Every year I attend the NYBG Orchid Show (now in its 15th year) I am pleasantly surprised to note that the exhibits are increasingly more intricate and more lovely. This year Orchid Show: Thailand is absolutely smashing. It runs until 9 April. The team of professionals, staff, volunteers and others whose creativity, prodigious effort and great good will in executing the drama of a beautiful, living production of one of the most exquisite and exotic of plant species, has outdone itself.
Karen Daubmann (AVP of Exhibitions and Public Engagement at NYBG) originated the theme Thailand which she had been considering for a number of years. She is thrilled with Christian Primeau’s (Designer of Orchid Show: Thailand) and March Hachadourian’s (Director of the Nolen Greenhouses who curates the show) culminating work to create this striking exhibit. Christian and Marc collaborated to select the orchids and then came up with the unique and inspired interpretations and symbolic representations that are NYBG’s Orchid Show: Thailand.
It has been a while since the staff and experts conceptualized a geographical theme for the NYBG orchid show. Thailand was an excellent fit. For uber orchid experts, Thailand is synonymous with orchids. Thailand has been in the forefront of orchid horticulture in the cultivation and hybridization of orchids and in the expansion and promotion of orchid farming for more than a century. It is the biggest exporter of tropical orchids globally and if you ask an expert, he or she will tell you that whether native or hybrid, orchids are mostly associated with Thailand.
The Thai people lionize orchids because they flourish in the companionable climate. They add explosions of vibrant, joyful color amidst the lush, green tropical foliage and they contribute handily to the GNP. Thai horticulturalists have been able to propagate a great variety of hybrids which have become ready plantings in Thai gardens adding tranquility and loveliness to promote well being. Their admiration of exotic tropical plants, the orchids’ wide variety of sizes, shapes and hues have prompted Thais to grow them on trees that line public streets.
Another reason why the country “fell” into orchid breeding and pursued it with diligence is because Thailand is the birth place and residence of 12oo known native species. Of course, there may be some native species yet to be discovered in Thailand; one can be sure botanists and orchid horticulturalists are on the hunt for them.
To realize Karen’s theme the NYBG team researched the integration of orchids in Thai culture. They explored how to incorporate particular elements of Thai social and religious structure into the exhibit. They made sure to honor symbols and traditions that the Thai people venerate, adhering to them assiduously throughout the show; that was Christian’s particular passion. Combining these features and designing them into the backdrop of the veritable kaleidoscope of the orchids themselves, has made this show a number one pick to revisit time and again to renew one’s spirit and be soothed by the phantasmagoria of beauty that bathes the senses as you saunter through the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.
After seeing the show once or twice, you get it! Upon entering the Palms of the World Gallery at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, one’s perspective and emotions immediately shift. You are in a subtropical, lush, other worldly habitat where the plants are happily riotous. Centered in the reflecting pool which echoes the vibrant pageantry above and below in mirror images, the elaborately hued hybrids, the Phalaenopsis (moth orchids), Dendrobriums (hard cane, soft cane), pansy orchids, Oncidiums (dancing lady orchids) Paphiopedilum (lady slippers) and Vandas luxuriate. Water reflections in the Palm Gallery’s pool reverberate the striking color palate of orchid hybrids which Christian and Marc selected to exemplify the Thai people’s preferences for amazing rainbows of color.
Also in the Palm Gallery are noted the Thai cultural elements that thread throughout the other galleries that comprise The Orchid Show: Thailand: water, elephants and noted varieties of orchids specially featured as Thai favorites (Vandas, Dendrobiums, Paphiopedilum). The reflecting pool is reminiscent of the Thai’s evocation of tranquility and serenity in their gardens which often sport small pools, ponds, waterfalls. The elephant topiaries carrying orchids indicate their veneration of the Thai elephant, chang thai. It is their national symbol. Thai elephants have been used for centuries as a means of transport and a laboring force. Chang thai’s picture is in on the emblems of many of Thailand’s provinces.
As you move around the Palms of the World Gallery and saunter into the walkway of the conservatory toward the piece de resistance, the 360 degree centerpiece heart of the exhibit, you will see elements of the Thai culture represented in the design features of the exhibit and in symbols throughout. To become aware of them, it will take close scrutiny. These design elements include bamboo sectionals and dividers-pieces of bamboo filled with moss. There are amazing dendrobium plantings in water jars, small topiaries which are a tribute to mai dat, the ancient Thai craftsmanship of clipping trees/shrubs into fanciful shapes. There are hanging Thai sky lanterns and hand carved teak spirit houses.
If you have time you will note placards with information about lucky numbers and the sky lanterns. Numbers are very important symbols for Thais. They believe in lucky numbers: numbers divisible by three, odd numbers, the lucky number 3 and the penultimate lucky number 9. But the number 13 is bad news. You will never find it in Thailand which is similar to our rejection of the thirteenth floor in hotels across the nation.
At the beginning of the walkway after you leave the Palms of the World Gallery, look up. You will see the sky lanterns (khom loi). If you count their number it will total nine. Thais use khom loi during festivals and important occasions. These offer a soft, glowing, halo effect in the evenings; you’ve seen the sky lantern festival photos where folks light the lanterns, and like tiny hot air balloons, they rise over water. These lanterns will be lit during Orchid Evenings to create an enchanting effect. There are different sky lanterns farther on in the 360 degree centerpiece gallery which also number nine and which will be lit for Orchid Evenings. There is no preventing the good luck which is manifest everywhere in this orchid show.
Integral to that insurance of good luck in Orchid Show: Thailand are the teak spirit houses hand carved by Thai artist Pirot Gitikoon, near the grand centerpiece. Spirit houses are traditional in Thailand and represent a merging of religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Chinese ancestor worship and ancient Thai spirit worship or phra phum which is widespread.
Spirit houses appear in places of business and homes. It is believed spirits live in these houses made for them to guard against disaster: floods, typhoons, storms, catastrophe, etc. The spirit houses at the NYBG are hand carved with dragon elements: dragons symbolize wisdom, power and protection. Offerings of food, fruit, candies, cans of Fanta soda, exotic ceramic dancers, ceramic elephants are on a platform in front of the spirit house. They are there to lure the spirits to feel at home. These offerings include everything a spirit would need to live in the house, be entertained, eat, have transportation and protect the environs.
At this point in your journey, you have come upon the 360 grand centerpiece. It is a sala inspired by a structure created by Thai architect Mom Tri. Salas are pavilions which are incorporated into temple complexes and public places. They are used for relaxation, rest for weary travelers, meeting places, etc.
The NYBG sala and circular staging environs are adorned with all of the orchid varieties we’ve seen throughout the show arranged into a spectacular finale. The water element is present in a reflecting pool, the elephant topiaries carry white Phalaenopsis and fabulously hued Dendrobium. Paphiopedilum cling to moss on rocks in the pool. Mammoth Bromeliads frame the pool with ferns, palms and other foliage. Mega plantings of fabulous Phalaenopsis frame either side of the sala, while in the back spanish moss drips and pansy orchids greet those who peek behind the structure. Exceptional living theater.
Above are two pictures of the Thai sala from a different perspective, one a close-up
I took hundreds of photos capturing some of the thousands of orchids and found it difficult to wrap my mind around the prodigious effort it takes to choose the orchid show theme, plan the design, effect appropriate research, decide upon the plants, strike the previous show (Christmas train show) grade and prepare the ground, select the plants, arrange the design settings, then plant each orchid for this extravaganza which Christian mentioned took around nine (lucky number) months to plan and put together. The more I visit, the more I begin to understand what such a horticultural production, which March Hachadourian likens to a theatrical spectacle, entails. Can you imagine the behind-the-scenes drama to create this panoramic phenomenal display?
The Orchid Show: Thailand must not be missed. One should especially come back for orchid evenings. Christian mentioned that the night before the show opened to the press, he was in the conservatory surveying the final results. The lanterns were lit, it was peaceful, tranquil and absolutely “magical,” a term he said he doesn’t use lightly. I believe it.
The photo above is the duality of reflections in a pool where up is down and the Phalaenopsis mirrors itself as the light and color bounces off the water.
I am definitely going back in the evening when the Garden is at its most ethereal and “magical.” An Orchid Evening is coming up this Saturday, 4 March. Orchid Evenings are Saturdays: March 4, 11, 18, 25; April 1 and 8. Fridays: March 31 (LGBT night) and 7 April.
The Thailand theme will be expressed everywhere in the Garden to enhance the exhibition.In addition to Orchid Evenings, there will be Film Screenings (Ross Hall) Dance Performances by the Somapa Thai Dance Company (Ross Hall or seasonally in Conservatory Plaza) Orchid Show Tours, Orchid Care Demonstrations and Orchid Expert Q & As. In the NYBG Garden Shop there is themed merchandise and a sea of orchids to purchase with an expert on hand to guide you. Phalaenopsis is easiest to grow with recurrent blooms.
The Orchid Show: Thailand runs until 9 April. For additional events and programming, 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.
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.
The 13th Annual Orchid Show: Chandeliers is currently running until April 19th at the New York Botanical Garden. The show is amazingly beautiful and a much-needed encouragement during what sometimes seems like an eternity of winter. During my wondrous visit relaxing amongst the gorgeous blooms, I spoke to Marc Hachadourian, Director of the Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections.
Marc is a fount of information about the orchids. His title belies his down-to-earth nature and sunny personality. I can understand his joy working around such vibrant, luxurious plant life. A fellow photographer kept on remarking during our visit that the Garden is a great place to decompress and rewind from frenetic city life. It’s another world at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, and Marc’s job is to make sure that all the orchids in the Garden’s permanent collection are as happy with their living conditions as possible. He is also responsible for curating the hybrids brought in and grown for the Orchid Show.
Marc Hachadourian, you’re the resident orchid expert here supervising the care of the botanical collections including the extensive orchid collection and exhibition plants in the Nolen Greenhouses.
Yes. I’m the curator of orchids at the NYBG.
I know you love orchids from what you told me when I spoke with you last year. Orchids festoon your home where you have a great variety and number of orchids. And you are probably way more successful at keeping and caring for orchids than I am.
In addition to caring for the Garden’s orchid collection, I do have my own personal orchid collection, so some of my friends joke that I need a recovery program for orchid addiction because I leave one orchid collection to take care of another. It is something that I absolutely love. I was joking with a friend that they are my greatest stress and stress relief at the same time. But it is something that I absolutely love. I have been growing orchids now for 30 years and they’ve become a part of my life, like my children. Some people become very attached to their pets. I’ve become very attached to my orchid plants. They don’t have names, though. [laughs] [I laugh]
OK. How old is your oldest orchid?
At the Garden or my personal collection?
Your personal collection.
Over 20 years old.
I know at the Garden that those beautiful orchids encased in glass – those rare orchids –
The miniatures are old.
Some of them aren’t. They range in age in our collection. But some of our oldest orchids in our permanent collection…are not on display because they are not flowering at this time of year, but we actually have plants in our botanical collections here at the Garden that are over 100 years old. People assume that a 100-year-old orchid must be the size of a house, but in reality, some of the plants may be miniature, so you may be able to hold a 100 years of orchid growth in your hands.
So it’s something that we have a long historic orchid collection here at the NYBG. In fact we have one of the best orchid collections of any institution. There are about 7,000 specimens in our permanent orchid collection. We have all different sizes and different types. You had mentioned the miniature orchid which we have on display in the conservatory where we pull out a lot of the really interesting and unusual botanical plants from our collection, plants that you might walk by if they were put next to some of these really flashy hybrids.
But in reality there are some orchids in the glass case right now that in the palm of your hand in that miniature plant you can hold anywhere from 700 to 1,000 individual blooms on a single plant. Of course, the flowers are so tiny, they are no bigger than the head of a pin, but it is wonderful to hold a plant with that many beautiful flowers. They are from a range of geographic habitats, everywhere from Australia, Southeast Asia, South America, and a range of sizes [1/16 of an inch in diameter to giants more than 25 feet tall], colors, shapes. It’s one of the things that surprises people when they come to the Orchid Show. It’s not just the beauty of our displays, but the extreme diversity within one plant family, the orchid family.
These very rare miniatures – were they sent?
No these are part of our permanent collection that we grow in the back of the greenhouses and that we bring out when they flower.
Do you grow them by seed?
We grow them by division mostly. Sometimes, they will be sourced by specialist orchid nurseries and because we have not only a display collection but a noted research collection, one of my important jobs as the curator of the orchid collection is making sure that we have the proper diversity and a proper survey of the orchid family represented in our botanical collections, so researchers all over the world can come here and use our collections.
It is much like a living library of plants. So if you want to think of it as a library collection or an art collection, that fits. If you specialize in Impressionism, you want to make sure you have a few Monets and a few of this and a few of that. It’s the same thing with developing an institutional orchid collection.
It is much like a living library of plants. So if you want to think of it as a library collection or an art collection, that fits. If you specialize in Impressionism, you want to make sure you have a few Monets and a few of this and a few of that. It’s the same thing with developing an institutional orchid collection.
You want to make sure you have representative display, not only orchids from each country, but from each type of orchid that grows around the world. So we have one of the largest and one of the most widely represented orchid collections of any institution in the world.
The orchid family is the largest flowering plant family. There are over 30,000 naturally occurring species and now over 150,000 man-made hybrids. They’re found on every continent of the world except Antarctica and everywhere from deserts to swamps to tropical rain forests, even up to the Arctic tundra. So even places that you don’t usually associate with orchids normally have orchids. When you think of this family, you think of the tropics, the rainforest, but there are orchids native to Alaska. And there are even orchids growing within Manhattan itself. There are native species.
I don’t know if there are any Lady Slippers still growing in Manhattan, but there are Lady Slipper species growing throughout New York State.
Many of these native species, which are protected by law, can still be found, although rarely in the Tri-State area [New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut]. So these are a few details that you wouldn’t normally think about orchids.
Are there species that you think are still undiscovered or that you are trying to get a hold of that are very rare?
Absolutely. There are many rare orchid species. It is just a matter of patience before we are able to acquire some of those plants and add them
to our collection. Just like there are very few Vermeers in our world and everybody would like to have one as a part of their art collection, these rare plants are a bit more challenging to come by. But in our orchid collection, there are orchid species that are discovered every year. Dozens of species are newly described. People might go into an area they’ve never been before and find something new. Sometimes they are right under your nose. There are areas that are well traveled that have orchids. But you would have to have been there at exactly the right moment to see the orchid flower.
So it’s fascinating that every year there are so many new species described and discovered.
Some of these orchids, the rare ones, must be extremely valuable.
The value on some of these orchids to the obsessive collector wanting the rarest of the rare, the most unusual plant can create an exaggerated pricing.
Like the tulips? [we both laugh].
Yeah, almost like the tulip mania of the 15-16th centuries. But the value we place on our plants is not something financial. It’s conservation value, biological diversity value. For some of these plants it may be that they have a wonderful history or the orchid may be a rare hybrid. So for that, their value would be almost priceless for what they represent in the orchid family.
The loss of one? I know how I feel if I lose an orchid or one of my plants; I’m devastated.
Well, I’m sad. If it’s something beyond your control then you do get sad at those moments. But there are more successes than failures, so that makes up for it.
You must have read Susan Orlean’s book, The Orchid Thief?
I have to admit I never read the book. The reason why is that it is a somewhat fictionalized account about people that I know. So it’s kind of odd to read since it’s based on a series of actual events and I know some of the people involved. It almost kind of feels awkward to me. So it would be like if someone made a fictional tale about your life, you’d be reading it. But it’s a wonderful book and I’ve read parts of it. I never have read it in its entirety. Probably, the real key is having that free time to be able to read it. [we laugh]
Thanks so much for speaking to me. You are so knowledgeable, I enjoyed talking with you.
Enjoy the show.
Oh, one more question. You were going to check on how many orchids comprise the Orchid Show.
Mark confers with a colleague who says, “We always say thousands.”
One might die at any moment.
We are replacing plants throughout the show so the exact number is always changing. We know that at any one time there are thousands. Having anyone actually count them…?
No – it would be a dizzying effort.
March 5th, a plane at LaGuardia skidded off the icy, snowy runway. A wet, unwelcome, sterile, white dirge blanketed the area. Who knows how many more intermittent days of abysmal cold, sleet, snow, and ice will oppress? Though there seems no end to this weariness, there is a herald of spring at the New York Botanical Gardens.
It is the 13th Annual Orchid Show. A renaissance of beauty and hope hangs high in the orchid baskets’ blazing, airy, living, colorful auras. These amazing and most popular of flowering plants shine their blossoms and illuminate their colors upward toward the palatial ceiling of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.
How welcome to me are these stunning, brilliantly conceived and executed flowery clusters. They are truly a spiritual and emotional uplift to take me to the end of the long, blistering winter to sing in the sweetness of springtime.
The theme of the show this year couldn’t be more appropriate or illuminating; it is “Chandeliers.” Everywhere you saunter through the delicate looking Victorian-style glasshouse, you see the mysterious, sensual, ripe, and fecund vividness of arcing orchids curving out like delicate feathers. There are thousands of them.
Pools of water reflect their petals in a kaleidoscope of pastels, tints, shades, and darkest hues. Not only are the Cymbidium and Cycnoches landscaped exquisitely amongst the flora of the greens, reds, yellows of the ferns, palms, dracenas, and other botanical varieties that flourish in abundance in the warmth and moisture of the conservatory. But the adder-tongued (Theodore Roethke’s description), blooming plants are the stellar creations, the showpieces above the pathways in pendant, lustrous, rainbow baskets.
Their powerful, subtle beauty is the growing candelabra that lights the way. The orchid chandeliers are a vibrant multi-layered overflow of pinks, violets, whites, tawny oranges, yellows, purples, reds. It is enough to mesmerize and gladden the most sorrowful and dour of hearts. Look up, twirl around, everywhere are Cattleyas and Phalaenopsis of a multitude of varieties and a range of colors that poor crayola only wishes they could duplicate.
For the first time, the concept “Chandeliers” throngs the crystal palace Conservatory, slipping beyond the Seasonal Exhibition Galleries into the Tropical Rain Forest Galleries and others.The exhibit is conceptualized and designed by the Botanical Garden’s Francisca Coelho, the Vivian and Edward Merrin Vice President for Glasshouses and Exhibitions, who is noted as “the best female head gardener working under glass today.”
But as in other past orchid shows, the amazing history and conservation stories of rare and endangered orchids in the rain forests of the world are included and can be read on the cards throughout the exhibit or listened to on one’s mobile phone.
Throughout the Garden’s 250 acres in its various venues, The Orchid Show: Chandeliers allows guests the opportunity to learn about the largest family of flowering plants through tours, orchid care demonstrations, and discussions about how the elegant flower chandeliers were made.
The snow is still falling into the evening. I didn’t buy any orchids when I visited the beloved NYBG shop because I was afraid they would get a chill and “catch their deaths.” It was below freezing and the wind crinkled my face walking to the Enid A Haupt Conservatory. However, the moment the light brightens, the sun is higher overhead and it’s closer to spring, I will return to buy a piquant, fuschia pansy orchid if there are any left. Or I might go for a glass of wine during one of the Orchid Evenings and stop at the shop on my way out. I’ll check to see if there’s an unusual Cattleya for sale. After all, the show runs until April 19, 2015. By then Spring will have adorned us with her presence and my newly bought orchids will remain out of reach of cold cruelty as winter marches toward Peru.