Where the Orchids Bloom
April 13, 2020
By Suzanne Pollak
Tour the New York Botanical Garden from Your Own Home
The brilliant, bold, and beautiful CEO of the New York Botanical Garden, Carrie Barratt, said she has been wondering if the plants there miss the visitors now that no one is coming to see them. But when she visited her essential gardeners last week, she caught a glimpse of magnificent fields of plants and trees in bloom, all growing in harmony at the empty garden. As always, Mother Nature knows her business, and the plants are thriving even while we are all at home.
One of NYBG’s recent shows, which had to close after just three weeks, was the Orchid Show: Jeff Leatham’s Kaleidoscope. Celebrity floral designer Jeff Leatham has been the florist for two Four Seasons Hotels: the George V in Paris and the Four Seasons in Philadelphia. Sadly, the public show had to be cut short due to the gardens’ closing amid COVID-19 concerns. When Carrie told Jeff they would have to close the Orchid Show early, she says he shed some tears but said he understood and loved working with the NYBG. (They are both hoping to do it again as soon as possible.) Somehow his gracious and emotional response seems just what one might expect from a man who has arranged flowers for both Dolly Parton and the Dalai Lama.
We can’t sneak in the gardens like the CEO, but we can still take a virtual tour! And we should. Convening virtually with nature may help our souls. The cherry trees are blossoming, the daffodils and magnolias are flowering, and the NYBG website highlights the whole blooming show.
The gardeners organized such compelling tours! Some are arranged like a couture fashion show using a gallery of photos, one plant more beautiful than the next. Other tours invite the viewer to take a walk with an expert. From where I sit (at home), it is a pleasant walk indeed. I might miss the smells and breezes of the NYBG but I don’t have to bat bugs away or get covered with pollen.
Tour the Orchid Show: Jeff Leatham’s Kaleidoscope here:
Marc Hachadourian, NYBG’s director of glasshouse collections and senior orchid curator, walks us through Jeff Leatham’s Orchid Show like a kindly uncle. By the end of the tour, I felt I had a new friend. Marc points out highlights of unique varieties; my favorite is the bizarre butterfly orchid from northern South America, which started the Victorian-era mania of collecting, displaying, and building enormous glasshouses for the orchids. We walked through the LED tunnel (by then I felt like Marc and I were in this together) and we strolled into the rainforest to see thousands of orchids attached to the trees.
Did you know the NYBG has a rescue center for plants smuggled into the country? Instead of destroying the seized plants, they are brought to the gardens to be bred, propagated, and shared. Marc shares many little throwaway but useful facts, which I love collecting. Did you know that a vanilla bean is really the seed pod of an orchid? And there are only six flowers in the world with the remarkable color of a jade vine, a thirty-six-inch cluster of turquoise green. Finally, for the finale, when we arrived at the garden’s huge arches blanketed with orchids. Maybe it’s better to first experience this online, because if I walked under the orchid arches and around the reflecting pool in person, I might have fainted, fallen into the pool, or become teary like Jeff Leatham.
After the tour, and even the following day, I found myself dreaming of the gardens I want to design one day. Maybe I will have the opportunity, or maybe not; but for those twenty minutes virtually touring the Orchid Show: Jeff Leatham’s Kaleidoscope, my imagination soared and expanded. I think I’ll hang some store-bought orchids on my walnut tree and order LED lights to create a little of my own NYBG magic.