The New York Botanical Garden’s Orchid Show is in its 18th glorious year and it is amazing. One reason why is because of this year’s show designer, the imminently creative original Jeff Leatham.
Board members from the NYBG were familiar with Jeff Leatham’s work and thought he would be a great fit for the NYBG orchid show since his floral designs encompass orchids, the loveliest of flowers. When he was contacted, he jumped at the opportunity enthusiastically, visited the Garden in July, solidified his ideas and arrangements were made.
If you have been to Paris, France and stayed at The Four Seasons Hotel Georges V, you will see Jeff’s designs. He is their award-winning artistic director. He also has studios at the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia at Comcast Center and the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. Jeff Leatham is a renowned lifestyle icon and impeccable floral designer to the stars.
If you asked him as a teenager what he wanted to do with his life, he would have said he wanted to be a model. Interestingly, his career has morphed into something more profound, but it includes a form of modeling as well because Jeff often photographed with his unique designs.
At twenty-four Jeff began his career with the Four Seasons starting with flower petals. It was then he knew he had found his raison d’etre with floral design. He has been with them ever since exploring his passion for design and flowers.. His one-of-a-kind displays move in the realm of the dazzling spectacular that integrates with whatever the setting is. His creations include sculptures and these and his floral displays manifest the symbolic, bold and dramatic use of color and shape, yet embody an elegant simplicity.
Jeff Leatham’s designs are completely original and stand out as such. Individuals who want to hire him to feature a design for their wedding that is like “so-and-sos,” Jeff, with a smile on his face will gently tell the individual that they should hire that designer. He will evolve a creation that is particular. Indeed, his signature, one-of-a-kind designs are his brand and people have come to know right away whether a floral design is a Jeff Leatham or not.
Jeff has produced his incredible floral exhibits in Paris for almost two decades and is so enamored by the French that in 2014 he was knighted with the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the highest honor for artists and those who make vital contributions to French culture. Jeff has appeared on television featuring his creations. His clients include Cher, Dolly Parton, Tina Turner, Oprah Winfrey, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and many others. They appreciate the specialness of his designs.
For the 18th annual Orchid Show, Jeff Leatham decided upon the theme of the kaleidoscope. He commented that he receives inspiration from kaleidoscopes because they represent infinity. The patterns and colors shift, never repeating themselves in variations that are starkly unique and particular; and they go on forever, the mutable immutable.
After the decision that the tent that had been up for The Holiday Train Show® would be taken down not to house the orchid exhibition, Karen Daubmann (Associate Vice President for Exhibitions and Public Engagement) mentioned in a brief chat with me that the staff and those involved with The Orchid Show like Senior Curator of Orchids, Marc Hachadourian were satisfied that this year’s orchid extravaganza with Jeff as lead designer, would encompass the entire conservatory.
Jeff worked the kaleidoscope theme beautifully, interweaving different colors staged with complementary hues in every gallery of the conservatory, save the Palms of the World Gallery. And the tunnel joining the two segments of the conservatory is the culmination of all the hues displayed in a fun and whimsical light show.
As you walk in the designated entrance that begins the exhibit, you will see the original, unique sculpture that Jeff created in his studio at the Four Seasons Hotel Georges V in Paris. Marc Hachadourian discussed with me that Jeff used his own orchid supplier from Europe for this gobsmacking living exhibit that shimmers with light and eye-popping purples, blues, pinks, fuchsias, complementary hybrid orchids with speckled white, purplish-black color combinations, whites and matching color derivative coordinates of Vanda orchids. These astounding Vandas are companioned with the popular and longer lasting phalaenopsis. The effect is visually breathtaking.
This first show gallery emphasizes the most myriad variety of Vanda orchids, that I’ve seen. They are happily perched up high so that they may flow down from a mammoth, laddered, rectangular trellis suspended from the show gallery ceiling. They are the perfect orchid for this structure because of their amazingly long roots and tendrils that soak up the moisture from the surrounding environment and require a flow of air around them. The effect with the Vandas sparking the color and the long roots hanging from the four-rung metal structure depending from above with the reflecting sculpture below offers a contrast. Vibrant colors are paired with their pale whitish roots that appear ethereal and lacy. It’s almost as if a garment fabricator sewed lines of lace to flow down from each mounted orchid. It’s a brilliant way to show the Vandas.
The sculpture is an orchid fountain mirror that reflects white light, the combined color of all the colors of the rainbow. It is the centerpiece in the round, underneath the metal ladder structure of striking orchid hues and flowing, lacy, filament roots. It is an intriguing and unique concept which gives the orchid sculpture a refracting power similar to a lustrous diamond. Jeff designed this for the Garden. And with the resplendent colors of the Vandas and coordinating phalaenopsis draped on the various rungs with accompanying greenery of the phalaenopsis leaves, you are left gazing with wonder at this stunning and memorable piece of living theater.
Present in this remarkable array of beauty are the Garden plants, ficus trees, shrubs, ferns that normally make their home at the Garden. Added are the bromeliades which Jeff has used as a representative of their own powerfully sculpted forms that are rich and lush in nature.
And on one of the plantings is the Vanda sunanda orchid named after Jeff Leatham by Ansu Vanda, an orchid nursery in the Netherlands in 2017. By naming this orchid after Jeff, the nursery hoped to celebrate and honor his indelible work that has enhanced floral design globally.
Orchids in this genus of the orchid family are available in every color of the rainbow. Jeff noted for us the almost black purple that speckles this Vanda named for him.
Jeff commented that he has a passion working for orchids because each seems to have its own unique and distinct personality that you want to feature and highlight. The orchid family is the largest family of plants in the world. There are 30,000 orchids in the wild. Growers in their ingenuity have hybridized over 100,000 orchids. They remain perhaps the most popular flower because of their exotic beauty, their tongue and face that entice moths and other insects to pollinate them. Orchids grow in every continent in the world except Antarctica. With global warming and the record warm temperatures in parts of the continent, this may change.
As you move through the conservatory, you will note Jeff’s interesting use of color. Next to the orchid sculpture gallery you move into “grasslands.” There you will note the displays of slipper orchids (Paphiopedilum) and Cymbidiums in bursts of yellow and white and a few slipper orchid hybrids tucked in with brownish faces.
There is an abundance of greenery looking indeed like tall grass as the cymbidiums flourish with their waxy large blooms and spiky leaves.
The next gallery is the desert terrain devoted to the Garden’s permanent display of desert plants. Jeff has an appreciation for the colors of the cacti and succulents and exotic desert flora in these two galleries.
He has placed coordinating cobalt blue bamboo poles to draw the eye-line upward. For the first time, I looked up at the tops of the magnificent cacti that I had never appreciated before. Normally, I would have raced through this area without the appreciation of the immense variety that the Garden has in its desert display.
Moving downward to the other part of the conservatory, Jeff Leatham painted the backdrop of the room that leads to the tunnel grey. He coordinated gorgeous pink and red lined hybrid phalaenopsis with unusual succulents for another amazing effect.
The grey background makes the colors of the plants pop. And in the display cases he did the same, drawing the eye inward to note the contrast using grey bamboo poles in a simplistic design invoking minimalism. Leatham uses Spanish Moss to tie in the concept of the design of lace filaments that depend downward and recall the Vandas flowing roots in the main show exhibit with the orchid fountain.
I love how every segment of the show in each of the galleries picks up design ideas in the previous galleries and threads them through the show in shape, color, pattern, materials to present a unified conceptualization.
In the Rainfroest Gallery, gorgeous green moss covering the rocks, the splashes of orchid color most naturally represent how orchids grow in the wild. Again the pinks and yellows from the previous galleries are represented. The orchids selected for their sizes and shapes are different from those that have gone before. Along the winding path is a celebration of less popular orchids that are harder to grow as if they might be found tucked away in a secluded forest’s mossy plot. These include a variety of Paphiopedilum and delicate snow drop orchids and others.
As the trail winds into a break, Jeff once again employed his sense of color to effect beauty. He had a structure painted a cherry color that threaded through the pinks and fuchsias of the phalaenopsis of the main gallery orchid fountain display.
Included in the show is the gallery where the most rare species of orchids are kept in a glass case. A number of these orchids may eventually be extinct since their habitats have been destroyed by development, deforestation and blatant disregard and inattention to the importance of conservation. The Garden is a world leader in plant research and conservation, using traditional and cutting-edge tools to discover, understand, and preserve Earth’s vast botanical diversity. They have saved orchids sent to them recovered from illegal orchid poachers.
I was sorry to see that The Orchid Show: Jeff Leatham’s Kaledoscope was coming to an end with the last two galleries. Jeff named the gallery with the fountain and hanging vines, Sunrise/Sunshine because of the bursting orange and yellows and whites. The fountain is still in the center, but it has been covered over by moss with a potted fern as the crown of glory.
This gallery and the last one are every bit as amazing as the former galleries. Jeff stated that he wanted “every gallery to be a different color experience as visitors move through them.” And that this experience would be reminiscent of “looking into a kaleidoscope.” We all have seen kaleidoscopes as children.
And with technology advancements, the designs are more elaborate than ever. Jeff stated that members and visitors to the Garden have seen the interiors of the Conservatory. But he wanted their experience to be different. “I want them to look through them (the galleries) like never before.” And in the last gallery, all the hues that Jeff displayed throughout the show are represented and the threads of designs are repeated. It’s like you’re looking through that kaleidoscope. However, it’s a living breathing wonderland of what reflects the infinite in color, texture, scent and myriad patterns. Just grand.
There are many events that pair up with the 18th Annual Orchid Show featuring the work of one-of-a-kind floral artist Jeff Leatham that you will not want to miss. The show runs from February 15 through April 19, 2020. For specific programming go to the NYBG website by CLICKING HERE.
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.