining Leadership Council and a past chair of its iconic fundraiser, Hats in the Garden.
Family tradition and extraordinary beauty turned out to be a powerful combination. “There was no reason to look further,” EB says. “This garden is just a dream.”
Especially on the day she would become Mrs. Michael Vandenberg. The performance lawn was bedecked in white flowers, both in the aforementioned arch and in the pedestal urns lining the bridal aisle. White rose petals floated above the newlyweds as they walked for the first time as husband and wife, and the watercolor hues of a Naples sunset reflected in the lily pond as they posed for their first portraits.
It was a scene as heaven-sent as their love story. EB and Mike met as freshmen at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where they were assigned to the same quad. The attraction was instant and lasted throughout college, as the two shared their love for adventure and nurtured each other’s career dreams. In her junior year abroad, EB headed to the U.K. to attend the London School of Economics, and Mike moved to New York to put in two years as a paralegal before attending law school at Boston University. EB landed a job with Goldman Sachs, first in London and later in San Francisco and New York.
When Mike graduated from law school in the spring of 2015, EB took a leave of absence from work and they traveled together for six weeks. They visited Italy and Greece, two of their favorite European destinations, and returned to the States to spend time with Mike’s family in New Jersey before traveling to Keewaydin Island off the Naples coast, where the Kapnick family—Scott, Kathleen, and EB’s siblings, Katherine, Annie, and James—was vacationing.
Kathleen knew right away that something was up. “I noticed how nervous Mike seemed,” she says, “and he never let his briefcase out of his sight.”
Her suspicions were confirmed when Mike asked EB to go for a beach walk—just the two of them. “That never happens on the island,” Kathleen says with a laugh. “Everyone does everything together.”
Indeed, Mike did present EB with a ring and a promise on that remote beach. And 14 months later, as a prelude to the couple’s wedding ceremony, more than 300 guests descended onto the same beach for an island party to celebrate the impending nuptials before being transported back to Naples and that dream of a garden.
Fittingly, cocktails were held in the Kathleen and Scott Kapnick Caribbean Garden, which was funded by EB’s parents, continuing a family tradition that began with her grandfather’s generous gift of land in 2000. Through the years, the Kapnick family contributions have totaled well over $10 million and have been instrumental in the design, planting, and maintenance of the garden.
The wedding reception was held inside a white tent that exuded sophistication while resonating with the botanical surroundings. Walls were lined with greenery, some decorated with oversized mirrors, some with niches holding white vessels with a profusion of flowers in soft tones of coral, pink, and yellow. The same florals appeared in abundance on the dinner tables and between layers of the wedding cake, connecting the milieu inside the tent with the verdant world beyond.
“It felt like a beautiful home, with gauzy draperies and eight stunning crystal chandeliers,” EB says.
Her late grandfather, who had the original vision for the preservation and transformation of this once-wild land, would have been proud to behold the laughter and love echoing inside the garden on the occasion of this union. The father of the bride said it best during his welcome remarks at the reception: “Elizabeth, your grandparents would be so pleased that you picked the Naples Botanical Garden as the venue for your wedding. And what an amazing venue it is. It has never looked so good.”
Fittingly, cocktails were held in the Kathleen and Scott Kapnick Caribbean Garden, which was funded by EB’s parents, continuing a family tradition that began with her grandfather’s generous gift of land in 2000.