Orchidaceae! Indeed, how many varieties in this plant family have been discovered in six continents around the world? And how many have tenacious horticulturalists and breeders hybridized? Phalaenopsis (moth orchid), Vandas, Miltonia, Cymbidium, Cattleya, Dendrobium, Paphiopedilum, Oncidium (dancing-lady), Brassia, Odontoglossum. The number and variety seem endless.
In vastly diverse colors, shapes, and sizes, a huge selection and number of orchids the New York Botanical Garden staff and a visiting bloembinder (Dutch term for flower artist) have arranged for the Orchid Show now abide at the Garden with ferocious grace. But not for long. The NYBG’s one-of-a-kind horticultural production, like much that is singular and true, is temporary. The orchids raised and flown in from the tropics have been sculpted in unique installations by floral artist Daniël Ost, his team, and the NYBG staff. Sadly, this resplendent respite from the winter will be gone as of Monday 23 April.
Impermanence is a theme of all living floral spectaculars. And no one appreciates that concept more than Daniël Ost. The world-renowned Belgian floral artist designed the magnificent 2018 Orchid Show around themes of singularity and transience. Nothing lasts forever in this material plane. And nothing seems to fade more quickly than blossoms born to seduce pollinators to procreate. After consummation of the act, they then self-destruct immediately or gradually, wilting into rot.
The life cycle of regeneration and its key element of transience manifests especially in blooms. For Ost, whose fascination with flowers began as a child, these concepts are old friends. And they remain integral to wabi-sabi, a philosophy he implements in his designs. Significantly, wabi-sabi recognizes paradoxes: loveliness in deficiency, beauty in irregularity, and grandeur in impermanence.
Ost’s childhood adoration and respect for flowers didn’t wax philosophical until adulthood. However, as he esteemed the blooms for their structure and delicacy, his preoccupation grew as a teenager. It culminated in a search to express his individuality through their uniqueness. To pursue his passion, Ost sought extensive training. First, because he grew up in Sint-Niklaas, Belgium, he trained there. Second, he went to one of the flower capitals of the world, the Netherlands. Thereafter, his obsession exploded. And his desire to learn exceptionalism in floral design brought him to Japan in 1983, where he landed at the feet of grand master Noboru Kurisaki. And from Kurisaki he learned the artistry of ikebana. This practice has guided Ost’s maverick design sensibility ever since.
Kurisaki’s approach to floral design centers around a single flower, such that one “singular sensational” flower employed the right way might have more impact than thousands of the same blooms en masse.
Consonant with this approach, Ost, the NYBG team, and Ost’s assistants planned and collaborated over a nine month period. Then, upon the team’s arrival in New York, they tirelessly worked days and some nights. Ost and his team, Marco and Damien, bonded with the NYBG staff in bringing forth this extravaganza. Together their vision manifested an innovative, memorable panorama of gorgeousness.
Above all Ost determined that the living orchid sculptures would dynamically reflect key architectural elements of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the NYBG’s Victorian-style glasshouse. This the installation is also a tribute to the conservatory’s stylistic majesty. It’s a remarkable and memorable feat.
With a daunting task before him, Ost’s prodigious work ethic and artistic sensibility prompted him to visit the Nolan Greenhouses to effect his vision. Selecting orchids and companion plants for their form, structure, texture, and color, Ost chose a wondrous panoply to create a dazzling floral vibrance. Whether you view his ingenious expression in the daytime with sunlight streaming through the Conservatory windows or in the mysterious nighttime atmosphere of the mystical, tropical sanctuary, you become enamored. Day or night you cannot help but acknowledge the splendor of his themes effected by living sculptures of such exotic, sensual flowers.
In the Palms of the World Gallery emerge a shining multitude of orchids, each appreciated for its distinctive individuality. The clear tubing to which thousands of varieties of orchids attach reflects golden beams in the gallery’s nighttime arc lighting. The designers provided just enough illumination for visitors to see clearly. At the same time, strategic placement teases out seductive shadows which slip through and around the palms and other vegetation secured in the dark reflecting pool.
At night, the blooms seem to vibrate transcendently. You smell dense aromas of the chocolate, vanilla, jasmine, and lemon scents of the dancing-lady orchids. Especially during these Orchid Evenings, the senses delight. As you walk down the pathways, explosions of fierce color amidst deepening shadows beckon you to capture the images, to retain what consciousness desires to embrace. Indeed, with the right camera equipment some of the ethereal can be contained, though words and pictures cannot simulate live floral theater. To be present to experience the intangible takes one’s breath away, and the emotional contentment is paradisal.
In the daytime the Palms of the World gallery shimmers with light. And the darker palms, philodendrons, ferns, and other companion plants spark a glorious distinction with the whites, light pinks, dark pinks, fuschias, and motley purples of the orchid types listed above. How many hours did the teams work? This monumental installation is a testament to their artistic dedication.
Likewise, walking through the passageway of glass that concludes in the apotheosis of the Enid A. Haupt’s 360-degree domed gallery, we see Ost’s passion for color coordination and startling contrast. The gridwork of the circular bamboo sculpture that rises upward toward the dome ceiling parallels the latticework of the conservatory architecture. Companion plantings (multicolored crotons and dracaenas) harmoniously meld with Ost’s selection of perky oncidiums (dancing-lady orchids), Miltonia, phalaenopsis, and dendrobiums settled complacently on the bamboo green. Sunset orange, melon, burnt sienna, bittersweet, mango tango, atomic tangerine, blanc, desert sand, mahogany, peach, apricot – the colors fascinate in their parallels and disparity.
Diffusion becomes fusion if one stands back to view the staggering rainbow bands of hundreds of orchids. Surely, with the exception of the greens and blues, Ost and the Garden have encompassed a good many of the 120 Crayola crayon names and colors in their orchid selection in this showcase gallery.
In the Seasonal gallery color coordination threads everywhere. For example, in one section the croton’s rust, red, and yellow hues thread upward. Above, one appreciates the coordination of yellow and red hybrid phalaenopsis, yellow cymbidiums, red-tinged oncidiums, and rust-red and yellow dendrobiums. Some of these Ost and his team affixed to plastic tubing which runs from the ground to the ceiling. The splashes of like, companionable colors amaze. The effect beams into the evening beyond the conservatory’s glass window reflections.
Because Orchid Evenings can be a romantic event with alcoholic beverages served, no children attend. One finds seating placed sporadically in the midst of the Garden’s lush, exotic, tropical settings.
Indeed, the Evenings provide time for a quiet interlude with one’s date, partner, spouse. Or one can bring one’s friends to celebrate Ost’s designs and appreciate an unparalleled synchronicity of life, beauty, and art.
The evening I went, the orchid dancers, regaled in their filmy finery, twirled, strutted, posed for photos.
For additional programming visit the NYBG website. The show ends 22 April. Orchid Evenings will be from 6:30-9:30 on 13, 14 April and 20, 21 April. But if you have not seen Ost’s artistry in the evening, don’t wait until 21 April. For Orchid Evenings especially, tickets sell out and folks scramble for the last day and are closed out. A word to the wise!