Category Archives: NYBG EXHIBITS
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com. Or visit million-daffodils.nybg.org
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Fragrant Dancing Ladies Orchid, Oncidium, Rosy Sunset ‘F’ NYBG Orchidelirium. The oncidium orchids carry a lovely fragrance of roses or chocolate. 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How many orchids do you have in your collection?
The NYBG? The official line is thousands.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
I can understand.
And I think part of this, too, when I was doing the show. You know the Dieffenbachia?
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.
Well, I think you definitely did. It’s a magnificent show.
We shall see. (Christian Primeau smiles)
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.
Orchidelirium, the theme of the NYBG Orchid Show for 2016, refers to the Victorian period in England when there was a renaissance in the collection, research, propagation and cultivation of rare and exotic plants which eventually morphed into an obsessive craze for orchids. The selection of the theme dovetails with the 125th Anniversary of the Garden because the Victorians’ orchid obsession spawned many innovations in propagation and cultivation and hybridization of orchids that has continued to this day. The Victorian passion for illimitable orchid gems even improved trends in greenhouse design and helped inspire the Victorian design for the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.
Indirectly, it is because of Victorian orchid mania that the NYBG has one of the largest institutional orchid collections in the world with over 7,000 individual specimens as a part of its entire collection, a fact which Marc Hachadourian orchid curator reinforces. The family Orchidaceae is the largest and one of the most varied of blooming plant families in the plant kingdom and as a result it has been used to conduct research and encourage efforts toward conservation and habitat preservation. Additions from the historic, permanent orchid collection are included in the Orchidelirium exhibition.
Christian Primeau, the show designer and manager of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory oversees the extensive tropical/subtropical plant collections housed in 11 unique environments in the Conservatory. Primeau reinforced the tremendous influence the Victorians had and continue to have today. It is because of them that orchids are the most charismatic and popular of plants. As NYBG orchid curator Marc Hachadourian says, “They are the pandas of the plant world.” It is their popularity that has encouraged growers and cultivators to create over 150,000 man-made hybrids for us to enjoy.
Christian Primeau talked to a group of us about his design inspiration for the show and clarified that the two week installation period was a high pressured and frenetic but absolutely enjoyable time.
Christian Primeau, Orchidelirium’s designer
Orchidelirium has a whole different meaning for my staff and me because we’ve been working 13 hour days including weekends. We were pretty ambitious with the design and we hope you like it. But we’re all hallucinating at this point. I think I’m one of those rare people and I think Marc probably shares the same feeling of love for our jobs. It’s my hobby and my career. And it’s just what I’m passionate about. I hope that’s not the case, but loving one’s job seems like a rarity these days. I owe everything around me, this entire beautiful collection, this palate of plants that we get to work with, we owe all that to the people who came before us who were passionate. As Marc explained their motive may not always have been so pure, a lot of time it was a passion for personal glory or for profit, but in any case we owe what we have now, where we are today in this industry, everything around you that you see to that passion.
This is a celebration. We’ve been here 125 years. Orchid collecting has been going on for longer than that. So we owe this to the passion of those people. It’s an homage to those guys and ladies and people who sometimes gave up their lives so that we can enjoy these plants. And we also give them a nod because in terms of breeding and conservation, we’ve come a long way. We’re much more responsible, hopefully, nowadays in regard to collecting. Not always, but we’re trying. Of course, the mission of the garden is to move that along and to show the public these plants that they wouldn’t have access to see 125 years ago. Orchid collections was only accomplished with those who had the wealth to fund orchid expeditions for themselves or orchid collectors.
This is the centerpiece of the collection. (Christian points to the magic mountain of orchids towering above us.) When the Victorians obtained these beautiful plants, they would bring them into their greenhouses and try to stage them basically to reproduce nature. We found this incredible drawing. I think you all have access to it. It’s an 1837 sketch of the Epiphyte house at Knypersley Hall. (The illustration appears in a two volume tome commissioned by James Bateman, The Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala, 1843). It’s about a 5-6 foot mountain they built at the center of the greenhouse, beautifully covered with ferns and orchids.
I thought, wouldn’t it be great to take this and put it on steroids? So I asked, “Hey, can you build me a fake mountain? And they came back and said, ‘No, that would cost as much as a vacation home in the Hamptons. But what you can have is a bunch of four foot by four foot cubes.’ So the bones of this mountain are four by four steel cubes stacked on top of each other. It looked great on paper. But when I saw them stacked I wondered, how are we ever going to make that look like a mountain? Hours later and many rolls of chicken wire later, we were able to mount it and plant it to look much like the mountain in the picture but just on a grander scale. It’s hollow and we have a little access door. I won’t tell you where it is. So it’s on the mountain and we can go inside and water it from the inside. All the orchids are wrapped by hand in moss so we can actually water them from the inside through the chicken wire. It looks like a beast to water but it’s fairly simple to do.
It’s an homage to those guys who really were so passionate and built these structures. It is naturalistic but that’s what they were going for and it is the inspiration for our centerpiece mountain. I really let my staff loose in terms of creativity. I cannot thank them enough because I really worked them to the bone. So as you walk around, you are going to see lots of little moments and vignettes so the character of each one of my staff members is actually reflected in certain moments in the display. I hope that people will find the moments that appeal to them whether it be the really intense colors or delicate colors or the moss areas or the small areas of the Paphiopedilum, the Lady Slipper orchids, to find something they can grab onto. My hope is that the orchid enthusiasts will be as psyched about the show as the people who are general plant growers. They’ll find something they can recognize or something that will spark that passion that we all have here. I mean that’s what it’s all about. We want to share what we love and ignite this love in them as well.
I planned for a large waterfall in the front, and in the back something a little more peaceful. So we just wanted to have a mossy grotto of water, taller in the back and a bit crazier in the front. In the sketch there’s actually a bird’s nest fern at the top of the mountain. I thought it would be great to take a little license. So we took bromeliads up there and again on paper it looked great. But when we actually had to climb up the mountain carrying a 70 pound bromeliad, it became less fun but we got them up there and we got everything planted. And are fairly happy with the way things turned out. So that’s it. So this was based on that illustration that we talked about. And then we head into what I imagine Marc Hachadourian’s greenhouse looks like. For the crazy plant nerd, orchid geek, this would be the greenhouse that you see. And again we took license and as I said we’ve come a long way in terms of breeding and cultivars. What you see here crazy color, lots of contrast, lots of strange plants and again a huge, huge variety of orchids that we have in this section.
Orchids are epiphytic and grow on trees and rocks. Others are terrestrial orchids, depending on where they grow. Lots of plants will be epiphytic. Note the walls. They are reproductions of the walls that are actually in that scene from Knypersly, so we had those reproduced. A working greenhouse would be dingier and a little less densely planted. We have the potting benches where people can learn a little about propagating orchids and what a working greenhouse would be like but this section of the display it’s predominately ornamental. We tried to load it up with a diverse selection of orchids. The Phalaenopsis (moth orchid) on the mountain everyone is familiar with but you come in here and even if you’re a serious orchid aficionado, you will see a lot of interesting orchids you may not have seen otherwise. The more expensive orchids come from our permanent collection.
Explorers and others used the Wardian Cases to transport orchids back in the Victorian era. They created and maintained that micro-climate to keep them alive. The show also highlights the history of Ward and the invention of the Wardian case wonderfully. The Wardian Case is a symbol of the Victorians.
The majority of the orchids that people buy are from Florida, Hawaii, California. The bulk orchids come in from nurseries around the country. And the rarer ones come from our collection. (What happens to the orchids after the show?) We all have plenty of orchids in our houses after the show. But we donate the rest to schools and societies and give them to people who use them to teach so they don’t go to waste. If they are degraded then we compost them. They have their own value and come back into the greenhouse or into the vegetable garden as they are recycled. So that’s what we tried to do with the show. It turned out to be more ambitious than we thought in terms of numbers of orchids, but I’m happy it doesn’t look like Q*bert the game. That’s what it looked like before we planted. I think we succeeded. We took Q*bert out of it, making it look natural.
Orchidelirium, 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 the Orchid Lounge.
Are you a fan of orchids? Do you properly care for them? Or do you end up having to throw them away? When orchids were first discovered, people were devastated when they killed them because other orchid plants were not easily accessible. in the 1900s orchids were a rare flower commodity until things began to change and they grew in popularity as they became known.
For orchid passionistas, the NYBG has an extensive collection of exotic and rare orchids, some that don’t even look like orchids, yet, they do belong to the same plant family. Because of the ever popular annual orchid show in February of each year, it was no large leap to understand how NYBG orchid curators and exhibit programmers might have gained inspiration from the frenetic orchid craze of the Victorian era to revisit that time and spur on fans’ curiosity and love of the exotic blooms, by referencing the Victorians’ fervent obsession.
Kudos go to designer Christian Primeau who oversees the extensive tropical/subtropical plant collections housed in 11 unique environments in the Conservatory. Marc Hachadourian curates the exhibit’s orchid selection and the NYBG’s extensive groupings of living plants from around the world housed in the Nolen Greenhouses, the behind-the-scenesglasshouses where plants for the Garden’s indoor and outdoor and science program are grown and maintained.