Talk about flower power — The Riverhead Rotary’s 28th annual Garden Festival is bursting with a rainbow of colors this week at Tanger Mall, but time is running out to get in on the floral frenzy — which runs from 9 to 5 p.m. each day this week leading up to Mother’s Day on Sunday.  

The festival raises funds for a variety of charitable projects by soliciting donations of plants and flowers from nurseries all over Long Island and as far away as New Jersey. The rotary then sells everything at a discounted price. There’s also a high-roller raffle in which just 300 tickets are sold for $100 a piece — with a $10,000 prize for the winner, $3,000 for second prize, $1,000 for third prize and a pair of $500 prizes as well.

The annual weeklong event raises money for Riverhead Rotary charities, Operation International and Peconic Bay Medical Center.

The festival, which got underway nearly three decades ago, was originally run by the Peconic Bay Medical Center, according to Riverhead rotarian and PBMC pulmonologist Dr. Raj Patel. He said that several years ago, veteran rotarian Jack Van de Wetering helped convince the Riverhead Rotary to take over and expand the festival.

“I think the hospital had a group of people that were selling geraniums, but they were only making a couple thousand dollars,” Mr. Van de Wetering said. “We said, ‘we can do better than that,’ and that’s how it started. So we went from a couple thousand to $50,000 to $100,000 and now we’re up to basically $300,000. And all this is given. It’s donated.”

Dr. Patel said that over time the festival has blossomed into a North Fork springtime tradition.

“It’s come to a point where people wait for this festival to occur,” he said. “They wait for Mother’s Day to come along and they reserve all their spending money to spend at the Garden Festival because they know it’s a win-win situation for Operation International, for the hospital, and for the community.”

The doctor said the primary beneficiary of the annual garden festival is Operation International — a secular, apolitical, humanitarian organization founded in 1996 by a group of Southampton doctors, Dr. Patel among them. The charitable organization provides free medical care and performs complex surgeries on children and adults without access to basic health care in poor countries.

“What we do is free operations all over the world, no matter where it is,” he said this week. “We do very complex surgeries covering general surgery, plastic surgery, dental operations — and now we have started neurosurgery and orthopedics.”

Dr. Patel provided the Suffolk Times with a series of bracing before-and-after pictures of successful Operation International surgeries.

About a dozen volunteers, including Carl Nielsen and work force interns from the Timothy Hill Ranch, man the festival’s rows and rows of tulips, hyacinths, lilacs, peonies, pansies, azaleas and forsythia — to name just a few of the flowers featured this week.

Among the dozens of nurseries that donated to the petal-packed festival are Hopewell Nursery in New Jersey, Ivy Acres in Calverton, Kurt Weiss Greenhouses in Center Moriches and Riverhead’s Van de Wetering Greenhouses. Sponsors include the Allstate Foundation, Tanger Outlet Center, Dime Bank and Riverhead Building Supply.

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