New York Botanical Garden Orchid Show – Spring Flowering

Gardeners negotiate with nature. Where it is often harsh and inhospitable to nurture and tend the plants in their care, they use artifice to present nature perfected. Timpani drums and chorus lines might seem perhaps just a tad to dramatic to herald the opening of a special flower exhibition – at least up until you are able to see just what’s been happening all through winter behind the doors of the Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections at The New York Botanical Gardens (NYBG) in the Bronx.

Each spring, as the first rays of the sun begin the winter thaw, literally tens of thousand of beautiful orchid blooms are being massed together by those who have ensured that in an amazing array, they are ready to play their part in snapping New Yorkers out of the doldrums that can sometimes accompany the darkest days of winter.

People are putting away their plush parka’s and fur lined boots and looking forward to the prospect of donning short shorts, slip slops and sandals, on the hottest humid days of summer, like their Aussie counterparts and heading off to the NYBG for The Orchid Show, which opened on March 2nd and is running through until April 22nd, 2013.

This important community event has defined spring in New York for over a decade now. It will be accompanied by a long list of events and activities that will keep everyone busy and focused on these glorious flowers.

Orchids are wonderfully fragrant blooms and they come in every size, shape, species and texture, as well as in full glorious technicolour. This year the orchids have kept horticulturists busy right throughout the winter out of the wind, snow and rain inside the simply splendid Enid A. Haupt Conservatory an impressive relic from another age. Under the direction of designer Francisca P. Coelho Vivian and Edward Merrin Vice President for Glasshouses and Exhibitions, best known in the horticultural world for her plantsmanship and the key role she plays in the development of high-profile shows at the NYBG.

Some 300 of the NYBG‘s Magnificent Trees from the Thain Family Forest that were either uprooted or otherwise destroyed during Hurricane Sandy last October will be recycled to be used as replicas for tropical rain forest trees and incorporated into the design of this much anticipated exhibition. They will be laden with epiphytic orchids and other tree-dwelling plants on display. (epiphytic plants grow upon other plants, using the stems and branches of these plants solely for support.)

Interpreting the history and conservation stories of rare and endangered orchids in the rain forests of the world will be a special focus. There are more than 7,000 orchids representing 3,075 taxa (different types) in the permanent collection of NYBG and orchids from all of the many and varied floristic regions of the world, including Australia, Africa, South America, and Madagascar will also be on show.

Tens of thousands of beautiful blooms; blue and purple Vanda’s, a genus in the orchid family, green and yellow cymbidiums, delicate pink and white moth orchids, and more will stand out amid the stately palms and exotic tropical leaves of the conservatory.

When we say conservatory, most people still think of those attractive glass numbers built by our Victorian and Edwardian counterparts in England and throughout the British colonies such as Canada and Australia. Well you are right, this show is being held in one that has spectacular style.

In America at the NYBG the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory was first opened in 1902. It has a spectacular 90-foot dome, which protects a permanent exhibition of plants from all around the world.

The infrastructure required to support such a great greenhouse, includes complex heating and cooling systems, a great amount of water, plant production houses, and a staff of gardeners, horticulturalists and designers, who keep the displays alive and thriving.

The structure is the largest Victorian style purposefully built greenhouse in the world. Its design was inspired by the Great Palm House, built between 1844-1848 at Kew Gardens in London, which in its turn was inspired by The Great Conservatory built at Chatsworth House between 1836-1841 in Derbyshire.

Orchidaceae is one of the two largest families of flower plants. The number of orchid species in the world is about twice the number of birds and four times more than mammals.

The garden’s resident orchid expert is Marc Hachadourian, Manager of the Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections. With more than 15 years of commercial and specialized horticultural experience, he supervises the care of the botanical collections, including the extensive orchid collection and exhibition plants in the Nolen Greenhouses.

Since the early 19th century gardeners have produced more than 100,000 and cultivars, so to know orchids, means having to amass a great deal of knowledge.

The word Orchid was introduced in 1845 by John Lindley in School Botany, due to an incorrect attempt to extract the Latin stem (orchis) from Orchidaceae, which comes from the Greek, literally meaning testicle because of the shape of the root.

In New York it doesn’t matter if you have an apartment large or small, you can always nurture an orchid somewhere.

At the NYBG they will have experts on hand during this wonderful show to provide orchid care lessons for enthusiasts. The NYBG is committed to orchid research and conservation, its scientists study the botany and ecology of orchids; what they discover is useful to conservation work that will ensure the future of these extraordinary plants in nature

The origin of the plants is told in the Greek myth of Orchis ,the son of a nymph and satyr, who came upon a festival of Dionysus (Bacchus) in the forest, drank too much, and attempted to rape a priestess of Dionysus. For his insult to the God of wine he was torn apart by Bacchanalians. His father prayed for him to be restored, but the Greek Gods instead changed him into a flower.

The Chinese philosopher Confucius in ancient times compared the virtuous man to an orchid. Echoing this thought, Chinese artists sometimes placed orchids in their work to evoke the Confucian qualities of humility, integrity, and refinement—in fact, all the virtues of a perfectly cultured gentleman and scholar.

Orchids were an integral aspect of Chinese culture for centuries and the rise and success of the Dutch and British East India Companies from the 17th to the 19th century exploded interest in these amazing blooms throughout Europe and in the Americas. In China they were celebrated and appreciated as symbols of friendship and refinement. They had also been an aspect of the ‘essential ingredients’ in many Chinese medicaments and still are today.

It was in 1685 that the first tropical greenhouses were built in Leiden and Amsterdam, providing facilities to cultivate perennial tropical plants. They were finished just in time as orchids started to flood in from eastern climes. A change of heart by the Dutch East India Company in the early 1680’s had seen their earlier policy of not transporting plants, relaxed when their leader William of Orange, (also William III of England) requested their assistance and the directors found it difficult to refuse.

He was after all a man of considerable power and perception.

William had brilliant botanists and capable draughtsmen collecting rare animals and plants in far away countries to ship them back to The Netherlands for him. Among the most exotic were orchids, which he and his wife Mary admired alongside tulips.

They enjoyed in great diversity of colour, style and texture these amazing blooms, especially at their summer palace of Het Loo in the countryside and at Hampton Court in England.

Globe trotting plant hunters and gatherers bore patiently back to Europe, and also to England, hundreds and hundreds of specimens. Some Government officials also joined in the craze, some of which were confidants of the Dutch leader.

During the seventeenth century the flower shed many of its symbolic associations and began to be admired for its pure visual pleasure and enthusiasm for it would have far reaching cultural and economic consequences. A distinct feature of Dutch gardens was the richness of flowers and plants and Mary became keenly interested in flowers and exotic plants.

In November 1678, Du Buisson, who was in charge of ‘all the gardens of the house at Honselaarsdijk’ required him ‘if possible to have flowers in all seasons in order to make two or three bouquets for the service of her Highness every week’ and these came tied with ribbon, one of the first such floral arrangements recorded.

The veritable passion for the cultivation of flowers resulted in the emergence of the flower garden as a distinct entity. They owed their existence to the influence of scholars who collected live exotics in botanical gardens. Flowers became associated with the idea of a collection ‘a cabinet of rarities’

With the success of Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition in 1851 at London, which was held in a great ‘crystal palace of glass’ subsequent advances in technology meant that hothouses could be provided with varying temperatures to ensure the success of raising exotic flowers.

The heliotrope, introduced in 1757 from Peru and a new variety appropriately named ‘Beauty of the Boudoir’, was much used for cut flowers and as growing plants.

Pink tinged water lily’s from Egypt and orchids from the Bahamas could as well, now be cultivated commercially.

James Bateman of Buddulph Grange became recognized as an international authority on orchids and published a book about them Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala

During the period when the Art Nouveau style was all the rage (1880’s to 1914) forms from palm fronds to seaweed and flowers such as lilies, irises and orchids were all favoured by designers who transposed their sinuous outline into movement in decoration and architecture, especially in wrought metalwork, which offered a huge potential for development into an animated pattern

Towards the end of the nineteenth century Orchids became one of the favourite themes of the Art Nouveau style.

Jewellery designers produced amazing pieces epitomizing this new movement’s fascination with nature, sensuality, the exotic and the erotic.

At the 1901 exhibition of the Paris Salon French designer René Lalique included jewellery made of crystal glass, the first move toward a new artistic creative material. Lalique’s style united poetry, music and the philosophy of life. Like everyone else he became caught up in an arabesque of literature, poetry, music and art for which the orchid was a symbol of fertility.

All around the world the orchid today is a much admired and cultivated species.

In Australia the range of native orchids  is huge and the small southern island state of Tasmania alone has some 210 species.

In Australia our native orchids are technically perennial, in that most have tubers from which new growth arises every season, effectively, they are best described as ephemeral “annuals”.

Although their leaves usually emerge many months before flowering, these are often hard to detect among other vegetation, and they are certainly difficult to identify to species level.

Many orchids flower over a short period, usually in the order of weeks. Some individual plants only flower for a week, some only one or two days.

Some species only emerge and flower after certain disturbance events, notably fire in the same tradition as other Australian natives. This combination of factors means that it is not a simple matter to complete a survey of Australian orchids.

Fans of this fabulous flower all register early for tickets in New York. If you are planning a trip to this great east coast city in the U.S.A., travelling from another American state, from down under, or internationally from anywhere else on the globe and you are in New York this Spring, do yourself a favour.

Take a day out of your busy life to visit The Orchid Show at The New York Botanical Garden. Life should always be about special experiences and this show certainly promises to be one.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2013

Watch the Orchid Show Story from the NYBG


The New York Botanical Garden
March 2 – April 22, 2013

Founding Sponsor: The Tiffany & Co. Foundation
Principal Sponsor: Karen Katen Foundation
Major Sponsors: Mr. and Mrs. Marvin H. Davidson

The Orchid Show offers visitors opportunities to learn about orchids through tours, lectures, and Home Gardening Demonstrations; enjoy romantic evenings in the Conservatory; and listen to live music in a series of concerts:

• Music from the World of Orchids
Saturdays and Sundays, March 2–April 21 (and Mondays, April 1 & 22),
1 & 3 p.m.
In the Ross Hall
Orchids fascinate and touch the lives of people in every country and culture. Enjoy a wide variety of music from around the world—different artists play popular tunes from a featured country each weekend—to complement your visit. Cuba, India, Brazil, and Portugal are among the countries included.

• Q&A with Orchid Experts
Saturdays and Sundays
March 2–April 21 (and Mondays, April 1 & 22), 2–5 p.m.
At Shop in the Garden
Gardening and orchid experts share their best secrets and explain the simple steps to healthy plants as they help you choose the right plant for your home.

• Home Gardening Demonstrations: Caring for Orchids
Saturdays and Sundays, March 2–April 21 (and Mondays, April 1 & 22), 2 & 3 p.m.
In the Conservatory GreenSchool
This series of hands-on demonstrations shows you how to grow and care for orchids at home. Topics vary each weekend and will cover popular inquiries such as Potting and Dividing Orchids, Basic Orchid Care, and Fragrant Orchids.

• Lecture: Adders’ Mouths and Ladies’ Tresses: The Colorful World of Native Orchids
Sunday, March 2, 4 p.m.
In the Ross Hall
The Torrey Botanical Society presents David Taft, Chair of Conservation Committee of the Greater New York Orchid Society and Supervisor of National Park Service Gateway National Recreation Area, as speaker at its first talk of the year. Find out what makes an orchid an orchid, what the “orchid mystique” is all about, and why we should care about the preservation of plants and wild spaces in and near our cities.

• Orchid Evenings
Saturdays, March 9, 23, April 6, & 20, 6:30–9 p.m.
In the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory
Enjoy a cocktail while viewing The Orchid Show and its thousands of spectacular flowers. The unforgettable beauty of the setting makes for one of New York City’s most romantic date destinations. Your ticket includes a complimentary cocktail and special dinner offers at some of Arthur Avenue’s outstanding restaurants.

TICKETS: Advance tickets are recommended and are available for purchase at




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