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Design and Thousands of Exotic, Colorful Orchids Mark NYBG’s 2020 “Kaleidoscope” Orchid Show Featuring Famed Floral Designer Jeff Leatham

Design marks the 18th year for The New York Botanical Garden’s (NYBG) signature art feature: the much anticipated, annual Orchid Show.  
I came away from the Tuesday Press Preview smitten.  New decade ~ new look.  This year’s display is marked by an integration of a thoughtful, sophisticated design – with a capital “D.”  Which only makes sense because this year’s designer is Jeff Leatham, the award-winning artistic director of the Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, with studios also at the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia at Comcast Center and the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. According to NYBG, “He has been creating a sensation with his floral installations since he began his career in 1995. His work is a combination of his love for flowers and passion for design. Using shape, color, and simplicity, his creations are dramatic, bold, unforgettable statements that are always an integral part of the setting. Leatham has produced spectacular displays in Paris for nearly two decades, and in 2014, he was knighted with the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres—the highest honor for artists and others who have made a significant contribution to French culture. His clients include Cher, Dolly Parton, Tina Turner, Oprah Winfrey, the Kardashians, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and many others. His publications—Flowers by Jeff Leatham, Flowers by Design, and Jeff Leatham: Visionary Floral Art and Design—remain best-selling design books worldwide.”
Later, the very huggable Jeff told a smaller group of us that he is also a brand ambassador for Waterford (Oh brother, now I have to have his amethyst-colored champagne flutes from the Icon Collection – so colored because the Vanda is his favorite orchid.  So much so that he has a Vanda tattoo on his ankle. Very sexy homage, indeed. (Plus, you have to love a man who so loves orchids that he literally wears his love on his – well, not sleeve, but you know what I mean!) 
 Further, NYBG named a Vanda orchid in Jeff’s honor.  
Last year, the Garden saluted the Bronx’s own Awkwafina! Love her. 
This year’s Orchid Show is: Jeff Leatham’s Kaleidoscope. With color his admitted passion, the designer clearly found inspiration in the Garden’s world-class orchid collection.  I later learned his father is a botanist – so Jeff has a plant pedigree that informs his floral designs. “Color is the first and most important aspect of my work, always,” Jeff Leatham said when describing his creations for The Orchid Show. “I want every gallery to be a different color experience for visitors as they move through them, like looking into a kaleidoscope. I loved kaleidoscopes as a child. You start dreaming as you look through one. People have seen the interiors of the Conservatory already, but with this exhibition, I want them to look through them like never before.”
I too love kaleidoscopes and have one perched on a favorite coffee table in our country house’s garden room. I was already feeling the affinity…
Here, according to NYBG, “Thousands of orchids are on dramatic display in dazzling creations on view February 15 through April 19, 2020. Leatham’s captivating designs and installations transform each gallery of the exhibition in NYBG’s historic Enid A. Haupt Conservatory into a different color experience, like the turn of a kaleidoscope.”
In the 2020 Orchid Show, incredible orchids provide bursts of forms and colors—in purples, reds, oranges, and hot pink—revealed through overhead arches, vine-inspired ribbons, mirrored sculpture, and dramatic lighting, and other artistic embellishments. Leatham worked with horticulturists from NYBG, including Senior Curator of Orchids Marc Hachadourian, to assemble orchids from its collections as well as from some of the finest growers in the world. Orchids of seemingly every conceivable shape and provenance, including rare and iconic specimens, are on display in breathtaking configurations. 
We were most fortunate to have Marc lead the tour of the Kaleidoscope show.  
Marc too, is also a rare jewel – his knowledge of orchids is incomparable.  You must get his new book if you don’t already have it in your home library.  Although, his Orchid Modern, is not a book that will sit on your bookshelf, rather you will be referring to it frequently for design and care tips.  
 I love the creative ways Marc shows to use orchids to amplify your home floral designs with his step-by-step projects. I’m making the bonsai orchid art! And I can’t help but note the subtle yet pointed kind of parallelism between Marc’s emphasis on orchid Design and Jeff’s bold emphasis on Design for the show.  Orchid Karma, you might say…. 

Visitors to The Orchid Show: Jeff Leatham’s Kaleidoscope are greeted by a most dramatic display: purple Vandas suspended above a 10-foot-tall mirrored orchid sculpture with a fountain of water streaming into a black pool. 

We were treated to Marc’s tour of the other galleries and spaces of the exhibition, each designed in its own color scheme, include plantings of green and white cymbidiums amid grasses, yellow orchid arches, and a most dazzlingly – a breathtaking kaleidoscopic tunnel of pulsing orchid-hued lights.  

The light tunnel is ever-more astonishing because previously – this was just a dark, rather dank passageway from one Gallery to another.  I think some of you know, I worked at NYBG (and BBG) and always thought this was a forlorn space, not fitting for the glamorous Garden. But here, Jeff took a challenge and transformed it into a hearth-clutching experience.  
This talent for making lemonade out of lemons is another key reason to visit the Orchid Show this year.  A bit of background if you don’t know is that there is a massive restoration (nearly $18 million investment) going on in the main dome of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.  Yet, rather than lament the loss of using that space (or using an add-on temporary space as was done for the Holiday Train Show), the Garden and Jeff teamed up to use many, too-often overlooked spaces – the ones more often thought of as pass-throughs rather than the show-stopping ones. Maybe design lessons for your home, as well…. 
I very much respect that design challenge; moreover, you as the visitor get to see the places you probably don’t see nor visit.  It’s a seamless, sensory experience for the visitor Marc and Jeff explained as we toured the Galleries. 
Jeff told me that in addition to flowers and plants, he most often works with lighting, noting that it’s a valuable investment to spend on special lighting and/or candles because it creates an unforgettable ambiance – especially at night.  So here too, please make a point to visit this special Kaleidoscope Orchid Show during the day – and at a twinkling, magical twilight. 

In addition to the Tunnel of Light, there is more design art: here is a hanging passementerie of orchids on a newly-painted grayish wall that Jeff said, “Points up the vibrancy of the orchid space.”  He explained how the visitor experience is different as they experience the change in the visual focal point. There’s that element of surprise and discovery, yet again. The design composition does indeed make the orchid colors pop, along with “pocket designs” you first glimpse as you descend the stairs from the Desert Gallery, while trying not to remain longer in order to view that ornamental edging: 

Seeing the “pocket” design vignettes Jeff created, I followed up on a comment he made earlier about his background growing up where he loved working indoors with his mother on interior designs, teasing how these exquisite examples show his time with Mother was indeed well spent.  He smiled and said he agreed. Jeff is a true sweetheart talent.

And I love that the Garden has you walking through the Desert – to discover an “extreme” orchid whose natural habitat is an arid place.   Did you know that orchids grown on every continent except Antarctica? (Although, I read it was 69 F degrees there today – arghhh – so maybe that too will be impacted…)
Nevertheless, the Eulophia petersii is one of the most desert-adapted orchids, as Marc explained to us.  I viewed this orchid recently at the Tucson Botanical Garden where they detail this orchid as “…growing in arid habitats from Namibia all the way to the southern Arabian Peninsula. An extreme succulent, it stores water in its large pseudobulbs, thick rigid leaves, and an ample system of fleshy roots.” This kind of “aha” is so joyful and educational and lends an added sense of surprise and discovery to the show, especially as the orchid is part of the Garden’s permanent Collection is probably overlooked.

Please do pay tribute to the Garden’s extraordinary exhibit interpretations.  After all, NYBG is a cultural institution – and its artful plant collections and designs are ever more potent now.  I believe it’s imperative we not only bask in the glory of our plants – and these orchid jewels but also pay homage and revere our plants – learn how to protect them and in turn, they will provide for us as they have done for millennia.  While you will undoubtedly be dazzled by the orchid beauty, please stop and also read the signage. They are like the Signs of the Cross … and oh-so-fascinating. Learn about our plants… Here, the Garden points out important points about biodiversity, science, and the environment that, increasingly, cannot be overlooked… 

And please don’t miss a Vanda that Marc pointed out to us: a rare Himalayan orchid that is on the endangered species list:  The Vanda coerulea. Honor this orchid… 

And then there are the layered exhibits to be enjoyed as you climb the stairs to three different landings in the Rainforest.  These too are a new feature to be discovered due to necessity. Now there you can enjoy a vertical design and the skywalk. Love it:

Very cool to look down through the landings at Orchids! 

This year’s emphasis on design is further captured in Jeff’s  desire to promote a sense of discovery and enchantment – as there are oodles of incredible orchids tucked into and about the Galleries.  Look for them. Stop and, well, smell the orchids!
Jeff also has placed very tall, orchid-colored, painted, bamboo reeds in and among the orchid exhibits.  They add a touch of design whimsy and surprise much like jewelry to an ensemble. More garden glamour.  

In the Desert Gallery the reeds are a sapphire blue, inspired by Yves St. Laurent’s Moroccan idyll vacation home.

There were magenta reeds in the Rainforest Gallery: 

Furthering the design element is the extraordinary “Rise and Shine” exhibit, as it’s referred to because of the focus on yellow and orange-colored orchids and plants.  There are always the arches over the black pool, but whereas there’s now an emphasis on the yellow to changing red and orange spectrum over the mirror reflected pool that adds depth and mystery.  Further transforming the space is that Jeff and the NYBG team covered the fountain there in moss, to accentuate the orchid showcase – 
Years ago, I rendered this in pen and ink – when I find it, I’ll share.  (Smile).  

And ta-dum – the orchid arches are reflected in the dark pool below -giving an illusion of a full circle. 
I couldn’t help but comment to Marc that the design amplifies the Tunnel of Light full-circle design…  Ahhh, the art of floral design …. 

Exhibition Programming Features Stylish Orchid Evenings, a Designer Talk, and More

During Orchid Evenings on select dates throughout the run of The Orchid Show: Jeff Leatham’s Kaleidoscope, adults 21 and over can experience the exhibition at night with music, cash bars, and light bites. Princess Lockeroo, one of today’s leading Vogue and Waacking-style dancer-choreographers, teams up with renowned musician Harold O’Neal for a fierce and fabulous performance. Come dressed in your boldest floral-inspired fashion and express yourself on the runway. Purchase a cocktail, beer, wine, and more from one of NYBG’s seasonal bars. Local flavors from the Bronx Night Market celebrate the city’s diverse culture. Advance ticket purchase is recommended to guarantee admission to these signature events. Visit for more details.
On Thursday, February 20, at 11. a.m., in NYBG’s Ross Hall, hear Jeff Leatham discuss how he brings his floral designs to life. A Q & A session and book signing will follow. Registration for “Floral Design Talk with Jeff Leatham ” is required.   
Other exhibition programming includes Orchid Basics Q&A on Saturdays and Sundays, 1–4 p.m. at NYBG Shop where staff help customers select the best orchid for the home, and Orchid Care Demonstrations on Sundays at 1 and 2 p.m. in the Haupt Conservatory GreenSchool, where orchid experts provide advice on how to choose and successfully grow these elegant plants.

The Garden is offering a special photographers’ session, Friday, March 6; 8:30 -10 am for the professionals.  This is the only time that tripods will be allowed in the Conservatory – so register early for this rare opportunity. 

I get asked very often about caring for the Phalaenopsis orchid – the rather ubiquitous and honestly, easy-to-care for smiling face of an orchid.  But if you’re rather befuddled by its growing habit, be sure to sign up for the Phalaenopsis Care session, Saturday, March 7th.  
You can also benefit from the March 14th session, Orchids: Divide, Repot, Rejuvenate

Round out an Orchid Show visit at NYBG Shop and select from thousands of top-quality orchids, from exotic, hard-to-find specimens for connoisseurs to elegant yet easy-to-grow varieties for beginners available for purchase, along with orchid products and books.

For more information about The Orchid Show: Jeff Leatham’s Kaleidoscope and to purchase tickets, please visit

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