The doldrums of winter signify their passing with the arrival of the annual NYBG Orchid Show, whose splendid displays of orchids bring their cheer, and lift our spirits. For this 17th year of The Orchid Show: Singapore, the Garden selected an appropriate theme to go along with its year long festival of #plantlove by celebrating a city which prizes the creation of green spaces so that its populace can commune with nature, meditate and spiritually regenerate surrounded by wondrous botanical beauty.
Singapore is a city-state at the tip of the Malay peninsula between Malaysia and Indonesia in Southeast Asia. It comprises one main island and dozens of tiny ones in an area around the size of New York City. It is a nation whose forward-thinking ideas and ambition for speed-of-light progress moved it from a third-world country to first world status in one generation, thanks to its brilliant Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. The Prime Minister conceived of his island nation and its multicultural population as a lush urban oasis. He realized his dream with greening projects and innovations that included nature preserves, glorious parks, and spaces and places for the populace to relax in natural environs.
From this burgeoning vision, the nation has made it an imperative to recognize the importance of plants, nature and tropical gardens so that the city has become a veritable “City in a Garden.” Every new building, every new development must include plants and green places by law. Over the years Singapore has remained true to Prime Minister Yew’s conception so that today, it is recognized as the city with the greatest percentage of tree canopy cover anywhere in the world. And how it creates this tree canopy is absolutely gobsmacking. The orchids make it especially so..
Singapore has one of the greatest and oldest orchid cultures in the world and is home to 220 distinct orchid species. The only nation that doesn’t have a wild plant species as the national flower, Singapore’s national flower is a hybrid orchid indicating how important hybrids are to their culture and economy.
The hybrid Vanda Miss Joaquim which produces striking purple-pink and flame-orange blooms throughout the year is named for its creator Agnes Joaquim (1854-1899) who was a member of Singapore’s small American community. Agnes Joaquim entered her orchid in Singapore’s annual Flower Show in 1899 which garnered a first prize as the rarest orchid. Subsequently, in 1981, Miss Joaquim was selected to represent Singapore as the national flower. Their choice of a hybrid honors the storied history of Singapore’s venerable orchid cultivation, and the multicultural and religious blend of its citizens.
Cultivators enjoy creating new orchid hybrids the total of which now numbers in the many thousands globally. Horticulturists have hybridized orchids in Singapore since the 19th century because the species naturally flourishes in the wet, tropical climate. Visiting Singapore one notices the daily orchid pageant as gorgeous varieties cling to trees and populate the gardens, parks and greens spaces. Each year growers export millions of stalks for the international flower market
This historical attention to plants and the gradual veneration of orchids began in 1859 when a group of horticulturists and agriculturists established the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Botanists at the Gardens experimented with utilitarian plants like the rubber tree which became a vital agricultural crop turned into a product used in industrial manufacturing. They began their serious experimentation and cultivation of orchids in 1928, developing groundbreaking techniques for propagation which helped to establish Singapore’s prodigious orchid cultivation industry. The Botanic Gardens have propagated and developed more than 630 hybrids. The National Orchid Garden displays thousands of orchids. Many of them have been created there. Also, they display more than 1000 species from around the world.
Paying homage to Singapore’s appreciation and love of plants, the NYBG fashioned its floral spectacular with features represented in two botanical gardens in Singapore: Gardens by the Bay and Singapore Botanic Gardens. Walking down the familiar paths in the NYBG Palms of the World Gallery and Reflecting Pool, to reach the Central Rotunda at the opposite end of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, one sees a panoply of orchids festooning simulations of the architectural elements found in Singapore’s famed gardens which the NYBG developed in partnership with them to create The Orchid Show: Singapore.
The Gardens by the Bay is a 250 acre public space in Singapore’s downtown area which opened in 2012 and is Singapore’s largest tourist attraction. The acreage comprises multiple gardens, futuristic glasshouses and a grove of Supertrees, Singapore’s paean to art, nature and technology. These Supertrees exemplify biomimicry in their design and engineering, modeled after natural forms and processes. The NYBG was inspired to create its own dynamic trees in celebration of Singapore’s amazing artistic/technological/horticultural sculptures, whose towering, 160 feet tall vertical gardens are unlike any other structure in the world. They are unparalleled for their utility and purpose which is to mimic the functions of trees using modern technology.
Cascading ribbons of rainbow colors of,Vandas, Oncidiums, Phalaenopsis, Dendrobiums and other plant varieties flow down from these massive, tree giants that are embedded with photovoltaic cells that harvest solar energy. Their wide canopies provide shade and a habitat for epiphytes like orchids and other plants which grow on trees high in the air rather than in soil. Supertrees collect and distribute rainwater and are fitted with solar panels that sustainably power dramatic light displays as real trees harvest the sun’s energy for photosynthesis. These Supertrees especially showcase that Singapore’s heart is in the right place with environmentally sustainable horticulture.
Two gorgeous Supertree models are in The Orchid Show: Singapore, at either end of the conservatory. In the central showcase of the Rotunda, you will see fabulous orchid theater: every shape, color and major species of orchid hybrid reaches upward toward the lattice dome of the greenhouse in a breathtaking tower. The second marvelous Supertree replica is in the Palms of the World Gallery and Reflecting Pool. Look into the waters of the pool to see the mirror of the tall tree massed with white orchids which are interspersed with lovely fillers of ferns and colorful bromeliads. The NYBG’s eye popping orchid architectures are 18 feet tall and symbolize Singapore’s incredible structures found throughout the “City in a Garden” and featured spectacularly in the Supertree grove of The Gardens by the Bay.
The other architectural element you will find in The Orchid Show: Singapore is inspired by the magnificent Arches of Singapore Botanic Gardens’ National Orchid Garden. In Singapore, the arches are radiantly festooned in the stunning yellow Singapore dancing lady hybrid (Oncidium Gloldiana). And these grow grow year-round. The replication of this design feature in the NYBG walkway stuns. On first glance in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory sauntering on the path to either Supertree Showcase, one understands immediately why the NYBG was inspired to include both architectural elements from Singapore in this year’s orchid show.
Following the passage from one Supertree to the other, you will move through five glorious arches clothed with hundreds of vibrant fuschias, blues, yellows, pinks, purples, golds of the various Vandas, Oncidiums, Phalaenopsis, Dendrobiums. The sheer number and abundance create breathtaking bowers along a stirring fantastical path which enthralls BECAUSE it is treasured living botanical art. The archway’s profusion of exotic, shimmering beauty and the effects of the flowing Spanish moss, dangling blooms and beckoning orchid faces recall a pleasure garden paradise.
If one can’t be a snowbird in February, then happily visit the NYBG a number of times in the next months until 28th of April to luxuriate in the tropics and allow your senses to revel in the exotic sights, smells and music, especially during Orchid Evenings (March 16, 23, 30; April 5, 6, 12, 13, 19, 20, 26 and 27 from 7-10 pm with entry times at 7, 7:30 and 8:00 pm.)
Kudos to Marc Hachadourian (The curator of NYBG’s Orchid Show: Singapore, Director of the Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections and a staunch CITES advocate to preserve rare orchids and rescue them at NYBG) who oversees the orchid collections for the show.
And equal praise goes Christian Primeau (Manager of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory). Christian Primeau a few years ago mentioned that he likes the Paphiopedilums (Lady’s Slippers) and I noted their placement in key areas featured on rocks near reflecting pools, recalling their natural habitats. Marc and Christian collaborate to come up with the orchid selections to display most effectively in the architectural elements so that the exhibits will remain fresh and gorgeous. They and the entire staff work assiduously to get the show up and running after the Holiday Train Show is struck. The beds must be graded and prepared for the orchid plantings. Then comes the staff to complete the design and color coordinated exhibits in keeping with the current show’s theme. And having spoken to each of these experts over the years (see my previous posts on Blogcritics and Youtube) their #plantlove obviously has manifested in this extraordinary exhibit.
As has Karen Daubmann’s #plantlove (Associate Vice-President for Exhibitions and Public Engagement). Her extensive collaboration with Gardens by the Bay and Singapore Botanic Gardens to help make The Orchid Show: Singapore a success is apparent from the moment you enter the Palms of the World Gallery and Reflecting Pool. Karen mentioned that she had spent a bit of time in Singapore and attested to its forward innovations and emphasis in recognition of the vitality of plants, orchids, flowers everywhere you go in the “City in a Garden.”
A few last points follow here about the NYBG Orchid Show: Singapore. Along your journey through the various galleries of the conservatory, make sure to watch out for the sign indicating the Vanilla Orchid. Yes, vanilla comes from an orchid. And stop by to view the amazing variety of rare orchids (delicate, lovely) in their glass case which houses some of the Garden’s rescued orchids. Since 1990 the Garden has been a designated CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Plant Rescue Center.
The Garden preserves and rehabilitates orchids that have been rescued from poachers around the world (Brazil, Thailand, Peru, India, etc.) who exploit rare orchids from their native habitats and sell them. Because such rare orchids can bring a substantial price for the right buyer, poachers are constantly on the lookout, especially if they have an unethical collector at the ready. Coupled with their low growth densities in the wild and other threats to the species (deforestation, habitat destruction, climate change) wild orchids are among the most endangered plants in the world.
Words cannot easily define the wonder and hope that has been realized from Yew’s dream of an oasis. It is that wonder which now resides until April 28th at the New York Botanical Garden. That the Garden has extolled Yew’s vision of “The City in a Garden” vision and honored it this year with The Orchid Show: Singapore cannot be underestimated nor underappreciated. It must be understood for its symbolism, especially now that many of the institutions that have been created to preserve and protect our nation and its environs, parks, preserves, green spaces are being threatened by those in power obsessed with a different form of greenery. Though most Americans are abjectly opposed to the rapacity for the accumulation of profits in industries that are unsustainable and run counter to our planet’s well being, De-regulation in the wrong direction is happening in the US.
In light of this potential threat and the threat of Global Warming, Singapore shines an incredible light of hope in innovation, and faith that where “there’s a will, there’s a way” to create sustainable, fabulous green spaces to uplift and regenerate the citizens of a nation. Thanks to the NYBG, its scientists, botanists, researchers, horticulturists, staff and volunteers, all #plantlovers who constantly remind us of what we must not lose, the beauty of our planet whose flora and fauna are sacred and integral to ourselves.
The Orchid Show: Singapore has excellent activities that reflect the culture of Singapore in its music and dance during the daytime and especially during Orchid Evenings. Again, there will be the Bronx Night Market Pop-up featuring Barbecue, Vegan, Fried Chicken, Empanadas and other offerings to enjoy while listening to DJ’s perform and watching dancers freestyle. And if you are sick and tired of killing your orchids because you over-water them, you need to attend a few “Orchid Care Demonstrations” in the Conservatory’s GreenSchool on a Saturday or Sunday between 2:30-3:30 pm. Let an expert help you save your plants.
The Orchid Show: Singapore runs until 28th of April. For select programming, membership, children’s activities and more CLICK HERE.
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.