Cynthia von Buhler and Speakeasy Dollhouse Productions: Interview Wrap Up

Cynthia von Buhler, Speakeasy Dollhouse, The Bloody Beginning, Wyelin, Brooklyn

The lovely Cynthia von Buhler. Photo courtesy of Speakeasy Dollhouse productions and Cynthia von Buhler.

I had the opportunity to briefly chat with Cynthia von Buhler in between her busy schedule producing her widely popular show in a new venue in Brooklyn. Amidst my attending indie movie screenings, Off Broadway and Broadway shows, wine tastings and doing interviews and write-ups, we finally agreed to an online interview.

Here’s a bit of information about the prodigiously talented Ms. von Buhler. Cynthia is the producer, director, playwright of Speakeasy Dollhouse Productions: The Bloody Beginning, The Brothers Booth, The Midnight Frolic and The Illuminati Ball. Each of these productions is a wild, immersive phantasmagoria where the audience not only gets to watch and enjoy but also becomes part of the action. The action is replete with the macabre, the beautiful, the damned in an intense, showy spectacular that turns traditional theater on its head and sparks your craving to see the productions again and again. Each night is different and spins out of control into an extraordinary evening of entertainment including drinks and food, if you so dare to purchase.

Extraordinary is the only way to describe the one-of-a-kind, multiple sense titillation you partake of going to a Cynthia von Buhler presentation. She is a great gal, adorable, ebullient, innovative. I have seen and reviewed two of her shows for Blogcritics. The reviews are at these links. Midnight Frolic Review.  The Brothers Booth. Here is my email wrap-up with Cynthia.

The Bloogy Beginning, Cynthia von Buhler, Speakeasy Dollhouse Productions,

‘The Bloody Beginning,’ a Speakeasy Dollhouse presentation conceived, directed, produced by Cynthia von Buhler. Photo courtesy of Cynthia von Buhler.

How did you evolve Speakeasy Dollhouse?

In 2011 I decided to do a Kickstarter to research the mysterious murder of my grandfather in 1935. The Kickstarter was for a book and a one night immersive play. The play was such a hit that it never stopped after all these years and it spawned three other plays.


Link to a Teaser Trailer VIMEO of Cynthia’s production, Speakeasy Dollhouse, THE BLOODY BEGINNING

Getting Acquainted Link to Cynthia von Buhler’s The Speakeasy Dollhouse

Speakeasy Dollhouse, 'The Bloody Beginning,' Cynthia von Buhler, Wyelin, Brooklyn

From ‘The Bloody Beginning’ The Speakeasy Dollhouse. Photo courtesy of Cynthia von Buhler who conceived, directed and produced the show.

How does your style of theater differ from the mainstream. Why should people flock to your show in Brooklyn?

Immersive theater is interactive and exploratory. It engages the audience and transports them to another time and place. Rather than watch a play, the audience is in the play.
Ed. Note: (I would venture to say that the audience becomes the play. It’s a surreal Rene Magritte experience.)

Explain what your current show is about and how you have updated/perfected/workshopped it to precision.

Cynthia von Buhler, The Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Bloody Beginning

Photo from ‘The Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Bloody Beginning,’ conceived, directed, produced by Cynthia von Buhler.

This show is a return to my first immersive play, Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Bloody Beginning. It’s about the murder of my grandfather. The challenge this time was moving it to a new location. Weylin (the former Williamsberg Savings Bank), is absolutely gorgeous and sprawling, so the experience might even be better than when we did it at The Back Room.

How many years have you been producing the show?

Each show is a workshop of sorts, so it has been workshopped for five years.

Ed. Note: (She has produced it for 5 years since her Kickstarter campaign and that is how long she has been producing her shows.)

The Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Bloody Beginning, Cynthia von Buhler

Photo courtesy of Cynthia von Buhler from ”The Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Bloody Beginning’ at Weylin in Brooklyn.

In what way does the show turn male chauvinism on its head? Or does it?

That is an interesting question. Italians at that time period were often chauvinists. This is a period piece and the goal of the work isn’t about fighting that. My grandmother was a powerful woman though. She had a shotgun and she used to protect the ice truck filled with bootleg from the mafia when they went up to Canada to buy whiskey.

What is your training and background in the theatre, the arts, acting?

My training is in visual art. I have a Bachelor of Fine Art from The Art Institute of Boston and I studied art At Richmond College in England. I grew up in the Berkshires of Massachusetts surrounded by theater. I have been involved in creating theater since I was a child when I acted in your typical productions of Oklahoma, Peter Pan, West Side Story and the like. I can still do a rousing rendition of Oklahoma.

The Illuminati Ball, Cynthia von Buhler

‘The Illuminati Ball,’ conceived, directed, produced by Cynthia von Buhler. Photo courtesy of the production.

What have been some memorable performances given the wild, interactive style you embrace?

I’m enjoying my new show, The Illuminati Ball. It’s my most surreal and bizarre show yet. It’s an immersive excursion which means we transport our audience by limousine to a location for a transportive experience

Link to visuals of Cynthia’s The Illuminati Ball.

The Bloody Beginning at Weylin may be extended. Performance dates:

When: 7/22, 7/23, 8/12, 8/13

What: Speakeasy Dollhouse

Price: $60 (regular admission); $120 (Ten VIP admission – no waiting in line, table seating, champagne toast); $200. (2 VIM admission {Very Important Murder} – same as VIP with a murder role.

Purchase tickets at:

Check back to see if the show is extended or the production is being presented at another venue.


‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas’ at the NYBG

peony, NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Peony at the NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

If gardens represent a fount of life, revealing some of humankind’s and nature’s finest living creative achievements, artists throughout the centuries have been inspired to recreate on canvas the fanciful delight of blooming plants selected and arranged to display the best of life’s natural pageantry.

As part of the 125th year celebration of the NYBG, the dynamic NYBG team (scores collaborated to mount this exhibition), are paying tribute to the gardens that inspired American Impressionist painters (a brand of impressionism that revolves around subject, not painterly style).

The showpieces of “Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas” receive an exquisite rendering in a unique floral exhibit at the Enid. A. Haupt Conservatory, and complementary display of more than 20 paintings and sculptures in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s Art Gallery.

roses, NYBG Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas, Enid A. Haupt Conservatory

Roses at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG exhibit, ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Foxgloves at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG's 'Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.' Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Foxgloves at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Both the art work at the gallery and the show gardens in the conservatory capture American historical trends in painting (in plein air, influenced by French impressionism), around the turn of the 20th century and reflect the renewed interest in Colonial Revival gardens found in private residences and art colonies in the Hamptons and Old Lyme Connecticut.

The vibrant impressionist paintings and the radiant, ebullient floral showcase in the conservatory are mirror images of one another. The paintings reflect the subject American Impressionists were most enthralled by, American gardens.

Daniel Putnam Brinley, 'The Peony Garden,' Matilda Browne, in Voorhees's Garden, William Chadwick, Irises, NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Counterclockwise from top: Matilda Browne, “In Voorhees’s Garden,’ William Chadwick, ‘Irises,’ Daniel Putnam Brinley, ‘The Peony Garden,’ NYBG exhibit, ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas, John H. Twachtman, Wildflowers, Theodore Wores, Thomas Moran's House (East Hampton, Long Island), Edmund William Greacen, In Miss Florence's Garden

Counterclockwise from top: Edmund William Greacen, ‘In Miss Florence’s Garden,’ John H. Twachtman, ‘Wildflowers,’ Theodore Wores, ‘Thomas Moran’s House (East Hampton, Long Island)’ NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Artists appreciated that the gardens of the time uniquely characterized the domestic experience on the East Coast. They highlighted how middle and upper middle class Americans turned to their gardens for respite, relaxation, emotional uplift and sanctuary from the confusion of the cities, the unhealthful effects of pollution with heavy industrialization and unsettling urbanization.

The entire exhibition encompassing both venues reveals the marriage between the artists’ impressionism and their veneration of floral homespun, of gardens whose symbolism acknowledged a unique, national character distinct from the formal European gardens of France and the heavy-handed Victorian gardens of the gilded age. Americans seemed to have a desire for such subjects, though every now and then artists honed in on the more formal garden aspect sometimes for utilitarian reasons.

John Singer Sargent, The Fountain of Oceanus, NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

John Singer Sargent, ‘The Fountain of Oceanus,’ (1917), NYBG exhibit, ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo Carole Di Tosti

John Singer Sargent, Vase Fountain, Pocantico, NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

John Singer Sargent, ‘Vase Fountain Pocantico,’ NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

John Singer Sargent painted The Fountain of Oceanus (1917) and Terrace, Vizcaya (1917), when he was visiting two wealthy families to complete portrait commissions. (both paintings are at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Art Gallery)  William de Leftwich Dodge built a studio house on Long Island in an airy classical style and created a series of Impressionist paintings to magnify his design of the terraced formal gardens and intricate pergolas. (His painting The Artist’s Garden [1916] may also be viewed at the Library Art Gallery)

NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti


NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas, Enid A. Haupt Conservatory

NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

At the time (1890s-up to WW I), there was a burgeoning interest in gardening and horticulture. Avid gardeners from spring to fall embraced planting multiple flowering species, so that when segments of flowers finished their growing seasons, others timed with sowings and plantings would be exploding into an exuberant cornucopia of petals as the earlier plantings waned. Thus, the gardens would always or nearly always be in a rainbow of blooms.

Concurrently, artists influenced by European impressionism were returning to America where they evolved their own cultural impressionism centered around intimate American lifestyle subjects.

NYBG, American Gardens on Canvas

NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

They eschewed the panoramic landscapes of the frontier style paintings of the golden west and expansive, mountain stained vistas. They supplanted images of vastness with the discrete, intimate, homely patchwork of every day life in the East. Our impressionists (like the French impressionists), painted urban scenes, old farms, villages with colonial styled homes, picturesque public parks and unpretentious homestyle gardens where the gardeners themselves were nature artists. But these were uniquely American.

NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas, Childe Hassam, Old House and Garden, East Hampton, Long Island

Child Hassam, ‘Old House and Garden, East Hampton, Long Island,’ (1898) at NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

persian buttercup, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas, NYBG

Persian buttercup at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG exhibit, ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

There was a synergy that occurred by happenstance. Following French Impressionist Claude Monet’s example at Giverney, some artists (Hugh Henry Breckenridge, John H. Twachtman, Maria Oakey Dewing, William de Leftwich Dodge), planted their own gardens to evoke inspiration, then applied paint to canvas distilling the picturesque living arrangement they had effected in an intriguing unity of aesthetics. The conceptualization was that the gardens were echoes of their canvas counterparts; they were living paintings. What the artist did was to telescope the natural beauty not with a realistic style of painting, but one that was restive, evocative, with heavier brushstrokes. The thickness of paint teased out amorphous shapes and these hinted at the innate virtuosity of animate flowers. Artists could glorify an expansive color palette which reflected life’s infinite variety and emphasized an explosive riot of colors bursts.

Gardens like Ceilia Thaxter’s (Appledore Island, Maine), provided a wealthy subject for artists like Childe Hassum, who was a regular visitor to Thaxter’s seaside garden.

Childe Hassam, Celia Thaxter's Garden, Appledore, Isles of Shoals, NYBG Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Childe Hassam, ‘Celia Thaxter’s Garden, Appledore, Isles of Shoals’ (1890), NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Floral show at the NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

He painted in plein air and enjoyed the luminosity of the sunlight bouncing off the alternate churning ocean waves and smooth glassine waters. Thaxter was a poet, writer, gardener and quasi-horticulturalist whose informal summer artist colony was frequented by renowned romantic/abolitionist/regional writers (i.e. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Greenleaf Whittier, Sarah Orne Jewett), and painters (William Morris Hunt and Childe Hassum), both of whom painted her and her colorful botanical evolutions.

Thaxter’s grounds, like other artist/gardeners of the period made sure her beds  were replete with quaint and strikingly picturesque old-fashioned floral favorites of grandma’s “thrown-together” garden.

Through various seasons, these might include spiking blooms of phlox, hollyhock, lupines, piquant snap dragons and pointed delphiniums, the popular, tasty sweet peas, puff-ball hydrangeas, carpeting forget-me-nots, bachelor buttons and sweet-faced violas, that ran like pixies up to the edge of porches and backdoors and nooks and crannies.

NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Iris at the NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Iris planted by the cottage at the NYBG exhibit, ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti

And in corners blue and yellow iris might appear to their finest advantage. From spring to fall, an exquisite luxuriance of flowers blossomed. Examples of these species may currently be seen blooming in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory floral showcase.

These widely planted varieties along with roses, peonies, cleomes (spider flowers), baby’s breath, cosmos, strawflowers, poppies, and golden tickweed at various times of spring and summer months flourished in wide swaths of varicolored beds planted to imbue a non-formal seemingly random outgrowth. Conscious gardeners intentioned the appearance of  helter skelter, profuse arrangements, as if the plants themselves decided which spots suited them best and plopped there unceremoniously to stretch out and take the sun and rain with ease.

Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

American gardens at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG exhibit, ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Country cottage at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

Attention was given to colonial revivalist styles where gardens were utilitarian, intimate and incorporated the lifestyle arrangements of the family so that the matron of the house, for example, could fling open the backdoor and pick the heavenly scented lavender to create sachets or go to the side of the house to pick peonies for a table arrangement.

Beginning with inspiration from the artists whose adoration of vintage gardens as a throwback to a more gentile and nostalgic time, Guest Curator Linda S. Ferber applied her expertise to investigate seminal works, some known, some from less renowned American impressionists.

Poppies and sunflowers at the NYBG's 'Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.' Photo Carole Di Tosti

Poppies and sunflowers at the NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo Carole Di Tosti

Strawflower, hot bikini, NYBG, Impressionism American Gardens on Canvas

Strawflower ‘hot bikini’ at the NYBG’s ‘Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas.’ Photo, Carole Di Tosti

From the guest curator’s selections which included one formal garden, the predominance of works encompassed the artistic loveliness of dooryard gardens of homes in various locales in the East, some in Pennsylvania and Maine and some in the Hamptons, New York which picture grey shingled houses festooned by splashes of variegated hued plants.

The various works then provided the creative heart for Francisca Coelho and the horticultural staff to gain their inspiration and provide the doorway into recreating a three season garden encapsulating the style, elegant simplicity and peace-filled homey comfort these American gardens exuded.

Their splendid result abides in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory even to the recreation of the grey clapboard, white shuttered country cottage that one would adore living in to escape the frenetic pace of the city. The cottage has a porch with rocking chairs and if you sit in one and look out on the hollyhocks, foxgloves, delphiniums, sweet peas, beauteous painted tongue and all the flowers previously mentioned here (you need to take an up close and personal view to catch them all), you will exhale a deep breath and allow the fragrances and mystical plenitude of nature to incite your senses and move you to a peaceful sense of well being.

This splendid exhibit at the New York Botanical Gardens runs from May 14th through September 11, 2016. To purchase tickets and check programming for the event and throughout the summer click the website HERE.

A facsimile of this article appears on Blogcritics at this site.










‘Parity Productions Champions Women and Transgender Artists’


Parity Productions, Gramercy Park

Through the window onto a new reality. Parity Productions launch was hosted by Janos Aranyi and Theresa Llorente in their beautiful home overlooking Gramercy Park. Photo by Carole Di Tosti


Criticism of women advocating for equal pay, equal voice and equal command over their destiny has been easily dismissed by men and their willing women sycophants who have slimed women with the “F” word as “feminist” ideologues. Any momentum to provide women with the opportunity to excel has always been demeaned as “unnecessary” and has been met with resistance.

That is as it should be. Resistance is more productive than hypocritical co-optation which lulls individuals into believing they have made progress when actually they have been running the perimeters of zero.

In the arts, in live theater and in film there has been tremendous resistance to hire women behind the scenes as directors, playwrights, designers, technicians, et. al. And gender inequality is rife in front of the camera as well, with male dominated film subjects, lead characters, stories and well funded blockbusters taking all of the pie and male dominated companies reaping heavy proceeds leaving the crumbs to women lackeys lining up at the back of the bus. (Jennifer Lawrence is in a minority of one with few female colleagues even nearing her status)

A recent Variety article identified gender inequality is not only a plague in the US film and entertainment industry but it is as endemic in Europe as well.  If we don’t understand why and how this has happened, we stand the chance of never equalizing gender roles in the arts.

Parity Productions launch, Ludovica Villar-Hauser

There was a cocktail hour where guests mingled and were welcomed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser and her team of collaborators at Parity Productions.

Paul Feig (Spy, Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters), who was honored at the 6th Annual Athena Film Festival  with their “Leading Man Award” because of his outspoken stance and support for women, spoke about the under-representation of women in the arts. He labeled it as the “banality of evil.” In other words this has not been an overtly “wicked” and intentional act on the part of men in power.

Feig implied that gender inequity has been borne out of negligence, out of a lack of attention to necessity…the necessity to recognize and reward women for their incredible talents and contributions. That banality is part of the continuance of gender dominance and the comfort of the “young/old boy’s network,” which speaks a “common language” as it comfortably objectifies women. It is these issues and others that have spurred on an unconscious dismissal of women and the passing over of those who are not ready gender cronies.

As for those who have an active mentor or help-meet to give them the 10 legs up they need to begin to compete? There are vastly too few men willing to act as mentors. Women are the ones who must mentor each other as has been occurring with conferences like Women in the World.

Ludovica Villar-Hauser, Parity Productions

Opening remarks by Founder and Artistic Director of Parity Productions, Ludovica Villar-Hauser. Photo Carole Di Tosti


Indeed, the government is taking notice. There has been a call to investigate gender discrimination against women directors in the film industry which hopefully will be carried over into theater and the entertainment arts, though the recent cry has been that things have been getting better for women in the theater. Really?

Thanks to the resistance in the entertainment industry, whether intentional or not, women are joining advocacy groups and creating their own teams to combat the gender inequality in the entertainment arts like never before.

We Do It Together is an example of a global non-profit which has been created to finance and produce films centered around women and dedicated to the empowerment of women.

Others groups like Parity Productions are NYC based with a global reach. They are organizing and strengthening themselves with unity and coherence of purpose by establishing their own opportunities increasing women and transgender representation in the arts so that gender equality is the rule, not the exception.

Ludovica Villar=Hauser, Founder and Artistic Director, Parity Productions, Antoinette LeVecchia, Village Stories, Parity Productions launch

(L to R): Ludovica Villar-Hauser, Founder and Artistic Director, Parity Productions, actress Elizabeth Jasicki, getting ready to present from her one woman tour-de-force ‘Village Stories’ at the Parity Productions launch. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The launch of Parity Productions on Monday May 16, 2016, is noteworthy because it is one of the more accessible ventures in a city known for being difficult to break into at all levels of the entertainment matrix. Parity Productions according to its Founder and Artistic Director, Ludovica Villar-Hauser is the “first organization to combine the art of theater with advocacy for women and transgender artists.” The company mission looks to produce new works and has pledged to hire at least 50% women and transgender artists on every production as well as supporting other productions that have pledged to do the same.

Parity Productions has been blessed that the estate of Sylvia Sleigh has made a donation of 25 rare works of art in the name of Sylvia Sleigh who was a progressive, Welsh-American artist. Sleigh represented equality of subject and treatment of men and women in her art. Her works are being offered for sale as part of the fund raising initiative and can be purchased through the Parity Store (click here).

Shows that Parity Productions will be presenting for the 2016 season are the delightful Village Stories in the summer and the historical Household Words in the fall. Both represent an intriguing and complex look into the place of women striving against paternalism  in the past and how that perspective has ramifications for both men and women in the present. To get a heads up on ticket sales, click HERE.

A Million Daffodils, Celebrating NYBG’s 125 Anniversary

NYBG, 125th Anniversary NYBG, one million daffodials initiative

Project 1 million daffodils at the NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The past week and one-half has been deary, cloudy and rainy as the cold front lingered. However, the week before, Earth Day weekend festivities at the NYBG sported good weather. The sun peeked out and it was warmer from noon on, just in time to appreciate the daffodil blooms at their height as well as the wine tastings and  interesting wine and distilled spirit selections from upstate and around the city (The City Winery).

NYBG, Daffodil initiative

NYBG planters with the colors of spring, daffodils and violets. Photo, Carole Di Tosti

To celebrate the 126th anniversary, the NYBG is planting 1,000,000 daffodils and I had the opportunity of seeing their initial efforts which began with the expansion of the historic Narcissus collection at Daffodil Hill where staff planted 150,000 bulbs in October 2015.

On that Earth Day Daffodil Sunday, walking the by-ways past the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden into the farther reaches where I had never gone before, the daffodils were in heady bloom along with the flowering cherries and other blooming trees.

NYBG, one million daffodil project

            NYBG one million daffodil initiative. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

It was spectacular. I was glad that I arrived earlier in the day because I knew the crowds would be thick as they meandered with drinks and cameras in hand stopping for photos or sitting on the grassy areas in the sun to enjoy the wine and light snacks that were available for purchase.

NYBG, the one million daffodil initiative, 125th Annerversary Celebration

                            Daffodils and flowering cherry trees at the NYBG.

The initial planting is now on the increase and over the next six years, staff, volunteers and members will be adding more plantings (in the tens of thousands), each year in October until that magical number is reached. British romantic poet William Wordsworth wrote about the spiritual renewal we feel through nature’s beauty.

one million daffodil project, NYBG

NYBG daffodils part of the ongoing 1 million daffodils project over the next 5 years. Photo Carole Di Tosti

In a famous poem of his, “I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud,” the narrator/Wordsworth discusses his feeling disconsolate and alone as he took long walks seeking to be uplifting in his soul. But it was only when he came across a dazzling array of golden of daffodils that stretched as far as his eyes could see, that his heart and spirits regenerated.  And whenever those downcast feelings would arise, he had only to see “in his mind’s eye” that vision of the joyful daffodils “dancing in the breeze” to become restored to a state of balance and contentment.

NYBG, Daffodil Hill

NYBG near Daffodil Hill. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

When this daffodil initiative is completed in the next years our experience will recall Wordsworth’s. It will be breathtaking  to see daffodils that span the lawns and Daffodil Hill in a great swath of yellow, gold, tricolor and cream yellow in a multitude of varieties. After the project is completed in a few years, for those who visit Daffodil Hill at the NYBG, as they look in the distance and turn around in every direction, they will see daffodils, thick and lush in the landscape, smiling and dancing in the breeze. Like Wordsworth it will be a picture that one can recall to remembrance in the heft of winter as a heavenly uplift that spring is on its way.

The pictures that follow represent the initial stages of the one million daffodil project. Daffodils which symbolize rebirth and are known elsewhere as the “Lent Lilly” because they grow and burgeon during Lent are a lovely choice to recognize and appreciate the NYBG’s 125th year in the Bronx.

NYBG, Daffodil Hill, one million daffodil initiative

Flowering cherry tree at the NYBG near Daffodil Hill. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, Daffodil Hill

 NYBG near Daffodil Hill. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, one million daffodil initiative

 NYBG, Daffodil Hill, one million daffodil initiative. Photo, Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, Daffodil Hill

 NYBG Daffodil Hill, one million daffodil initiative. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, 125th Anniversary, one million daffodil initiative

 NYBG, Daffodil Hill, one million daffodil initiative. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, 125th Anniversary, Daffodil Weekend, one million daffodil initiative

Along the wine tasting trail at the NYBG, 125th Anniversary Celebration and Daffodil weekend. Photo, Carole Di Tosti

The wineries who displayed their selections at the NYBG were from upstate New York. Some are featured below and their websites are listed if you click on the name:  PALAIA WINERY.

NYBG Wine Tasting at the 125th Anniversary Celebration during Daffodil weekend. Photo, Carole Di Tosti

NYBG Wine Tasting at the 125th Anniversary Celebration during Daffodil weekend. Featured are Palaia Winery wines.  Photo by Carole Di Tosti



NYBG Wine Tasting at the 125th Anniversary Celebration of the one million daffodil initiative. Featured are wines from Brimstone Hill Winery. Photo by Carole Di Tosti


NYBG Wine Tasting, Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery, one million daffodil initiative, 125th Anniversary

NYBG Wine Tasting and 125th Anniversary Celebration with the one million daffodil initiative. Featured wines by Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery. Photo by Carole Di Tosti.


NYBG Wine Tasting, Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery (Black Dirt Distillery). Photo, Carole Di Tosti

NYBG Wine Tasting, Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery (Black Dirt Distillery). Photo, Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, Daffodil initiative, 125th Anniversary

More daffodils at the NYBG one million daffodil initiative. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The NYBG is offering an opportunity to become a part of the legacy. A contribution of $25.00 will support the planting of five daffodil bulbs that will be contribute to the one million daffodil display in the next few years. Gifts can be made in honor or memory of a loved one and the family member or honoree may be notified of your thoughtful gift with a card. To make a gift, be a part of the one million daffodil initiative or learn about other dedication opportunities call Lisa Sifre at 718-817-8545 or e-mail Or visit

Talking With Ralph Fiennes About ‘A Bigger Splash’

Ralph Fiennes, A Bigger Splash

The irrepressible Ralph Fiennes press day NYC for ‘A Bigger Splash.’ Photo by Carole Di tosti

Ralph Fiennes was at the NYC press day held at the Park Hyatt to discuss A Bigger Splash. In the film which also stars Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson, Fiennes gives an energetic, profound, and spot-on portrayal as Harry Hawkes, music producer who seeks out his former love Marianne (Tilda Swinton), a rock star who is recuperating from voice surgery. Marianne and Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), are luxuriating on sultry, wind-wily Pantelleria, the island between Italy and Africa. Pantelleria plays an intriguing and unpredictable character in the film, especially as a contrasting presence to the main characters who are well off and revel in their high-end getaway.

Fiennes’ Harry is an amazing personality. He is frenetic, electric, exciting with shades of irrepressible abandon. He is an admixture of winds, like those on the island: he is incapable of drawing lines of propriety when it comes to restoring his love with Marianne; yet he combines his desires for salvation by her with an acute and keen sense of authenticity and blunt truthfulness that is admirable. The character of Harry is quite unlike his film portrayal of Gustav, the honorable, reserved, always impeccable and soulfully noble concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel. Fiennes’ virtuoso acting skills which are also legion on the stage, allow him to pull out all the stops in his complex, exceptional portrayal of Harry. He discussed Harry and entertained six of us with his effervescent story telling skills during the roundtable. The versatile stage and film actor is also a director and at the end of the interview, Fiennes shared his latest multiple endeavors.

Last time we saw you was in The Grand Budapest Hotel. You were wonderful. I was hoping that the film would receive the Academy Award. It was a phenomenal film.

(Ralph Fiennes shyly smiles.) Good, good. Thank you.

Tilda Swinton, A Bigger Splash

Tilda Swinton is Marianne Lane in ‘A Bigger Splash.’ At NYC press day. Photo by Carole Di Tosti


Great contrast in portrayals from The Grand Budapest to A Bigger Splash. It was an inspiration to see you move from that character to Harry Hawkes. Could you feel physically, the difference between these two characters?

Oh, Yes. Very much. In The Grand Budagest, there’s a sort of upright postural thing going on which I think I identified early on as I remember. And of course Harry moves completely differently.

They are like night and day.

It seems to me that they are. Everything about Gustav from his costume to his upright posture is different from Harry. Harry is a rock and roller. (Ralph smiles)


Could you talk about the shoot on Pantelleria as an intriguing location which created its own dynamic?

Yeah, Pantelleria. I didn’t know what I was going to encounter there. I had a sense of some place sunny in the Mediterranean. It’s quite an odd place because there is no other island near it, and it’s volcanic. It must be that it’s sort of on a massive finger of rock that sticks up because the water encircling it is very deep. There are no beaches. And it’s very windy. And it doesn’t feel like Italy. It’s closer to Africa, I think. Odd place, odd because it’s quite rugged even though there is this August summer holiday-like thing happening. But that’s only in August.

It’s quite an eccentric place and the winds are unsettling. They sort of nag at you. They tug at you. It’s not that restful. When the winds stop and you feel the heat, it can be very calm. But the winds change direction all the time. Constantly. Because there are no beaches, you’re conscious of there being these homes. Dammusi is the name. And a single house is a dammuso. And lots of wealthy Italians have their holiday homes there. Armani is famous for being there and has a house there and he’s there precisely for the whole of August.

Ralph Fiennes, NYC press day at the Park Hyatt. He plays Harry Hawkes in 'A Bigger Splash,' directed by Luca Guadagnino. Photo, Carole Di Tosti

Ralph Fiennes, NYC press day at the Park Hyatt. He plays Harry Hawkes in ‘A Bigger Splash,’ directed by Luca Guadagnino. Photo, Carole Di Tosti

I remember a couple of times I went out with this local fisherman called Mimo in his little boat composed of flakey wood. Mimo’s a classic local fisherman with his little bottle of wine, offering up some olives and bread. And we jumped over the    side into the water with our masks and the boat would chug, chug, chug along quite slowly.

Once we anchored in a little lagoon. Then suddenly I heard this sort of low throb of an engine. And there was this long, long, sleek, state of the art motor boat that drifted into view. There in the back was…gray hair…sunglasses…Giorgio. And there were all of these beautiful people, men and women, all sort of draped around the boat. And there they sat in the water (Ralph makes a purring noise of the boat engines…smiling at the humor of the incident). And Mimo said, (in Ralph’s best Italian accent), “Hey Gorgio.” And they sat and watched us, with me and a couple of friends looking a bit messy. They sat and hovered in the water (thrummmm), and went away again. Very funny to see all these sunglasses switching to a view in one direction. (we laugh at Ralph’s acutely humorous visual description and innate story telling skills)

Your character is not really likable. But he is charming and witty and is intelligent about a myriad of different subjects, but he’s so self-centered and narcissistic. What was it like reading him in a script and then portraying him on the screen? Do you like him?

I do like him. I like him for all the reasons you said. There’s an honesty about him. I think you can take the view that these four people are privileged people and are sitting in their own dysfunction. For Harry…there is something malign and something benign. He’s a sort of devil figure, like a satyr. He’s there to provoke people into self-recognition. He’s got his own demons. And I agree he is narcissistic to some extent. But I like the things he says. I love the lines where he says, “The men have had their chances. It’s the women’s chance to run the world now.” There’s another great line that he says, “We’re all obscene, but we love each other anyway.”

I think he wants no bullshit connection with people. But he’s also a muddled man. The best of Harry is someone who is very direct and doesn’t bullshit. He’s mercilessly honest. And though the film doesn’t show this, I believe he’s a very, very good music producer. Actually, in the room with an artist, he’s brilliant. He really knows his stuff. But he’s a bit of a lost soul. For all his verbosity and provocative antics, underneath, he’s actually a lost person. That’s why he wants Marianne to give him some kind of anchoring.

In the evolution of his character…how you evolved him through the film, when he first goes to the island, does he sense that there’s any impulse to destroy himself?

Good question. I think it might be unconscious (Ralph contemplates), unconscious. Because I think that it is quite a provocative thing to do. To push yourself in on someone’s private holiday. You have to really willfully ignore all the norms. I wonder what a psychotherapist would say about that sort of behavior? It strikes me that it’s unconsciously self-destructive.

You mention about how important it is that he’s a brilliant music producer. A music producer has a different role from a producer in a film. A music producer takes what’s buried in the music and takes what’s best about the musician and, not imposing his will, the producer gets the musician to channel the best performance      

He’s brilliant at that.                                                                                                                  

Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson, A Bigger Splash

Ralph Fiennes and Dakota Johnson in ‘A Bigger Splash.’ Photo by Jack Engish, Twentieth Century Fox and Fox Searchlight.

Could you talk about what you might have learned from the role. If you met some music producers now, what questions would you ask as a result of the film?

My brother’s a music producer. I sat with him in recording studios and I’ve worked with music producers on films I’ve directed. I’ve seen music producers guide musicians with a language I don’t know, but I can see how they are shaping musicians. And when I was directing these two films, I was able to say, though I’ve not much musical or technical knowledge, I would be able to say, “Can it be more like this?” And they would understand what I was trying to say and they would have the skills to say, “No we need to do this or play that on a lower key, and don’t come in too quick on that.”

So I sort of got a sense of what that would involve. And I was reading these books about The Rolling Stones that were helpful background reading. One was about Keith Richards’ life and the other was a book called The True Stories of The Rolling Stones by an American journalist on the Altamont Tour. He was present at the Muscle Shoals’ recording of “Sticky Fingers” and he was there to hear “Wild Horses” being recorded and put down. That was very useful to connect my own little, tiny experience being in recording studios to understand, you know, how musicians go on and on and on playing, and have breaks, have a row and suddenly the magic is there. Or the producer says, “Try doing this,” or “Try playing in that key.” And I thought that’s what Harry’s really good at. Sadly, the film doesn’t show this. But it helped me to know it (Ralph laughs).

Did you collaborate with Mick Jagger?

No, no I didn’t. I understood that the material was sent to them, meaning their representatives. And they knew about it and we got notes on the story. And they were happy for us to, as it were, incorporate the story for Harry. But it was based on a true story of a producer’s. The name I can’t remember right now, but it is a true story. This producer did say, “Try playing the percussion on the trash can in the recording in Dublin for Voodoo Lounge.”

A Bigger Splash, film poster

Poster of ‘A Bigger Splash,’ courtesy of the film. Photo by Carole Di Tosti, taken NYC press day at the Park Hyatt.

Did you and Tilda work out the characters’ history? It’s such a long and toxic tumultuous relationship.

We talked about it a bit. But I don’t remember talking about it at huge length. We would share our own sense of what our backstory was. But it was quite clear from the script what it was. I think we did talk about it, but it just fell into place quite quickly. All four of us quite quickly seemed to be playing who we are. Luca is not one, and I think he would agree with me, he’s not one given to exhaustive analysis and discussion. There are directors who will pick away in detail at the backstory. I think Luca just got his cast and wants to let the energy unfold between them and doesn’t want to interfere too much.

How do you see your relationship with Penelope? Is he using her to get back on Marianne? There is a lot of ambiguity between them but at the same time there is a good dynamic also.

He believes, as I imagined it, that this is his daughter as a result of an affair or a fling he had 18 years before. I’m not sure whether Harry knows her real age. I imagine the daughter said to her mother, “I want to meet my father.” She had been a model or whatever…Penelope/Dakota had her backstory. Anyway, the mother rings up, we have a daughter of 18 years, or maybe he knows about the daughter but he’s never met her.  It moves to “Our daughter wants to meet you.” So he says, “Cool. Fine. Let’s meet.” He’s been with Penelope the last month or so traveling around Italy. And I think he’s enjoying the experience. Harry is someone who’s open to what that experience will be and who she is. He hasn’t pushed her away or closed her off. And I think he’s gotten to like her, finds her interesting. She challenges him and he says in a scene…of course she’s sexy, a young, sexy girl and he can deal with that.

I don’t think he’s tried anything transgressive or incestuous with her, but I think because they’ve never experienced each other as a child or baby or young adolescent, I think they enjoy this slightly flirty vibe that they have. But I don’t think it’s fucked up in any way. I think, as you say, it’s ambivalent. Dakota and I seemed to find it quickly whatever this thing is. She’ll sing “Unforgettable” with him and she’ll enjoy the vibe of sort of flirtatious proximity. I don’t think that Harry’s trying to get into bed with her. Not at all. Not remotely. In fact I think he likes to feel that energy, but he will never cross that line. I think he’s actually quite protective of her.

Any more directing for you?

Yeah. I’m developing some screenplays to direct, but it won’t be for a while.

Any chance you’ll come to Broadway? I’ve seen everything you’ve done there and loved it.

Well, I was hoping to come to Broadway this autumn with The Masterbuilder.


But actually the producers…well, it’s a sellout in London.

Of course. I’ve read that it is.

I don’t know. I think it will come here in the next couple of years.

I hope so.


This article first appeared on Blogcritics.

Earth Day & Weekend Celebrations at the New York Botanical Garden, April 22-24

NYBG, springtime, Earth Day Weekend-April 22-24 2016

NYBG flowering trees beginning to blossom. Photo Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, Earth Day celebration April 22-24, 2016

Violets are blooming at the NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

It is dismal, cold, damp weather and Punxsutawney Phil has committed suicide because of his incorrect prognostications of an early Spring! So went a humorous Facebook post I saw yesterday with a picture of a dead groundhog with a gun lying across his chest. Well, Spring has come despite the rainy, chilly bleakness. But at the New York Botanical Garden nature is thrilled. The Garden is manifesting its beauty, despite the less than sunny conditions.

All through the Spring and summer months, the various sections of the Garden will be radiant in their finest of blooms: the rose garden, the lily ponds and more. Interspersed here and there to match the outdoor beauty, the conservatory exhibits will sport more magnificent floral theater centered around various themes. Throughout the year the Garden is always vibrant with the flavors, sights and sounds of natural horticultural beauty. Some feel the fall retains the most vibrant pageantry of all the seasons.

NYBG, Earth Day Celebration-April 22-24, 2016

Tulips at the NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

NYBG, Earth Day weekend April 22-24, 2016

Vibrant tulips at NYBG. Photo Carole Di Tosti

A celebration that represents something we all should lift up is recognition of the planet that nurtures us. Earth Day is upon us and the NYBG is commemorating with three days of activities. Perhaps the the finest, most reckoning event is on Earth Day (Friday, April 22nd). Earth Day, a national event with parades and festivals, is the underappreciated and understated day that is relevant to our lives and those of our posterity.

To recognize its importance, on Friday, the Garden will be screening Seeds of Time. Directed by Sandy McLeod, the film is a compelling documentary about global agriculture, the increasing difficulties facing the world’s food supply and the seeds that must be stored for future generations.

Daffodils, NYBG, Earth Day Celebrations, April 22-24, 2016

Daffodils are blooming at the NYBG. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Hopefully, these seeds will not be hybrids or Monsanto tweaked seeds, but will be heirloom seeds that can be planted for lifetimes.

If you stay after the screening, you will be able to enjoy a discussion and Q and A by CaryFowler, Senior Advisor of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, and the Academy Award-nominated director of Seeds of Time, Sandy McLeod. Both will be discussing how agriculture, unless it is rethought and redirected will not be able to supply the world with food unless there are sustainable practices. Both will discuss the vital issues the filmmaker raises in the film.

Orange colored violets in containers at the NYBG. Celebrating Earth Day Events April 22-24, 2016. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Container plantings at the NYBG. April 22-24, 2016. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Barring inclement weather, Saturday and Sunday, April 23 & 24, the Botanical Garden is showing off her splendor in a panoply of spectacular spring blooms Along the paths and the beds throughout the Garden, the 150,000 daffodil bulbs planted in November 2015 will be bursting with joyful glory and unmistakable fragrance.

If you are familiar with William Wordsworth’s poem, “I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud” you will remember how Wordsworth, a romantic poet, uplifted nature to stave off the growing industrialization and mechanization of the factories which dehumanized, and brutalized city life. The romantics believed that through the spiritual aspects of nature man could be restored. The opening lines of Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud” begin:

daffodils, NYBG, Earth Day Celebrations April 22-24

Daffodils, some of the 150,000 bulbs planted last fall at the NYBG. Photo Carole Di Tosti

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance

Daffodils are a joyful harbinger of warmer weather and Wordsworth commented that their wealth of beauty lasted with him long after he left that location. All he had to do was remember in his mind’s eye their lovely happiness and he was spiritually refreshed.

Well, this weekend will offer not only spiritual rest and peace the Garden brings to rejuvenate one’s soul to face Monday, but there will be liquid refreshment, a wine tasting against the amazing backdrop of the Garden’s blooming trees and sprightly flowers.  New York State vintners will offer palate-pleasing local wines while experts on winemaking and viticulture will host demonstrations and presentations all weekend long.

For the full media alerts, go to:

Seeds of Time screening (Friday, April 22):

Daffodil Celebration & Wine Weekend (Saturday and Sunday, April 23 & 24):

The Earth Day weekend promises to be a memorable one. What better way to celebrate Spring, the 125 Anniversary of the NYBG and the sustenance and sustainability of our planet?

NYBG Orchidelirium: The Victorians’ Obessession for Orchids and Profits


Phalaenopsis at NYBG Orchidelirium Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Phalaenopsis orchids, the most ubiquitous of flowers, hardly garner a second glance when we stroll by the myriad colored hybrids that adorn restaurants, homes, offices, and flower sections of grocery stores.


Opsistylis Mem. Mary Nattrass NYBG Orchidelirium Photo by Carole Di Tosti


However, in 19th century Victorian England, if you had orchids in your parlour, you were most probably a member of the upper class. Orchids were a costly rarity, and for much of the 19th century, these plant gems remained in the domain of aristocrats, whose adoration of spectacular orchid originals epitomized the genteel display of power, status, and luxury.


Phalaenopsis I-Hsin Sun Beauty at NYBG Orchidelirium  Photo by Carole Di Tosti

In celebration of those passionate Victorians whose obsessions spawned perilous journeys and whose collectors’ cultivations helped to transform the field of plant research, propagation, and conservation, this year’s theme of the NYBG Orchid Show, is “Orchidelirium.”  Representative of all that is exceptional and dynamic about this monumental flowering plant family Orchidaceae (over 30,000 naturally occurring species from tiny to large, with over 150,000 man-made hybrids), NYBG “Orchidelirium” in its intense visual design and intriguing tour layout circumscribes the trending mania that burst onto the scene in Victorian England. The exhibition highlights the finest and most innovative creative impulses of the time and recalls some of the most nefarious of human activity before profiteering, exploitation, and habitat destruction became the anathema they are today.IMG_3048

Marc Hachadourian (NYBG orchid curator) holding the beloved Psychopsis papilio that whetted the Duke of Devonshire’s obsession for more rare beauties. Photo: Carole Di Tosti

The euphoria began when the Duke of Devonshire fixated upon a dazzling, most singular orchid, Psychopsis papilio. Enchanted, he lusted for more “living jewels” and commissioned explorers to travel the continents and bring back obscure treasures. They did. His addiction grew. Word spread. London’s upper class’ fanaticism was set ablaze, and the orchid craze catapulted into hyper-drive.


Close up of the Psychopsis papilio that started orchid mania and determined the  British Duke of Devonshire to amass the largest private orchid collection in the world at his Chatsworth House estate in Derbyshire which you can visit today. Photo Carole Di Tosti

The Duke’s head gardener Joseph Paxton revolutionized greenhouse design and orchid cultivation for the Duke whose expanding collection (eventually his greenhouses were over an acre under glass), inspired his wealthy friends to also display their unrivaled orchid prizes. Soon hundreds of adventurers were commissioned to travel on the high seas and bring back all the obscure, unparalleled beauties they could find. In 10 years the Duke possessed the largest private orchid collection in the world centered at his Chatsworth House estate. The grandiloquent gardens, greenhouses, and impressive buildings in Derbyshire, which recall the wealth and splendiferous  grounds of Mr. Darcy’s estate in Pride and Prejudice, are worth the visit if you are traveling to the UK.

20160226_113919Fragrant Dancing Ladies Orchid, Oncidium, Rosy Sunset ‘F’  NYBG Orchidelirium. The oncidium orchids carry a lovely fragrance of roses or chocolate. Photo:  Carole Di Tosti




Miltoniopsis Herralexandre (pansy orchid) NYBG Orchidelirium Photo:Carole Di Tosti

Our love of orchids has been tempered with an ethical imperative about conservation and preservation of habitats that was absent back in the time of the exploitative, predatory Victorians. Throughout, this prodigious show highlights the extent of the Victorians’ often piratical obsession, not only through its exquisite, floral pageantry but by showcasing the historical artifacts, books, pictures, narratives that adorn the pathways where the lusciously fragrant Oncidium Rosy Sunset ‘F’ orchids dance (they smell like chocolate), and the Miltoniopsis Herralexandre (pansy orchids) charm with their smiling faces that bloom with scintillating color. The narrative discloses “movers and shakers like Benedikt Roezl, the “Prince of Orchid Hunters,” who was the most famous and successful orchid collector of the era.


Featured display introducing Orchidelirium in the Palms of the World Gallery and Reflecting Pool.  Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The exhibition is breathtaking in its conceptualization, scope, design, and presentation. It is partly conceived as an expeditionary journey that snakes through the greenhouse galleries and suggests the diversified habitats that recall the various continents spanning rain forests, mountains, and deserts (orchids live in all continents with the exception of Antarctica), where orchids luxuriate. One first enters the conservatory’s Palms of the World Gallery Reflecting Pool and is struck by the explosion of whites,  fuscias, variegated roses, pinks, and maroons of reigning Phalaenopsis which cascade dripping Spanish moss from elevated dispositions in the trees. The featured display symbolizes how far orchid cultivation has come from hunters poaching species in the wild to the massive hybridization and cultivation of Orchidaceae it is today.


Oncidium Irish Mist ‘Big Hot Sun’ Photo by Carole Di Tosti


Bratonia Kaui’s Choice-note the long petals. NYBG Orchidelirium Photo by Carole Di Tosti


Vanilla orchid not in bloom, pods visible. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Around each turn is the unusual, like the vanilla orchid whose pods are not beans and which is the only orchid of natural economic value from which we derive all our vanilla flavoring. According to Marc Hachadourian who walked with us along the orchid trail, the vanilla seed pod of the orchid is what is taken, dried and cured and as a result of that curing process or fermentation, that’s where natural vanilla comes from.  So the Madagascar and Tahitian vanilla which is the real vanilla extract, comes from the seed pod of an orchid. Marc referred to the black flecs in Vanilla Haagen dazs ice cream which are from the vanilla orchid seed pod. “You see, you’ve been eating orchids your entire life and didn’t know it.”

As we move along the trail, Marc informs us of the tremendous diversity of orchids which are highly adaptable to all terrains and climates and are the reason why researchers use them in their plant studies. Along the pathway through the galleries that mimic the various terrains where orchids grow, you will encounter the desert orchid Eulophia Petersii.


Photo of desert orchid in bloom in the NYBG desert gallery. Photo of photo by Carole Di Tosti

20160226_103311-001The Desert Orchid Eulophia Pettrsii has adapted to the terrain in that has stems like the swollen stems of a cactus and it has a defense; the edges of the leaves which are like a saw, may cut you. Orchids adapt to every location in the world but Antarctica.

There is also a display case filled with orchid miniatures and valuable, rare orchids from the NYBG’s permanent collection. Within the case is a yellow orchid from Southeast Asia that has the fragrance of horse manure, a scent irresistible to its fly pollinators. As he walked with us Marc Hachadourian discussed that he even  had equestrians test it and verify the scent. According to Marc, “It’s one of the things that orchids are known for, the really bizarre pollination biology sort of verging on science and science fiction.


The Bulbophyllum orchid smells like horse manure fragrant to its fly pollinators. This may be found in the permanent orchid collection ,NYBG Orchidelirium. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The winding trails of the rainforest gallery recall the thick jungles of an earlier time when thousands of undiscovered orchid species proliferated with abandon. Their abundance was staggering. It exists no longer, having fallen prey to wasteful plunderers. Stop to read the story synopses of collectors and nurserymen and see how the orchid hunters lived while under threat of tropical diseases (malaria, yellow fever, blackwater fever), big jungle cats, and other predatory animals. Historically recorded are some of the most dastardly examples of plant exploitation, cupidity, and habitat destruction, encouraged by the likes of self-proclaimed “Orchid King” Henry Frederick Conrad Sander.


On the orchid trail with Marc Hachadourian who points out the typical shelter of an orchid hunter at NYBG Orchidelirium. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Sander sent out twenty explorers at a time to South and Central America, India, Burma, etc., all in the name of possessing, monopolizing, propagating, and monetizing the most inimitable specimens. The collector amassed a fortune, grew between 1 and 2 million orchid plants in his nurseries, and was named Royal Orchid Grower to Queen Victoria. The NYBG bought orchids from Sander. One of them, a Vandopsis gigantea purchased in 1904 and on display, is almost as old as the NYBG which is celebrating its 125th Anniversary this year. The Vandopsis gigantea is in its 112th year.

Behind the scenes of the splendid  faerie blooms imperiously showcased in sedate upper class English parlours and Joseph Paxton designed conservatories (his greenhouse innovations influenced the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory design), lurked venality, bellicosity and coldblooded aggression. The orchid wilds were foreboding territories of mayhem and murder. Avaricious collectors like Sander and his competitors (Dr. John Lowe, Beechers, Veitch & Sons), hired ruthless, cutthroats to seek and discover peerless finds that would yield a veritable king’s ransom ($100,000 and more in today’s currency for a single orchid). If they could destroy their rivals’ orchid specimens, urinate on them, burn down forest habitats, cut down trees (4000 were cut during an expedition), throw competitors “off the scent” of a particularly stupendous find by slyly redirecting them, and generally assure their orchid bosses’ exclusivity in nature’s masterpieces, they succeeded. That was the “game of orchids.”


The interior of the hut with the implements the orchid hunter used including the Wardian Case found on the orchid trail NYBG Orchidelirium. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Along the garden tour is placed an orchid hunter’s grass hut. Inside, along with examples of his tools and implements, is his Wardian Case (an early terrarium), where he would create a kind of micro-climate for his orchids’ preservation on the long journey home. Wardian Cases were also used to display orchids. A few in this exhibition display delicate orchid miniatures.


Photo of a sketch/photo of Benedikt Roezl, “Prince of Orchid Hunters,” an intrepid gardener, horticulturalist and orchid collector who discovered 800 different species of orchids. NYBG Orchidelirium Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The life of the orchid explorer was arduous and death-defying at every turn. One can review chronicles of those who drowned in the Orinoco (William Arnold), were attacked or mauled by jaguars and tigers, were felled by dysentery (Gustav Wallis), or yellow fever (Frantisek Klaboch), or robbed 17 times at gun or knifepoint (Benedikt Roezl). There were many who simply didn’t return. (David Burke, a Veitch hunter was murdered as many probably were). Indeed, though these brazen, plunderers might fiercely fight with spear, gun or knife, they were duty bound to come back alive with their “booty.” If they killed a rival or indigenous peoples to preserve their stash? Well…

Susan Orlean’s John Larouche of The Orchid Thief and the posse of Seminoles who were arrested in 1994 for poaching the ghost orchid from Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve are pussy cats in comparison to the wanton, fortune hunting Victorians. They were not constrained by any laws except the laws of the jungle, where only the fittest survived to plunder the precious rarities that had never been discovered before.


Rare orchid in the glass display case as part of the permanent collection. NYBG Orchidelirium   Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Is it any wonder that Charles Darwin, Victorian contemporary and “fantastic observational botanist” (quote from Marc Hachadourian NYBG orchid curator), who was all too familiar with the rapacious frenzy of orchid collectors and the lurid stories of explorers’ dire misfortunes in jungles, high plains, mountains, and plateaus, that the notion of predatory survival in nature spoke to his heart and perhaps added weight to his evolutionary theories?There is a nod to Darwin as an aficionado of orchids with a marvelous explanation and illustrations of an ingenious discovery Darwin intuited about the Darwin Star Orchid and its pollinator that you can see on your way through the galleries.


Paphiopedilum (lady slippers) and Nepenthes (pitcher plants) in a gallery before the final exhibition centerpiece. NYBG Orchidelirium Photo: Carole Di Tosti

In the gallery just before reaching the finale you will find an interesting display of the unusual that Christian Primeau (see previous articles on this site) designer of Orchidelirium really enjoy: Paphiopedilum and Nepenthes which also can be found in the centerpiece where they are quietly tucked in and create uniqueness and an innovative touch to the usual gorgeous and brilliant displays.


A view of the orchid mountain from the previous gallery. NYBG Orchidelirium Photo by Carole Di Tosti

On the final expeditionary leg one reaches the centerpiece of the exhibition, and the apotheosis of Victorian orchid frenzy, a 360 degree supernal, floral prominence rising over 8 feet tall in glittering, vivid technicolor. This otherwordly mountain is awash with orchids of varying species, Phalaenopsis, Oncidopsis, Oncostele, Oncidium, Vandas, Paphiopedilum (lady slippers). The hundreds of orchids vibrate a multitude of colors-fuscias, yellows, variegated pinks, roses, tricolors, whites, pale yellows, maroons, and more.


Another view of the orchid mountain with waterfall at the far side NYBG Orchidelirium Photo: Carole Di Tosti

They are a massive profusion, with smaller, quiet vignettes of orchids here and there on rocks clinging as orchids do. This splendid proliferation evokes what orchid hunters may have seen  at the dawn of their exploration before the craze was underway and many had been ripped from their centuries old habitats. Jewels, they drape the mountain and create its texture rising up to the summit, sported by staghorn ferns and weird hanging Nepenthes (pitcher plants). Paphiopedilum, sit on rocks at the bottom of the two waterfalls planted with striking orange blooming bromeliads and Tacca chantrieri (black bat flowers) luxuriating in the water shallows.

Another view of the mountain NYBG Orchidelirium Photo: Carole Di Tosti

Christian Primeau, the designer of the exhibition, was inspired into the mountain creation by an engraving of James Bateman’s (Victorian horticulturist and collector), naturalistic display in a conservatory at his country mansion, Knypersley Hall. The illustration appears in a two volume tome commissioned by James Bateman, The Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala, (1843).

A studied vignette of the mountain with Bromeliads and Phalaenopsis NYBG Orchidelirium. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

This  mountain created with volcanic rock, steel cubes, and chicken wire with a secret door to water the plants from the inside is “an homage” (Primeau’s words), to those who have gone before…to the avid collectors who endured the wrath of indigenous peoples, poisonous serpents, insects the size of birds, predatory animals, and murderous rivals in their exploits to scour unknown terrain, even lava-spewing volcanoes (Roezl did this), for the most exquisite and valuable of Orchidaceae. Despite the negatives, we have the Victorians to thank for their remarkable finds and innovations in cultivation and propagation.


Illustration of a potting bench with a variety of orchids one might find in an orchid collector’s greenhouse. NYBG Orchidelirium Photo: Carole Di Tosti

Victorian Orchidelirium gave birth to the billion dollar orchid industry that abides today. It even gave rise to the New York Botanical Garden’s ornate Victorian Enid A. Haupt Conservatory and its missions of research, preservation and protection of orchid species and hundreds of other plants that are becoming extinct because of illegal poaching, habitat destruction and climate change. With every delicate bloom, every fern, every pitcher plant, “Orchidelirium” is a bedazzling, live horticultural spectacular, a sterling exhibition to celebrate the NYBG’s 125 Anniversary.

The NYBG Orchid Show 2016 concludes April 17th.  Check the Garden website for details about Orchid Evenings on Saturdays (March 12, 19, 26, April 2, 9, 16), as well as Friday (April 15), and Thursday (March 24, LGBT night). On select evenings visitors can also upgrade to V.I.P. status and enjoy an Orchid Lounge.

A shorter version of this article appeared on Blogcritics.



How I Saved Hundreds of Dollars On Editing

Great article.

Jens Thoughts

More moneyEveryone loves saving money, but sometimes I don’t want to go the extra effort to do so. This time, however, I did take the extra steps and I saved hundreds of dollars. I was thrilled!

If you’re following my posts on Facebook (facebook you know my upcoming novel was sent to my editor January 15th. I sent her 75 pages of my manuscript in order for her to present a scope of work and price. This is what she wrote back:

“I’ve spent some time with chapters of Tears in the Sun, and overall your development and plot are strong. You’re a good writer, and the story is intriguing. You only need light developmental editing.”


I was so excited I didn’t sleep that night! The next day I finally got over myself and looked back at what I did that saved me money, and I laughed. The one thing…

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Mark Twain in Damascus

Interesting post by Barb Drummond.


Some more from Charles Glass, in his ‘Tribes with Flags’. I knew Train travelled to Britain, but I had no idea he had done the Grand Tour to the Middle East as well:

This is Twain on Damascus in 1867:

“She measures time not by days and months and years, but by the empires she has seen rise and prosper and crumble into ruin. she is a type of immortality. She saw the foundations of Baalbek and Thebes and Ephesus laid; she saw these villages grow into mighty cities and amaze the world with their grandeur – and she has lived to see them desolate, deserted, and given over to the owls and the bats. She saw the Israelitish empire exalted, and she saw it annihilated. She saw Greece rise and flourish two thousand years and die. In her old age she saw Rome built; she saw it overshadow the…

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Interview With Christian Primeau Designer of NYBG Orchidelirium, Part II


Dendrobrium Red Emperor Prince (cane orchid) NYBG Orchidelirium. Photo: Carole Di Tosti

In continuing my discussion with Christian Primeau, designer of NYBG Orchid Show, Orchidelirium, Christian discussed details about orchids and specific information about the show’s design and his background.


Christian Primeau designed Orchidelirium and overseas the tropical/subtropical plant collections at the NYBG.

How did you know which orchids you were going to select for the show? There are a lot of different orchids that I’ve never seen before.

That was our main focus with this show as opposed to many others. It’s always a spectacle. We wanted to really represent the scope of the orchid family as a show theme. The Victorians were passionate about finding super rare orchids. We wanted to show what that orchid geek’s greenhouse would look like and what a really passionate orchid collector’s greenhouse would look like. So we have the bulk orchids. The beauty in bulk is there to show people that range of how different the orchids can be. Their diversity is fantastic. A lot of people are familiar with the Paphiopedilum (lady slipper orchids). You can buy them at the grocery store. But we’re hoping to show people orchids and plants that they may not have seen before. It was easy too because we’re nerds and we might pick things that we might want in our greenhouse as well.


Cattlianthe Trick or Treat Fuchs Orange Nugget Orchids Photo by Carole Di Tosti


Did you find a lot of orchids that you had never seen before?

I was not familiar with a lot of the orchids. Marc is the orchid fanatic. He’s the curator. So he would come to me and say look at this and I would say that’s, fantastic, we have to have that in the show. So I did lean on Marc a lot for his expertise. And that was fun for me, too, because I learned a lot as we went along, too. It was great.


Nepenthes-tropical pitcher plants at NYBG Orchidelirium  Photo by Carole Di Tosti NYBG


Which one of the smaller touches in the show did you appreciate?

Well, the vignettes. When I drew the actual design sketches, I knew the things that I wanted the most were the Nepenthes, which is not an orchid it’s a tropical pitcher plant. In my mind when I drew the sketches I had these tropical pitcher plants incorporated in with the orchids.. It’s ironic. People from year to year will target plants that are not orchids and say, “Look at those, that’s beautiful.” And we explain, “Yeah it’s not an orchid but it is beautiful.”So I wanted those Nepenthes. They grow on little pieces of tree fern that we have and that I’ve incorporated to grow over rocks. I think they go beautifully with the orchids. They give a little added touch and a little change in texture. So I do like those.


A vignette with Bromiliads and Paphiopedilum, NYBG Orchidelirium Photo: Carole Di Tosti



Another vignette with a Paphiopedilum, water, mosses, rocks, maidenhair fern and other Victorian plants (pothos). NYBG Orchidelirium Carole Di Tosti

In my head I wanted small. We never really showcased paths, the Paphiopedilum. I mean we have small pots, and we have little groups, but I wanted to show how they might grow. I incorporated flat rocks and put paths (lady slippers) on them and a bit of moss, something very simple but might make people stop and look and see that it is beautiful in its simplicity and appreciate those on their own. That way they wouldn’t get lost. But if you notice in front in the pool the little rocks that were put there to show people that vignette. That concept was mine, too. Given the scope of the project they are fairly inconsequential but I just wanted to incorporate them.


The greenhouse potting bench suggesting that of a Victorian “geek” collector with different orchids and prayer plant. NYBG Orchidelirium Photo by Carole Di Tosti


Are you amazed?

I am amazed at what my staff was able to do and I feel uncomfortable taking any credit. They are my guys. I can draw a picture, but without them there is no way this is getting done. There are 8 staff members and without them, no way. To their credit they stayed happy and positive. It was actually a pleasure. We were all exhausted but when they stepped back and looked and saw the little things that they had done and how they contributed to the entire show, I think they were really proud and I was proud of them. It was nice for me to see, even more so, I think, viewing the vignettes than the totality of it. It was great that all of my staff was represented. They’re passionate. They’re plant people. That’s what it’s all about and it was fun for me to see them work.


Bromeliad Aechmea Patricia’s Secret NYBG Orchidelirium Photo by Carole Di Tosti



How many orchids do you have in your collection?

The NYBG? The official line is thousands.


Zygonisia Cynosure ‘Blue Bird’ NYBG Orchidelirium Photo by Carole Di Tosti


What about in your personal collection? A few?

I have a select few but I’m more of a succulent person. It’s funny because they asked me to design the Orchid Show. I like cacti and succulents and my area of expertise is actually Madagascan aloes. But I do have some paphs (Paphiopedilum). I have a soft spot in my heart for the paphs, lady slipper orchids. In my personal collection there are six or seven of those but I do have a lot of the other plants that we show with them, the Epiphytic Cacti, Nepenthes (pitcher plants), the weird things. The weirder it is, the more I like it.


Tacca Chantrieri “Bat Flower” NYBG Orchidelirium Photo by Carole Di Tosti

You must know the medicinal properties of those plants.

One of my favorites points of information when I give a tour of the conservatory is I love to stop and ask people if they have any chemistry backgrounds. I’m fascinated by alkaloids. You know what alkaloids are. Basically, a naturally synthesized pesticide. So if it affects an insect, it affects a human system as well.


Cymbidium orchids and Lomandrace Burgandy Frutica Codyline NYBG Orchidelirium Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Caffeine is one of my favorite alkaloids, and quinine. I tell the story of how gin and tonic (quinine) was invented. Being in the tropics, the British learned to take quinine to stave off the malaria that was rampant from the mosquitoes. When they colonized India, British would mix their quinine dose with a little bit of sugar and a little bit of water and a little bit of lime. All they needed was to add the gin and that’s how they created a gin and tonic. Fantastic. (Apparently, Christian is a kind of alkaloid guy) All I need is gin and tonic at night and coffee in the morning and I’m ready to go.


Phalaenopsis with Bromeliads NYBG Orchidelirium Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Yeah, I’m fascinated by the chemistry of plants. Of course rain forest plants are in such a competitive environment, that these plants, all these beautiful orchid plants that you see and delicious fruit that you see at the grocery store are a product of that competition. Competition for pollinators, competition for seed disseminators. Every day you learn something new and that’s what I like about all of this. You can never know it all. It’s like a road that doesn’t end. And I have people ahead of me on that road that teach me things. Then, I can teach those coming up behind me. I enjoy it. I’m not the biggest orchid fanatic but I certainly can appreciate what Marc knows and what Marc does. He’s an encyclopedia. I joke with these guys about Marc. You flick a switch and he just goes and you try to keep up. I learn something from him every time.


Bromeliad Aechmea ‘Tropic Torch’ NYBG Orchidelirium Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Where did you work before the NYBG?

I was the Conservatory Manager in Bolyston Mass, Tower Hill Botanical Garden. It is smaller than this. The shows we did were far smaller in scale. But don’t you know, that’s where I cut my teeth. I learned a lot from Marco Polo Stefano. He’s had an incredible career. He was at Wave Hill Botanical Garden. Fantastic man. Still lives right around here. He gave me so much encouragement and I learned so much there and he actually encouraged me to come here. And I did and I never looked back. And I love it.


Vandas NYBG Orchidelirium Photo by Carole Di Tosti

You have to be a special person to love plants. Creative, unique a different sensibility.

Don’t you think, though, that many people can love plants?


Christian’s orchid mountain (see Part I) Don’t miss the yellow Paphiopedilum and Cymbidium orchids. NYBG Orchidelirium Photo by  Carole Di Tosti

Yes. But what I mean is to have the sensibility and creativity to work here is great.

There is no where else I would rather be.


Another view of the orchid mountain designed by Christian Primeau Photo by Carole Di Tosti (see part I for his inspiration)

I can understand.

And I think part of this, too, when I was doing the show. You know the Dieffenbachia?


Pansy orchids, Moth orchids, Onicidium, Bromeliads, Staghorn Ferns and more in another view of the orchid mountain. NYBG Orchidelirium Photo by Carole Di Tosti


The Dieffenbachia is a Victorian plant that has been around for hundreds of years. It’s the kind of thing my grandmother grew or people who don’t grow plants, if they get something for their windowsill, usually a Dieffenbachia or something along those lines that is fairly standard. I wanted to incorporate those, but I wanted to give it a little bit of a twist to show people how far we’ve come. So I used those traditional Victorian plants but I used modern cultivars. So these Bromileads are just wild, crazy, the Aglaonemas, the Aechmeas, the crazy variegation and crazy colors. So there’s the thing that somebody can recognize and say, “Yes, I grow that.” But they also can see the potential. My hope is that I hook people. Whether you’re an expert like Marc or just a casual grower, I wanted to get somebody interested. What’s the saying, “You can’t please everyone all the time?” Well, I wanted to try.


I don’t know what orchids these are but I love them. NYBG Orchidelirium Photo: Carole Di Tosti

Well, I think you definitely did. It’s a magnificent show.

We shall see. (Christian Primeau smiles)


One side of the entrance to the mountain: Moth orchids and Cymbidium. The bright green plants in decoration with the brown plants are mosses. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

The NYBG Orchid Show 2016 “Orchidelirium” concludes April 17th. Check the website for details.

Orchid Evenings  Come for a nighttime cocktail experience on Saturdays (March 12, 19, 26, April 2, 9, 16), as well as Friday (April 15), and Thursday (March 24, LGBT night). On select evenings visitors can also upgrade to V.I.P. status and enjoy an Orchid Lounge.

World Beat: Music and Dance Around the World of Orchids  Live performances from cultures around the world we be held on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the exhibition.

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