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.