A slice of North Carolina passed through the District last week — and not just the pieces of Southern red velvet cake. Nearly 600 garden and horticulture types, including government officials, gathered at the National Arboretum in Northeast Washington to raise money for the 446-acre garden and research facility.

Under a sultry sun, women in pastel sundresses and men in light collared shirts socialized at a cocktail party in the Arboretum’s National Herb Garden before dining from a buffet spread that offered North Carolina staples including shrimp and grits, macaroni and fried green tomatoes.

Each year, the Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) chooses a different state as the theme for its annual Cookout Under the Stars, one of the organization’s flagship fundraising events.

These fundraisers have been more urgent in the past few years as the Arboretum has suffered budget cuts and increased land fees.

Funded through the Agriculture Department, the Arboretum — the District’s largest green space after Rock Creek Park — receives $12 million to operate each year. But officials at FONA said that is not enough to keep up with increasing costs. So the group is corralling the private sector to help out.

“We hope that the business community will set it free from its financial constraints,” said Kathy Horan, executive director of FONA. She added that the garden needs an education and visitors center, updated infrastructure and a new gate.

Through tickets, table sponsors and in-kind donations, the event raised $200,000, which the organization said will provide interns for horticulture research and education.

During the dinner, the organization honored Robert Bartlett of Bartlett Tree Experts for his financial contributions and providing pro bono services to the Arboretum.

Other corporate sponsors included Syngenta, Bank of America, Kia Motors and Cox Enterprises.

Among the who’s who was Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack and his wife Christie Vilsack, Agriculture Department Under Secretary Catherine Woteki, Agricultural Research Service Administrator Edward Knipling and National Arboretum Director Colien Hefferan. The North Carolina congressional delegation included representatives Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Howard Coble, Sue Myrick, Mike McIntyre and Melvin L. Watt.