Category Archives: New York Botanical Garden
Once a year The New York Botanical Garden gets dressed up in the reds, greens, whites, sparkles, golds and silvers that echo all that is bright for the wintry weather and coming cold and snow. Though some dislike all the fuss of the holidays, I enjoy it, because I visit family and friends. Thankfully, I don’t have a tree and pets to wreck it.
I help decorate my family’s trees and enjoy the celebration of present giving especially with my young nephews and nieces. For folks like me who tangentially celebrate with friends and family, but don’t do a lot of decorating at home, the New York Botanical Garden is the place to go to feel festive. And what makes the Garden especially celebratory during the holidays is their annual train show.
Each year various innovations are made. Displays change. Sometimes, I find I lose whole areas of New York City replicas (Coney Island, Central Park, Museum Row,) that normally are featured together. When I don’t see them, I wonder if they have been saved and stored for next year. But then I find them again in a different section of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory than they were the previous year. Indeed, there appears to be an infinite variety of placements of the over 175 replicas that compromise the permanent Holiday Train Show collection that collaborators Applied Imagination and NYBG create for one of the most well attended events the Garden offers.
Thousands of first-time tourists, visitors and members attend each year, participating in Bar Car Nights, the Holiday Tree and Minorah Lighting Ceremony, the Annual Bird Count and much more. However, the central themes of winter reside in trains as a throwback of the past. Ironically, they are the most mechanized feature of the train show along with the colorful lights interspersed throughout. For Founder Paul Busse eschewed using the plastic villages that came with model trains. When he decided to make his architectural “villages” of organic plant parts to husband the environment and throw down the “fake,” it was a boon. For every model, ever bridge, every house, gate, feature he and later others on his staff designed, use as their building blocks plants: twigs, bark, acorns, gourds, fruits, seeds, leaves, ferns, fungus, moss, nuts, nut shells, plant fiber and much more.
Both Applied Imagination who creates the stupendous replicas of iconic New York City buildings and the New York Botanical Garden team work like Santa’s elves for two weeks. During that time they set up the more than 25 HG model trains that skip and breeze over 1/2 mile of track non-stop during the daytime when the Garden is open through 6 pm when it shuts down. Then the trains glide from 7-10:30 pm on select Bar Car Nights, their headlights glinting through the dark mystery of the Garden’s dense, exotic evening atmosphere.
What those who have been attending the show for a while and certainly the newcomers do not realize in this 27th year of the Holiday Train Show is its evolution. Each year buildings have been added to the collection. Paul Busse always strives to forge out and tackle the different and unique, so he and his creators in Applied Imagination’s Alexandria, Kentucky Studio plan ahead with conceptualizations. After decisions in collaboration with the NYBG team, then the drawings are finalized. Then the construction begins and all is completed around the time the Garden staff strikes down the fall exhibits in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the soil is regraded and plants chosen and prepared to feature the Holiday Train Show’s old and newly fabricated models.
The journey from start to finish is a prodigious one, but the Applied Imagination team headed up by owner Laura Busse Dolan are practiced artisans. Clearly, they enjoy giving children and adults pleasure which one can easily assess just walking from one end of the conservatory to the other listening to the kids screams (daytime exhibit) and seeing adults relaxed amble with drink in hand through sections of the conservatory during Bar Car Nights. Those nights or Member Days are a great time to reconnect with friends, lovers and partners while enjoying the splendors of the Garden’s wintertime loveliness.
The festive and popular Bar Car Nights on select Fridays and Saturdays from 7-10:30 pm, December 15, 21, 22, 28, 29, January 5, 12. for adults over 21. Have a bite to eat fro the Bronx Night Market Holiday Pop-up, There are fire pits in the Leon Levy Visitor enter. Watch live ice-sculpting demonstrations, sing along to favorite tunes with dueling pianos in the Pine Tree Cafe and listen to roving a cappella groups as they guide you through the Garden.
Join former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins for a special reading of poems on December 16 at 2 pm. New this year as part of the Kids’ Poetry Contest and in partnership with the Poetry Society of America, Collins will select 12 winning poems to be displayed at NYBG during the Holiday Train Show. And the student authors will share their work during the special reading.
For special programming during the Holiday Train Show 2016, go to the New York Botanical Garden website.
The New York Botanical Garden has always prized horticultural/environmental research, preservation and sustainability. This is especially so in this crisis period where the US no longer participates in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. As a part of their vision to educate children and families about how gardens improve the environmental landscape and integrate human growth, wellness and health, the NYBG is briskly moving forward to assist the global on the local level in NYC.
The Garden is accomplishing this by operating a State-of-the Art Edible Academy that expanded their former academy into an amazing three acre campus. The central purpose of the Edible Academy is to teach children and families how to grow, harvest and prepare healthy, clean, organic produce. It is also to encourage the knowledge that sustainability in various forms like cutting down on food waste, composting, food shopping carefully, etc., are practices we should engage in to meet our personal goals to support global and local environments.
The NYBG has had an acclaimed garden-based education program for many years. However, to better serve the community of thousands of children in the New York City area, the Garden funded the expansion of the Ruth Rea Howell Vegetable Garden through public and private donations, totaling $28 million. The indoor-outdoor campus, designed by the Cooper Robertson architectural firm, boasts cutting-edge sustainable technology which allows the NYBG’s edible gardening program to operate year-round. With their improvements the Garden has doubled its capacity to involve children, families, teachers and the general public in programs every season.
The Edible Academy expansion is one more turning point on the highway of success the NYBG has paved over the decades to engage children and families to understand the importance of nature in their spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical well being. The power of nature to heal is a fact which scientists may have underestimated in the past, but now are studying in earnest. Indeed, there is a renewed interest in how “getting back to the land and the soil” heals soldiers and others with PTSD and helps children and adults with psychological problems by reaffirming mind/body connections to support the whole individual’s wellness.
Additionally, as films like Eating Animals indict agribusiness, industrial farming and industrialized animal husbandry, individuals acknowledge the importance of farm to table, fresh versus canned or frozen, and organic and free ranged chicken or beef versus processed animals. The latter inhumanely raised, shot up with antibiotics, and growth-hormones and fed with bio-engineered “round-up ready” plant grains that have been sprayed with chemicals to discourage fungus or insets, are egregious components of global warming.
Not only have agribusinesses and the correlative processed food industry impoverished once noble farmers making them into indentured servants, the toxicity of food additives and preservatives have wrecked our metabolisms and immune systems. Since fast food consumerism burgeoned and profits over healthy eating became the sine quo none of the food industry in the late 1970s, obesity rates of families have risen steadily to the present. Related illnesses never seen before like increased instances of childhood diabetes, high blood pressure and inflammation have been recorded by doctors. Clearly, acidity and toxicity have overtaken our bodies based upon our eating habits as we have chosen fast food convenience over healthy planned “start from scratch” meals at home.
Scientists and nutritionists have acknowledged the long-term impact of the chemicals we ingest in our food, drinks and water. In positing chemicals’ (including food preservatives, dyes, MSG, flavor enhancers) deleterious side effects on the human immune system, Europe has banned over 1000 chemicals emphasizing non GMO, non-irradiated produce and wheat, few preservatives, artisanal meat, cheese, wine and more. In France they have managed to keep out Monsanto corn and soybeans, which is the only offering in the US. In Italy they have created the slow food and slow wine movement since 1989, encouraging fresh, locally grown in cooperative farming as they eschew fast food and processed food.
Thankfully, the US has caught on, though we have remained behind Europe. We only ban 80 chemicals recognized to be toxic for human consumption, which is to say there are 920 chemicals or more that should be banned. Sadly, recent political developments and the vitiation of environmental policies and Food and Drug regulations threaten even the small strides we have made.
Thus, the NYBG Edible Academy is needed now more than ever, and surely, it remains a beacon for us in dark times. As a sanctuary for living plants and animals (native wildlife), it reminds us that we must uplift who we are, what we put in our bodies and what we must allow in the broader society. Above all the Garden is a bulwark which encourages us to remember we are interconnected with the earth, and thus, must do our part to help our human, plant and animal communities thrive.
To these ends, The Edible Academy expansion is money well spent especially for New York City children. The area around NYBG has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the nation. Many do not have access to fresh, affordable fruit and vegetables. Indeed, as a result there are high rates of obesity-related ailments. However, there is good news. Extensive research has shown that children who plant and harvest their own produce develop important life skills as they shop, prepare and cook their meals with wisdom. And they are more likely to eat healthful fresh fruits and vegetables and cook meals “from scratch” because the food flavors are incredible.
As a measure of the support for the importance of the NYBG mission, Garden leaders, government officials, corporate and foundation donors and dozens of Bronx schoolchildren showed up on June 14, 2018 to celebrate the opening of the Edible Academy’s momentous occasion. The Academy, which has been in the physical works for about eighteen months, has been in conceptualization for years. “We have long dreamed of expanding the Ruth Rea Howell Vegetable Garden,” said Maureen K. Chilton, Chairman of the NYBG Board of Trustees, who added, “With the opening of the Edible Academy, we will now be able to offer even more educational resources, impacting the lives of countless children as they learn about gardening, plant science and healthful living.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYC Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl, Bronx Councilmember, Ritchie Torres, New York State Senator, Jeffrey D. Klein, NY State Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie, NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson and other officials were present as Mayor de Blasio cut the ribbon and opened the ceremony dedicating the expansion. Mayor de Blasio affirmed that the City of New York provided $8.6 million for the Edible Academy through the Department of Cultural Affairs. And through the leadership of the NYS Senate and Assembly, the Edible Academy received $2.5 million.
Mayor de Blasio along with other speakers identified the importance of the Edible Academy to influence generations. He stated, “Though New York City offers students access to parks, cultural institutions, and educational experiences unlike anywhere else, opportunities to learn about agriculture in our urban jungle can be a little harder to find.” And he added, “Now, more children, educators and families can use this extraordinary resource to better understand the connections between diet, well-being and the stewardship of our planet.”
That Mayor de Blasio has a heart for children not only was evidenced here at the opening of the Edible Academy. Some days later the Mayor found out like the rest of us through fine investigative journalism that immigrant children were being separated from families in the President’s new Zero Tolerance Policy at our Southern Border. Housed in cages, sleeping on concrete, not knowing where their parents were, some were flown in secret at night to New York City shelters unbeknownst to city or state officials.
After the Mayor and Governor Cuomo flew to the border, apprised the situation and came back to the city, some of the children were located in Harlem and increased services were provided. On the news Mayor de Blasio and others stated that the number of children in New York City, once thought to be 239 was now hovering around 600 for those at a Daytime facility. Most probably, the WH administration has had immigrant children flown to other areas of New York City, perhaps even the Bronx. Thus, in the upcoming months, the Garden and the Edible Academy may offer a measure of encouragement and support if such children over the years find their way to the doors of the Edible Academy.
Before you visit the Academy, read up on the innovative and sustainable design elements to appreciate the buildings set into the farm-like setting. The campus includes a green roof for the classroom building, geothermal wells for heating and cooling, a freestanding solar pavilion to help power the facility, and composting toilets. Of course all are designed to minimize the environmental impact of the facility and support one of the largest educational gardening programs in the US. These sustainability features meet the criteria for certification as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Project. What an amazing learning facility for NYC children which is in keeping with New York State’s philosophy to affirm the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement despite its rejection by the current WH administration.
There is so much to see and do at NYBG, you will need to make a number of visits during each of the year-round exhibits (Holiday Train Show, Orchid Show, Rose Garden, Spring blooms: azealas, daffodils, lilacs, Summer Concerts, Fall Pumpkin Weekend, etc.) and activities. If you have kids, they will love the Edible Academy and the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden which has seasonal, year-round events and fun programs. Certainly, a Garden family membership will pay itself off many times over and comes with additional free parking.
Currently, the main exhibit, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Visions of Hawai’i (through October 28th) makes its home in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, at the Luesther T. Mertz Library and Art Gallery and elsewhere in the Garden. At the Art Gallery you will see gorgeous paintings inspired by plants and scenic vistas from Georgia O’Keeffe’s commissioned journey to Hawai’i. Look for outdoor installations by contemporary Hawaiian-Chinese sculptor Mark Chai, inspired by the forms of the plants that O’Keeffe encountered while visiting the exotic paradise.
And take a tram ride to the Edible Academy and spend time investigating the campus. You will enjoy the Ruth Rea Howell Vegetable Garden (three gardens), the Classroom Building (with a demonstration kitchen classroom), the greenhouse, the Pauline Gillespie Gossett Overlook Pavilion (you see the Bronx River), the Susan P. and Coley Burke Ampitheater, the Solar Pavilion, the Wamsler Phillips Plant Nursery and much more.
For Garden programming, CLICK HERE. For membership CLICK HERE. For the Summer Concert Series CLICK HERE. If you have never been to the NYBG you are missing a treasure in NYC that you cannot divine until you visit. It is one of New York City’s hidden gems, a haven and a sanctuary for thousands of visitors and members each year. But do not wait to the last minute of the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit or any exhibit for that matter. You will be bumping into crowds who want to go one last time to experience the Garden’s wonders.
Dutch floral artist Daniël Ost is world renowned. No stranger to Europe or Japan, Ost’s large-scale sculptures have been likened to Anish Kapoor, Claes Oldenburg and Andy Goldsworhy. If you google any of these individuals and Ost and check out their websites, you will be astounded at their botanical artistry of beauty, light and grace. Indeed, in Belgium where Ost grew up and initially trained, he has been referred to as “the Picasso of flower arranging.” And France hails him as “the international star of floral decoration.”
While those in the United States may not be familiar with Ost’s brilliance others might because of their network of friends and their extensive travel. However, those in the multi-million dollar flower industry and those staff, botanists, horticulturalists who make their work homes in global botanical gardens know of Ost’s reputation. The New York area is fortunate to witness Ost’s magnificent living floral designs at the New York Botanical Garden Orchid Show until 22 April.. His installations are one-of-a-kind spectaculars that take your breath away.
It is a rare opportunity to see Ost in “living color.” And unfortunately, his botanical showcase at the New York Botanical Garden will only remain until next week. As for Orchid Evenings? There are only three evenings left after tonight.
Whether you see them in the main galleries of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory in the daytime or in the evening, you will note how the changing light impacts the elements used to encapsulate the exotic delicacy of the thousands of orchids Ost and his team selected for the annual Orchid Show displays.
Unlike other designers commissioned for various NYBG shows, Ost took a hands-on approach to his installations. He traveled back and forth to the Nolen Greenhouses to specifically select a multitude of orchids and companion plants based upon their color, size, form, texture, delicacy, hardiness and more. His vision for each of his installations he effected with the assistance of his team Marco and Damien (both from Belgium) and the NYBG staff and Marc Hachadourian.
Marc is the Director of The New York Botanical Garden’s Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections. He is the main orchid curator who assiduously watches over the plants under his care. For Marc to give Ost free reign in the greenhouses indicates the level of respect both men have for each other in their passion and dedication to plants and flowers. During the weeks that Ost and his team spent in the Bronx working labor intensive lengthy days to scale up the thousands of orchids of myriad varieties with their lively companion counterparts (crotons, draceana, ferns, palms, ficus, etc.) they closely bonded with the staff.
On the Press Day I visited, I spoke with Daniel and Damien. And both mentioned that despite the amazing pressure of their schedule, they loved the Garden and were thrilled with the array of plants they were able to employ in their unique installations.
Damien assured me the clear plastic tubing, a trending element of floral design that reflected the light and cohered with the glass of the Enid A. Haupt, was a medium that best suited individualizing each orchid variety and color Daniel selected. One only has to view the monumental and glorious sculpture in the Palms of the World Gallery to understand how. Trained by Noboru Kurisaki, a prominent grand master of Ikebana, Ost learned from him that a single flower used the right way can have more impact than thousands of flowers bound together en masse.
You will not find walls of the same colors or types of orchids clumped together in a wall. Instead, every orchid variety is surrounded by a distinct and particular other orchid variety. What does thread together in minute details is a similitude and harmony of color. And then when you think you have picked out the harmonious hues, you discover that there are multitudes of contrasts.
The orchid selection brought the teams to configure the largest orchid display ever used for any of the NYBG Orchid Shows. That alone is amazing when you understand that Ost and the teams made sure to individualize each orchid from its brothers. What do remain in greater combinations of the same plants are the companion plants. But these have been selected to highlight and emphasize the vast varieties of color, shape and orchid forms.
Phalaenopsis (moth orchid), Vandas, Miltonia, Cymbidium, Cattleya, Dendrobium, Paphiopedilum, Oncidium (dancing-lady), Brassia, Odontoglossum are some of the varieties. The orchids in the show span from those that are rare which you will see in the glass case, the Garden’s permanent collection. Whether shipped in from tropical climes, or raised in the Nolen greenhouses, whether popular pinks and fuschias, or the multi-faceted, multi-hued hybrids, the diversity of plants is amazing.
Thus each orchid in the show has its own defined space, its roots either allowed to hang down or placed within a moss medium so they might thrive as their variety would in the wild. This is especially manifest and clearly seen in the Palms of the World Gallery and in the walkway of the seasonal gallery as one saunters up to the 360 degree showpiece gallery of the conservatory whose permanent plants spiral upward 100 feet or more to the domed ceiling.
In this particular gallery, Ost and his team used green bamboo in a circular round which mirrors the lattice work of the Enid A. Haupt. The bamboo and the tubing are at meet and are employed together in the passageway leading to either domed space.
Thus, at either end the larger galleries of the Enid A. Haupt manifest their own design akin to their structure. Thus, Ost’s vision in employing these implements for the installations represent a celebration of the architecture of the conservatory. Indeed, function and design whimsically become one. And the elements used to reflect Ost’s vision serve as the platforms upon which the orchids shimmer with vibrancy, magnificence, singularity and loveliness.
Words and photos cannot do justice to viewing the theatrical horticultural spectacular in all its vivacity. You must see it for yourself. However, here are more photos which will reveal the amazing installations in the daytime and evening “light” motifs.
There is programming surrounding the 2018 Orchid Show. Saturday, April 14 is an Orchid Evening which begins at 6:30 pm and lasts until 9:30 pm. The Garden is mysterious and exotic in the evenings. The Enid A. Haupt is transformed to an ethereal, romantic tropical setting where anything seems possible.
The show ends on 22nd of April. Next weekend is the last Orchid Evening of the season. Best to get tickets for the weekend immediately. With the nicer weather, the crowds show up and the tickets sell out. You will be glad you didn’t miss Daniël Ost’s splendid vision for orchids at this year’s show. For all programming CLICK HERE.
If you have not been to Bar Car Night of the NYBG Holiday Train Show, this weekend will be your last chance. The entire week, the cold has softened into the sunshine and snow melt. It would be a wonderful time to go with friends, partner, spouse, lover, blind date, seeing date or just yourself. Have a few drinks, saunter through the gorgeous conservatory and various galleries appreciating Applied Imagination’s love letter to New York and NYC and go home refreshed and ready for a new week.
The show’s main Palms of the World Gallery features the new exhibits of Mid Town Manhattan and the show is splendid with some of the seasonal decorations still hanging and lights twinkling. everywhere. One of the most popular of the NYBG shows, ‘Bar Car Nights’ is the time to leave the kids at home and enjoy the quiet, low surrounding conversations as you note the incredibly imagined replicas that pay homage to old world Victorian New York and the twentieth century.
The show advances our historical knowledge of many buildings and structures that have either been demolished or destroyed. Five bridges of New York (Brooklyn, Queensboro, Manhattan, Hells Gate and the George Washington sparkle their lights as trolleys and passenger cars slip quickly over the bridge trestles. One also notes various sections of Manhattan-Museum Row, NYPL,Central Park, Morris Jumel Mansion, Park Avenue Armory, Mid-town Manhattan-Empire State Building, East Side/West Side Row Houses; Brooklyn-Coney Island’ Queens-the TWA Flight Center, the Bronx-Poe Cottage, NYBG Haupt Conservatory, Yankee Stadium, Hudson River Valley mansions and more.
Whether you move slowly observing all of the sustainable, botanical wonder (stems, leaves, twigs, see pods, pine cones, acorn caps, cinnamon, etc.) that create finials, roof tops, gables, windows, decorative elements and stones, or just jet through taking in the overall sensual experience, you will feel wellness spark your soul. The creative energy, joy and love demonstrated by the details of the structures and placement among the NYBG’s finest living panoramas and water features will delight. It is worth it to take a trip for the evening magic and variety of visual and aural sights that will titillate, yet soothe your senses.
The show enjoying 26 years at the New York Botanical Garden has been engineered, created and lovingly collaborated to delight and enthrall by the team at Applied Imagination. Applied Imagination’s baton has passed from creator and founder Paul Busse to his daughter Laura Busse Dolan. She discussed her Dad’s evolving the show over the years. Laura Busse Dolan has fulfilled and maintained her Dad’s intention to create a world of New York grandeur in miniature. And around the fantastic replicas wholly created with sustainable plant parts and biodegradable materials, 25 gauge trains leap, choo-choo, slip smoothly.
The amazement of Bar Car Nights for me always becomes noting the differences of the daytime Holiday Train Show and the cold wintry evening in the shadowy NYGB. The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, a fountain of sunlight streaming brilliantly through the latticework and glass cheers. The delicacy of the replicas, the intricacy of their botanical components from magnolia seed pods to cinnamon sticks, bamboo, eucalyptus, acorn caps and more fascinate. How does the team innovate the use of a twig or bark for various buildings to simulate Senator William Clark’s guilded-age mansion? Clearly, their intimacy and knowledge and experience with materials and collaborative efforts prompt them to top themselves each year as they place the buildings among gorgeous flowering shrubs, orchids, palms and water displays.
The NYBG Holiday Train Show ends on 15 January. This is the last week and weekend of the show. You may check for tickets HERE. Bar Car Nights end on 13 of January, this Saturday. Pick up tickets by CLICKING HERE.
If you missed The Holiday Train Show select programming this year because you were out of town, the show will be presented annually and you should mark your calendar for special events that happen during the winter season inclusive of the Holiday Train Show. From music to dance, from movies to poetry readings, the New York Botanical Garden is a hive of activity for the entire family. If you are a New Yorker, you probably are apprised of this. If you are a global traveler, this is one of the places to be during the Christmas and Holiday season. If you can’t make it this year, check for the show around Thanksgiving in November of next year.
The Holiday Train Show is always a spectacular reaffirmation of what is beautiful, shining and creative in the human spirit. This year seems more so against a backdrop of tumultuous, grimy political scandals and redundant “breaking news” moments that jar the nerves and chill one’s core. I heartily appreciate an escape from the unsettling thesis of chaos to the antithesis of children’s screams of laughter and twinkling, colorful Holiday lights of assurance. The felt innocence is more lovely than the low details of worldly goings on. And I am uplifted to remember that throughout the labored struggles of men and women who strive to retain power, there is something more worthy and spiritual in the human soul that the season reminds us to seek and direct our attention to.
Thus, for me especially this year, and for the friends I visit with, The Holiday Train Show in the New York Botanical Garden is a sanctuary of refinement, a haven of peace. Amidst the lovingly arranged pageantry, the plantings strike poses between the stunning miniature replicas of New York’s icons, historical landmarks and stupendous structures of the gilded age, made into museums or torn down because they were too expensive to maintain.
As I note the complexity of the constructions from plant parts as tiny as a barely seed and as large as a gourd, and wander slowly in amazement at the specificity of creation, solace is delivered in cupfuls and happiness in bushels. I take picture after picture, trying to stir my memories about the location of the recreations in previous years.
If I take my time without rushing to the show finale, my memory serves me. The Poe house is situated more prominently this year on the opposite side of the central theatrical showcase. I am glad because I am writing a play about Poe and I feel akin to this replica. For example, I know that Poe’s wife Virginia Clemm died of tuberculous in Poe Cottage which is in Fordham in the Bronx a few miles from the Garden. The replica is modest, a no frills structure which is a miniature facsimile of the real Poe Cottage. The Poes were impoverished for all of their marriage a terrific irony considering just one of Poe’s short handwritten letters brought in almost $100,000 at auction a few years ago.
I see that the New York Public Library (Stephen A Schwartzman building) is up front and center as it should be. The Fifth Avenue Manhattan library with the stentorian lions is under renovation and receiving technological updates that will be completed by 2020. I note that the Coney Island display is prominent with the Elephantine Colossus, Wonder Wheel (now a film of the same name by Woody Allen about Coney Island and gangsters), The Steeple Chase, Luna Park, the Cyclone (with moving parts) and more. These structures backdropped with waterfall and reflecting pools are encircled by sauntering trains lazily enjoying their pace in the 360 degree central showcase of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. Last year they were in the Palms of the World Gallery.
As I appreciate the Elephantine Colossus so carefully and brilliantly created out of variously shaped gourds and other plant pieces, I consider Leslie Salka’s (Director of Applied Imagination whose creations we love) comments about the construction of the replica of the Elephant shaped hotel. The unusual structure was an example of the period’s novelty architecture, designed by James V. Lafferty to bring in tourists. The seven-story building, which served as a hotel, concert hall and amusement bazaar, stood above Surf Avenue from 1885 to 1896 when it burned down. Leslie decided they should include the hotel in the Coney Island display in memoriam of Topsy the female elephant who was electrocuted in Coney Island’s Luna Park in 1903.
Topsy’s demise had been all but forgotten until someone noted a film had been made of her electrocution and clips of it were included in a Ric Burns documentary about Coney Island. After Burns’ film the subject of Topsy’s death has been featured in popular culture and media and has been the subject of poetry, fiction, songs and journalist Michael Daly’s book about her. Contrary to belief there is no purported direct association of Topsy’s death at Luna Park with Thomas Edison. Though Edison did electrocute animals 15 years earlier during the War of Currents when he was attempting to demonstrate the dangers of alternating current, he was not responsible for Topsy’s death. The Elephantine Colossus replica is gorgeous and the backstory of Topsy’s life and death, the preservation of the film clip, and her rise to celebrity is a notable piece of history found in The Holiday Train Show if you enjoy digging deeper.
What I particularly appreciate about The Holiday Train Show is that there is something for everyone young and ancient. Children see the trains and love to hear and watch them. Adults see the history, and depending upon their day and mood go deep or gloss over the displays. No one sees all of it during each visit. If you glean 20% of the entire production which pays homage to history, trains, New York, the five New York City boroughs and their landmarks interspersed fancifully throughout the Garden’s botanical kingdom, you will have walked away with a treasure.
The Show is overwhelming. So one may jaunt through it appreciating the overarching dazzling spectacle and briefly glance at the replicas, taking a few moments to identify the name of a particularly striking recreation. Or you may more closely observe, inspect and take a leisurely microscopic view of how each of the replicas was assembled ingeniously with twigs, varieties of flower and grain seeds, pine cones, stems, leaves, nut shells, acorn caps, pods, gourds, varieties of moss, mushrooms, flowers, herbs, spices and more.
And the trains? Use your phone video feature to capture the particularly cool passenger trains or trolleys flying over the Manhattan or Queensboro bridge high above your head. Most NYC bridges (five out of the nine) are featured. Or snap the cute novelty cars painted with butterflies or other insects trolling back and forth over the tracks. All of the trains are G-scale, whether ancient or modern, whether locomotives and freight cars or diesel engines, electrified passenger trains, trolleys and streetcars. There are over 25 full fledged train set ups clanging, whirling, zipping, steaming, chugging, purring and careening over 1/2 mile of track situated between rocks, over bridges and water features, through tree stump tunnels and under low hanging tree branches throughout the conservatory.
In the 3000 foot 360 degree display whose extension was added a few years ago, you’ll see a grand memorial to traindome. You’ll note various New York historical station replicas that are throwbacks to a time when travelers stayed at inns before they journeyed to relatives. These have since been torn down to make way for flat-looking, rectangular, unappealing buildings signifying what has been lost to progress. You will note Grand Central Station saved by Jacqueline Onassis and the magnificent station that developers couldn’t wait to get their grimy hands on, the Beaux Arts beauty, built in 1910, Pennsylvania Station. The Applied Imagination replica is a memorial to history, grand architectural effort that remains timeless though Penn Station itself was torn down in 1963. But there the miniature building stands for us to admire at The Holiday Train Show. Just consider that for a second or two.
The Palms of the World Gallery exhibit is the glorious conclusion that sends you out into the sterling night of stars if you go to Bar Car Nights (December 22, 23, 29, 30, January 6, 13) with a date, friends or are just slumming by yourself. Or if brushing by the palm fronds with goodbyes to Garden staff dressed as train engineers you slip from the tropical paradise into the bright, cold atmosphere and sunshine with a beaming smile on your face because the final exhibit is just…just. Well! You’ll have to go and see the show and come up with your own descriptors. Marvelous? Rising? Scintillating? Neat? Memorable? Illustrious?
It’s all of that and more as the display in the large reflecting pool glimmers and splits into double images which lengthen the buildings and set them skimming across the water. This segment in particular memorializes why Manhattan is its own tribute to itself: skyscraper-particular, iconic, architecturally astonishing, mesmerizing, glowing. Whether its Rockefeller Plaza, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, the GE Building, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, St. Bartholomew’s Church, this is what tourists, natives and even botanical adventurers love about New York City. Take some time to especially view the last four replicas listed here, all of which are new.
I was struck by the extravagant details and was rather gobsmacked at the illusion which is created in this gallery. These buildings effect their namesakes, but are built with completely organic, sustainable materials, unlike their reality of concrete, glass and steel. The effect will draw you in as you remember the essence of the Applied Imagination’s vision to set a monument to nature’s ineffable and infinite botanical variety and the wonder of at plants’ creative usefulness as building blocks for humans. Read that sentence again, to ken the full meaning. Heart!
There is no leaving the Palms of the World Gallery after the first minute of arrival. You leave when you receive the full effect of the display upon your senses and decide that The Holiday Train Show is a celebration of the best of who we can be as creators and lovers of nature’s bounty of which we are an integral part.
For all the intriguing programming during the Train Show, from the Evergreen Express and family events, Billy Collins poetry reading and more, go to the Garden website HERE. For BAR CAR NIGHTS, HERE. To learn about Paul Busse artistic visionary, founder and 25 year creator of Applied Imagination replicas and themes with his team click HERE.
Last weekend at the New York Botanical Garden was my last time to say goodbye to the Chihuly Exhibit. I have visited the exhibit a number of times, but each time is fresh and different. One reason is because Dale Chihuly’s outdoor sculptures refract and reflect the changes in sunlight during the changing seasons, from spring to fall.
Another reason is because no matter how closely you look at a piece, you will notice something unique every time. Perhaps it is the way the colors merge into each other on some pieces or the way the glass curves or projects starkly upward. With the sculptures that are housed indoors at the Enid A. Haupt conservatory, for example Macchia Forest, 2017, Chihuly’s vibrant colors startle in multi-colored tulip-shaped cups arising from iron-like stems in the conservatory’s indoor pond and fountain gorgeously arranged with hanging flowering plantings. One could remain there all day or in the evening with a drink during Chihuly Nights. The rich ambience delights and the sounds of water splaying in the fountain soothe. As with all of Chihuly’s sculptures thoughtfully arranged in or around water, the reflections dazzle and enthrall with their multi-dimensional views.
I will sorely miss this exhibit which stirs the imagination toward infinite and graceful fantasies that one conjures up in brilliant dreams. I have become used to catching the falling sunlight at dusk as it stirs the effervescence and evolving, sparkling, deep blue, shimmering hues on Sapphire Star 2010, NYBG 2017 amidst the darkening shadowy green of the landscape and deepening black shapes of the trees. Sapphire Star 2010, installed at NYBG 2017 is my favorite. I enjoyed seeing it in high noon brilliance or in the surrounding darkness enhanced with a few ground lights along the Garden path that is out of the Chronicles of Narnia. My imagination runs wild. And if I were indeed alone without anyone near me, I would expect a unicorn or centaur to jump out from behind a tree and admiringly gaze at this groundling star whose other-worldy beauty beckons.
This past weekend I also strayed beyond the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden to visit the Native Plant Garden where Chihuly’s Float Boat and Koda Studies #1 and #2 herald all that might be accomplished when the creative spirit is allowed to run wild amidst a natural platform. Again, Dale Chihuly combines contrasting shapes, sizes and forms. There are the comforting huge glass balls of every shining hue imaginable displayed in a an oblong vessel held up by a flowing water pond.. In the nighttime, the view widens its depth. Which is is solid? Which is fluid? And indeed physics will explain that both are double images of each other for all contain infinitesimal atoms which spin at incredible speeds and play havoc with what appears to be real but which is something else entirely. A true mind-blast and pageantry of excellence.
That evening a guitar player shared his repertoire as we hailed the Chihuly’s Koda Studies # 1 and 2. Chihuly designed these specifically for the exhibit, honoring his original Artpark installation designed with friend Seaver Leslie in Lewiston, New York in 1975. That significant installation launched Dale Chihuly as a glass artisan and he has been flying into glory ever since.
As we sauntered along the path viewing Chihuly’s muted dark fuschia, red and yellow glass panes pinging off the lengthy water display in the Native Plant Garden, our senses were regaled. The native grasses, wild herbs, shrubs and dying foliage exuded gorgeous aromas released in the humid night air. There was a sense of freedom and exploration I felt. Tell me where else in New York City can one travel safely along landscaped, tree-lined paths in the nighttime breathing clean air with heavenly scents except at a NYBG evening exhibit.
During the daytime I walked amongst the still-green trees which are here and there beginning to prepare for fall and winter. I stepped into the fun-filled Everett Children’s Adventure Garden and watched the kids enjoy themselves everywhere they went. The Children’s Garden was packed. The humongous pumpkins patiently sat as children scrambled on top of them and families posed for pictures. Each of the gigantic specimens were record-breakers. (see below for stats) Families sought and found enormous pumpkins, gourds, and squashes – it was also Giant Pumpkin Weekend, and families came to see these incredible natural wonders.
Kids and parents took pictures standing on them, climbing them, sitting on them, and standing next to them. Giant Pumpkin Weekend, arranged in collaboration with the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, showed off the growers’ skills at nurturing the hugest (I know that’s not a word), most fantabulous (or that either) pumpkins. Each of these record-breakers from around the world weighed in at more than a ton.
How these pumpkins’ DNA allows them to expand boggles the mind. Importantly, growers come to share how this happens in the growing process during Q&As.
Recapping the record-breakers and their growers for 2017.
This year’s largest pumpkin traveled from Sumner, Washington, bringing with it the North American all-time record. Nurtured by Joel Holland, the “Great Pumpkin” weighed in at 2,363 pounds.
The second-largest pumpkin ever grown came from the United Kingdom, with that country’s all-time record of 2,269 pounds. Ian Paton and Stuart Paton grew this lovely.
Finally, at the entrance of the Leon Levy Visitors Center you will find the largest squash grown in the world this year. This all-time record-breaker grown by Joe Jutras hails from North Scituate, Rhode Island. It weighs in at 2,118 pounds.
If you missed this annual fun event the weekend of 21-22 October, don’t worry. The display continues through 31 October. And if you can’t make it this year, next year the Garden will be hosting amazing record-breaking specimens again. You know they will be even larger.
Another fun event at the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden involved costumes and goodies. Children dressed in costumes visited the Whole Foods Market® Trick-or-Treat Trail. Since Whole Foods offered the treats, you know they had to be nutritious and delicious. No candy corn could be found anywhere on those Whole Foods Market tables. Additionally, children could decorate a bag to collect their goodies, which included a “children’s sized” baby spider plant anxious to receive a new home.
One event I particularly enjoyed took place at the Clay Family Picnic Pavilions. Kids and parents came curious to see what creepy, spooky creatures of Halloween might crawl around, fly, or calm down to be petted. The live animal presentation revealed interesting reptiles from everywhere, perhaps even some backyards upstate or in the South.
In the photos are the popular Wilma, a lizard who sustained the children petting her with peace and calm, and Skittles the milk snake who also was petted by the children and remained peaceful throughout. One can see the various creatures Saturdays and Sundays, 1 & 3 p.m. until 29 October.
The New York Botanical Garden contains a fabulous and beautiful world of treasures for everyone. If you can catch the Chihuly Exhibit during the day, you will be thrilled. Unfortunately, tickets to Chihuly Nights have been sold out for the last week. However, if you go during the day over the weekend, make sure to get there early. The parking is limited. And even if it is a bit colder, New Yorkers and out-of-towners want to take a last breathtaking look at the NYBG Chihuly exhibit before it leaves. Thankfully, I took many pictures in remembrance. When winter approaches in earnest in New York City, I will look back at this article and my pictures in fond remembrance.
For events at the NYGB, CLICK HERE.
‘Jazz and Chihuly, Songs of Protest & Reconciliation,’ New York Botanical Garden Summer Concert Series
Considering the Charlottesville, Virginia August 11th incidents and the tragic loss of one woman’s life, up through the president’s press conference of Tuesday, August 15th, these days of August have been tumultuous and divisive. Indeed, taking a stand to uphold human rights and decry hate groups that seek mainstream political power appears to be more vital than ever as protest marches this past weekend indicate. Symbolic action, whether it is through protest demonstrations or concerts is a reminder to all that Love trumps Hate. A great majority of Americans are committed to upholding the sanctity of every life, regardless of race or religion.
Serendipitiously, the final summer concert series at the New York Botanical Garden on Friday, 18 August was a majestic reminder of this citizen commitment. Despite the threatening thunderstorm and intermittent periods of rain throughout the day, the turnout to embrace Jazz and Chihuly, “Songs of Protest & Reconciliation” was overwhelming.
The tent was packed with a diverse crowd who were there to enjoy the all-star musical group led by award-winning pianist and vocalist, Damien Sneed, guest trumpeter Keyon Harrold and the other prodigiously talented musicians and vocal artists. Together, these individuals presented an evening of entertainment that was poignant and joyful. And after joining with them in celebrating some of the best songs created by greats of jazz, soul, gospel and contemporary music (including two composed by Damien Sneed), the audience was sent out into the night sans rain to appreciate the luminous Chihuly sculptures presented throughout the grounds and in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.
This final concert in the summer series was co-produced by the Catskill Jazz Factory and Absolutely Live Entertainment. The Catskill Jazz Factory encompasses a dynamic jazz program whose mission is to aid some of the finest young jazz artists with year-round workshops, concerts, residencies and world-class performances in the Hudson Valley. Absolutely Live Entertainment is a festival, tour and concert production company spearheaded by Danny Melnick. Malnick is the Producer of the Newport Jazz Festival and the Artistic Director of Carnegie Halls’ The Shape of Jazz series.
Damien Sneed is a master of practically every musical genre and a 2014 recipient of the Sphinx Medal of Excellence honor which is presented annually to emerging Black and Latino leaders in classical music. His facility with jazz, gospel, pop, R & B, opera and musical theater and his work with Aretha Franklin, Wynton Marsalis, Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross have served him in excellent stead.
Sneed facilely shepherded the ensemble of vocalists Chenee Campbell, Anitra McKinney, Djore Nance, Tiffany Stevenson, Matia Washington and musicians Stacy Dillard (saxophone) Corey Wilcox (trombone) Julius Rodriguez (Hammond B3 organ) John Matthew Clark (bass guitar), Mark Clark, Jr. (drums). The songs of protest “I Wish I knew How it Would Feel to Be Free” (Nina Simone), “Oh Freedom,” (African-American spiritual), “Follow the Drinking Gourd (Underground Railroad) and “Freedom (excerpt)” (Duke Ellington) for example, emphasized every individual’s yearning for freedom and what freedom means collectively and personally.
During the first half of the evening, an audience member brought up a T-Shirt and draped it on a music stand. The T-Shirt had the logo, “Black Lives Matter.” Her action was spontaneous and unstaged.
Interspersed with these songs of protest were the songs of reconciliation: “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (Simon and Garfunkel), “God Bless the Child, (Billie Holiday & Arthur Herzog, Jr., “Proud Mary,” (John Fogarty), “Is My Living in Vain,” (Twinkie Clark & The Clark Sisters) and more. Each number featured a powerful solo by one of the vocalists. The audience showed their appreciation with standing ovations.
During the second portion of the evening, Keyon Harrold performed a song he had composed. Harrold presented “When Will The Killing Stop?” as a dedication to Michael Brown and all the young, black men who have been killed for “no good reason.” His playing was at once soulful and poignant, his talent incredible. It is no wonder he has been featured on nearly 100 albums with a wide music range from jazz to R & B, from pop and gospel, to blues and hip-hop.
By the conclusion of the evening, the storm and rain had stopped and the audience had been refreshed and uplifted by the development of the program from seeking soul freedom to the process by which that freedom evolves: forgiveness, reconciliation and love.
On this night the evolution was inspired through music and exceptional artistry which united and uplifted a community of jazz, botanical and Chihuly enthusiasts. For audience members it was a clarification of the last few weeks and exemplification of all that is best in human hearts, further embodied by our wonderment at the fantastic, illuminated Chihuly sculptures.
The New York Botanical Garden is an enjoyable respite and shelter from the storms and stresses of life. Throughout the year their amazing seasonal exhibits which combine spectacular floral shows with art, sculpture, poetry, music, and literary narratives provide a way for one’s soul to rejuvenate and be refreshed to face whatever fate deals next.
I especially enjoy the New York Botanical Garden’s exhibits during the evening hours. It is then the shadows dissolve through the dancing, twinkling lights draped along tree trunks and foliage, and darkness blends in chiaroscuro with a spotlight of brilliance strategically placed here and there. The humidity and moisture are ripe; the whirring fans cool the air which feels luscious and exotic. It is a faerie landscape where the extraordinary is one with the natural and I almost expect to glimpse out of the corners of my eyes a glorious supernatural figure flash up, float mysteriously then evanesce as a vibrant fuschia phalaenopsis (moth orchid), emerges from behind the creature’s vaporous wake.
Bar Car Nights, the over 21 adult evenings offered during the Holiday Train Show, are particularly whimsical and romantic. As the trains strum exuberantly along the 1/2 mile of track that circles through the three thousand square feet of extended space (added last year), then snakes through the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory coming to rest in the Palms of the World Gallery, the thrill of the Winter season from one’s childhood is recalled. Couples can saunter through the galleries with liquid refreshments for purchase and completely relax. It is an awakening to a simpler, happier time when morose emotions weren’t joggled by news events and chaos was a scientifically theoretical construct, not haphazard human emotions effected by bellicose, maniacal human beings.
The New York BotanicalGarden is an otherworldly place of peace and beauty. All of the volunteers, the staff of Applied Imagination who have created and constructed the beautiful replicas of present and past New York landmarks from natural plant parts, and the permanent Garden staff, receive great delight from knowing how much enjoyment they give to the thousands of visitors who attend the show.
Each year the exhibit manages to be singular. The more than 150 buildings and structures of New York City and upstate New York: Rockefeller Center. Sachs Fifth Avenue (video above) Empire State Building, Morris-Jumel Mansion, Poe Cottage, Olana, Kykuit, The Jewish Museum, New York Public Library, Park Avenue Armory, Yankee Stadium, Senator William Andrews Clark House (demolished right before the depression as too expensive to maintain), Tammany Hall, the National Arts Club, Macy’s, etc., are situated uniquely throughout the conservatory’s lush greenery. It is fun to identify the re-creations and compare them with their originals, which if you haven’t seen or toured (Kykuit, Edgar Allan Poe Cottage, Olana, the Morris Jumel), you will be motivated to do so as an examination of New York State and US history.
The likenesses are exceptional considering how the recreations are made with twigs, acorns, rose petals, seeds, gourds, buds, pistachio shells, moss, bark, pine cones, leaves, fruits, etc. In short anything we might throw off on the compost heap, ingenious Applied Imagination botanical artists conceptualize as part of a building edifice or roof and in the case of the cherub sculptures of Kykuit, a prominent body part.
Various years not all of the structures are included; the World’s Fair buildings didn’t appear this year to make way for new additions which are the unique design of Director of Applied Imagination Leslie Salka in collaboration with Founder Paul Busse. The piece de resistance of the Holiday Train Show is the Brooklyn borough’s Coney Island exhibit that shines in the Palms of the World Gallery.
Several Coney Island structures from previous years (the Galveston Flood Building, the Luna Park Arch, the Luna Park Central Tower, etc.), are included in the exhibit with the new structures and all are situated in the reflecting pool. As you walk under the Brooklyn Bridge, you will see the famous Cyclone, the Coney Island Wonder Wheel and the Elephantine Colossus, the gigantic elephant-shaped hotel from the 1890s that has since burned down.
Director Leslie Salka was determined to include the hotel to memorialize Topsy, a female Asian elephant, who helped build Coney Island. The innocent Topsy was electrocuted to death by Thomas Edison as a huge draw for the 1903 Luna Park Coney Island exposition. Edison luridly filmed her heinous death, a fact that Michael Daly reveals in his book Topsy.
Daly’s book chronicles the story of the elephant’s travails as a pawn first in the greedy hands of a circus competitor of P.T. Barnum and then in the irate claws of Edison. In an article in the New York Daily News about his book, Daly says, “The electrocution was for Edison a means to vent his fury and frustration over his defeat” (with Westinghouse in the war of the currents), “as well as an opportunity to film the first death of any kind.”
Thus, Leslie Salka’s and Paul Busse’s addition of the Elephantine Colossus hotel replica, has a much greater significance than one would imagine upon first glancing at its beauty and ingenious creation from gourds and other plant parts. And Nikola Tesla fans will appreciate this final triumph of Topsy memorialized in the Holiday Train Show. It is a reminder that Thomas A. Edison’s reputation in mainstream history books belies the reality of what and who he really was.
The Holiday Train Show plantings always vary as does the placement of the variety of trains which are all G-gauge and include passenger trains, freights, trolleys, novelty cars, streetcars, diesels and locomotives. This year all but one of New York’s bridges reside high above strolling visitors. Trains whiz back and forth over trestles and one imagines what it might be like to be a passenger in miniature looking at the view of the panorama of orchids, cyclamen, hedges, ficus, begonias, palms, sage grass, camelias, and more.
For complete New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show programming, check their website HERE. Magical Bar Car Nights run the following dates on Fridays and Saturdays: December 2, 3, 16, 17, 23, 30; January 7, 14 from 7 – 10 pm. For family and children’s events (Winter Harmonies Concerts, poetry readings with NYBG poet Laureate Billy Collins and former Vassar College Professor Eamon Grennan, children’s activities-Evergreen Express and “All aboard with Thomas & Friends”) check out the NYBG website or this Blogcritics article for listings.
The Holiday Train Show Bar Car Nights and the entire exhibition are sure to ignite your seasonal spirit and bring joy and vitality to help you usher in the New Year. The show runs until January 16, 2017.
For those of you who have visited Japan in the fall, you are familiar with kiku and will most probably have fond memories of kiku that you saw in amazing displays wherever you may have walked around Tokyo or other cities in the country. Kiku is the Japanese word for “chrysanthemum.” It is the most venerated of all Japanese fall flowering plants, not only for its beauty, but also for its medicinal qualities and ancient cultural tradition.
What is most amazing is how the Japanese for centuries have maintained what is now becoming the dying art of training and shaping liku into the most incredible designs. It is becoming a dying art because the process of training the growing, fragile Kiku into such lovely shapes requires great skill and is tremendously labor intensive. One false move, one mistake and the entire display may be ruined. Kiku are “no joke.” And it is for that reason they are celebrated in Japan as part of the traditional Japanese custom of enjoying the ephemeral beauty of flowers, known as hanami.
Kiku presentations in conceptualization and philosophy are perhaps one of the most fleeting flower arrangements of all. The displays cannot be preserved beyond a few weeks. They are original. They are easily damaged and during the process of the pruning and training, they are incredibly fragile. Considering that it takes 11 months to grow, train and shape kiku into a cascade design, for example, for 11 months of labor, one receives, if one is careful, two to three weeks of beauty that vanishes as if it never lived at all. It is that impermanence of life that is so captivating a reminder for us to appreciate all that is beautiful for a season, until it withers. The irony is that kiku cannot even regrow their shapes. So, the artistry required to get them to their state of loveliness is truly exceptional
Indeed, one wonders why, in our fast paced digital age, anyone cares about pinching the buds off some flowers to effect beauty. Precisely. When one understands the process and the effort, one appreciates their pageantry. Besides, like all craft and artistry, if it can be preserved, we stay connected with our historical past and the past of other countries and their cultures. In our blink-and-it’s gone current cultural oppression of time, kiku are at once given to us from the ancients and are made modern by having those who care bring the art into the 21st century.
The NYBG has taken on the laborious craft in order to insure that the art will continue to be enjoyed by visitors from Japan as well as those who are familiar with the fall chrysanthemums, but are unfamiliar with the ability of the plants to be trained and designed into magnificent trees, cascades, bridges and more. Each year the NYBG has its kiku exhibit in the fall, pioneered by the chrysanthemum masters at the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo who educated Yukie Kurashina. Yukie has trained others like James Harkins in the fine art of floral theater. And under the supervision of Marc Hachadourian, Director of the Nolan Greenhouses for Living Collections, James (foreman of gardeners) and kiku expert Yukie with scores of volunteers have made the kiku exhibit at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory into a place of refuge mirroring the past and merging it with the present.
During the exhibit Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden, you will see three traditional kiku styles:
- Ozukuri which means thousand bloom. A single stem of a chrysanthemum plant is trained to produce hundreds of simultaneous blossoms in a massive umbrella-shaped display.
- Kengai which means cascade. Small-flowered chrysanthemums are pruned and pinched to frameworks that flow downward like waterfalls for lengths up to six and one-half feet.
- Ogiku which means double and triple stem. These are enormous individual flowers presented at the end of stems that can reach up to six feet tall.
Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden is running from October 8 through October 30. For the full programming schedule that follows this exhibit, click HERE for the NYBG website.
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.
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.
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 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  may also be viewed at the Library Art Gallery)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.