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Sneak Peek: NYBG Orchid Show by Lily Kwong is a Sensual, Meditative, Biophilia Fantasy


As an old advertisement once crowed in its attempt to target women, “You’ve come a long way baby.”

At Tuesday’s sneak peek for the Orchid Show, we all laughed when on our walk through the Enid A Haupt Conservatory for the press preview, Marc Hachadourian, director of glasshouse horticulture and senior curator of orchids at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) and author of Orchid Modern. (Love this book) noted that when orchids were first introduced to the Victorians, women weren’t allowed to have them because their flowers were thought to be too erotic and too sexual; altogether too much for a woman to bear, 

Fast Forward. Almost a century later, Lily Kwong, landscape artist, marks the Garden’s 20th annual homage to orchids, as the first woman to design the exhibit!

Oh, have we come a long way, baby…

Seriously, the show is a triumph.  It is brimming with sensual, feminine beauty.  

It has a story to tell…

Few plants excite and astound us the way orchids do. 

Orchids are the precious jewels of the plant kingdom.  We admire their colors, shapes, fragrance.   

At Tuesday’s press preview of the NYBG exhibit, The Orchid Show: Natural Heritage, I was of course awestruck by the installation created by guest designer, Lily Kwong but I was equally felled by a kind of Stendhal Syndrome ~ a kind of art attack ~ often defined as “the psychosomatic; intense physical and mental symptoms or response one may experience while viewing a work of art.”  

Later, we learned from Lily that she incorporated many Daoist principles into her designs; and then, there it was again.

That psychosomatic perspective emphasizes how changing one’s thoughts, and thus one’s behavioral patterns, will have a meaningful impact on our health.

Two pyschosomatics = not a coincidence… (smile.)

In other words, it’s the interaction of mind and body that characterizes the art attack and the harmonic balance of human and nature that you will experience in this extraordinary show.

In this case, the orchid art installation is meditative, serene… 

Of course being the first woman to design the show in its 20 years, (how can that be?! Why did it take so long?!) the experience of feeling that magic and dreamy contemplation made sense. 

Kwong’s feminine and family influences make this orchid show just so darn pretty.


Towering mountains of orchids and cascading waterfalls will transport you…  

While orchids are the unquestionable darlings of social media ~ they are like the goddess that is the designer, Lily Kwong ~ more than just beautiful. 


Did you know that many orchids are also medicinal? 

In Lily’s introductory remarks, she explained how she drew on the “worldwide cultural significance of these flowers,” as well as her Chinese family’s heritage, medicinal traditions and her “artistic interpretation of nature as a healing force” as her inspiration. She noted that her grandfather helped open the market for the medicinal orchids to Australia. 

Her family’s culture looks at the medical properties of the plants as signifying humility.  

Kwong quotes Confucious, describing how she chose the plants in line with that philosophy; and often referred to those Daoist traditions as key to her design inspirations. 

You can see this in the rich, red energy in the Tunnel with its fiery red fabric panels; the scholar rocks she carefully features there, and with the many moss-covered rocks throughout the exhibit.   


Kwong utilizes the wave forms and mountainscapes that she vividly admired and “stared at for hours” from the landscape painting/art scrolls her Shanghai family brought with them to America.  

Lily described how the experience of working with NYBG for the show’s design feels like a fantasy, allowing her to build this ancestral connection. 

Plants are a rich part of her cultural heritage and a core principle is the peaceful coexistence of man and nature.  Harmony is a key Daoist teaching…   

Lily’s reverence to her ancestral wisdom is a gift to all visitors.

You will learn from that magic and mysticism. 

The show emphasizes the spiritual belief that man is not meant to conquer nature but rather to honor it… 

From the moment you step inside the Enid A Haupt Conservatory, you will be immersed in a transporting Kwong fantasy.  

Here, clouds of orchids adorn the moss covered rock mountain shapes and are reflected in the black pool of water there.   

It takes your breath away.  That’s a good thing.  

Stop and embrace the beguiling, enchanting fascination.

As you can’t help but do as you traverse and explore the entire show.  

There are more than 5,500 ravishing, elegant orchids in the installation which is heart-stopping all by itself.

And yet the distinction of this show ~ and I’ve been to and/or reported on the Orchid Show since it was launched (I worked at the Garden at the very first show!), is I feel that the majesty of an incredibly peaceful, calming, spiritual, and sensual design (sight, sound, smell. No touching or tasting!) that marks every step of the show. 


Yes, you will be visually intoxicated.  But there is also fragrance. Then, there is the sound of the waterfalls ~ another zen component; plus the intimate soundscape produced by Kwong’s acclaimed associate, the composer, music producer, and audiovisual artist: Gary Gunn 

You will learn so much from the exhibit about garden design, cultural heritage, conserveration. Companion plantings.  And orchids as medicine. 

The “corridor” from the Palm House show-stopping entrance installation to the gravel and two towering moss rocks under the Palm Dome, is lined with a design that is placid, restful, brimming with hand-selected rocks, orchids ~ mainly medicinal ones, and their companion plants, and water… 

The plants here showcase the orchids’ Chinese medicinal heritage, with their roots and/or canes possessing cancer-fighting properties, as the signage points out. 



We also learned from Hachadourian that orchids are so popular now that they’ve surpassed the poinsettia as the most cultivated plant. That makes perfect sense to me…

I asked Lily when she started working on the design and she replied, “August.” And she further explained that the design elements all came about pretty quickly after her first spark of inspiration based on her family, and “interpretation of nature as a healing force.”   

I promise, you will not be able to stop yourself from taking photos! The thousands of orchids, in every part of the Conservatory, in a rainbow of colors, sizes, and patterns, greet you at every turn. The sunlight streaming overhead illuminates the orchid jewels, and the shade created by the other plants offers a verdant, dramatic tableau for you to capture. 

Kudos to the design and installation teams for getting these displays just right. 

Background Before You Go:

Watch Lily’s overview video here

From the NYBG press release: “Los Angeles-based artist Lily Kwong works at the junction of horticulture, urban design, contemporary art, climate awareness, urban agriculture, and wellness, reconnecting people to nature through transformative landscape projects and site-specific botanical art installations. 

We are thrilled to have Lily Kwong join us as the guest designer for The Orchid Show, sharing her artistic insight and perspective with our audiences,” said Jennifer Bernstein, Chief Executive Officer and The William C. Steere Sr. President of The New York Botanical Garden.

“Orchids are one of the largest families of flowering plants and the second most diverse plant

family in the world. Lily’s meditative and captivating designs will reveal the importance of plants in reconnecting people to nature and as a powerful source of healing and self discovery.” Bernstein added, “One of our major goals here at this beloved green space in the Bronx is to inspire visitors and learners of all ages to appreciate, respect, and care for nature.

This exhibition gives us an opportunity to showcase orchids, which are among the most celebrated and most beguiling of our unparalleled living plant collections, and to educate the public about NYBG’s plant research and conservation work, and it is our pleasure to be able to partner with Lily Kwong in that endeavor this time.” 


On select evenings during The Orchid Show, adults 21 and over can experience the exhibition through Orchid Nights, with music, cash bars, and food available for purchase.  Sooo dreamy. 

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit:

Orchid Dinner Gala Fundraiser

Speaking of tickets, if you are in the enviable position to buy a table or individual tickets for The Orchid Dinner at the Plaza Hotel, Thursday, February 23,  please contact Anita Hall at 914.579.1000 or If you are unable to attend, please consider making a donation. 

You know how much I adore tablescapes and here, the orchid tablescape creations alone are worthy of your attendance.  

You can see past table designs on the NYBG website, which is where I found this favorite, designed by fleursBella, whose atelier is right around the corner from our Gotham apartment. (Psst, The founder and creative director, Bella Meyer, is Marc Chagall’s granddaughter.  Talk about an artful pedigree…) 

Speaking of artful pedigrees, I also noted that Lizzie Asher is one of this year’s Junior Chairs.  

Cheers to Lizzie and her incredibly successful and talented sister, Melanie, CEO of Macchu Pisco.  

These Spirit Sisters are philanthropists who give back so generously to their communities. (@spiritsisters on IG)

In addition, they’ve been incredibly kind and supportive to me ~ coordinating with mixologists for my Art of the Garnish book and, not surprisingly, Melanie was an inspired guest on my Ladies Who Lunch Conversations videocast last year. 

Garden Glamour by Duchess Designs: Women's History Month Honors Macchu  Pisco CEO: Melanie Asher's Meditation on Her Mindful Distillation & Career  ~ Interview with Ladies Who Lunch Conversations

Congratulations, Spirit Sisters. 

If the gala is not in the cards for you this year, all of us can surely enjoy The Orchid Show: Natural Heritage at The New York Botanical Garden. 

The show opens Saturday, February 18th and runs through April 23.

I recommend that you experience the beauty and the serenity of Lily’s design from the perspective of daylight and the evening.  Go often! 

It’s a sensual, harmonic, biophilia fantasy that embraces ecology, culture, and beauty. 



  • Anonymous

    Garden Glamour
    Thank you so much for your enthusiastic feedback! I'm thrilled that you found the sneak peek of the #NYBG Orchid Show so exciting. And compelling you to attend the show at the Garden! Please continue to visit here at Garden Glamour & tell me your considered opinions. Cheers!

  • Anonymous

    The description and beautiful pictures of the shoy give the reader a want to be there. Thank you for ALL the information about the show.

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"Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art."
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 I adore plants. Plants are my muse ~ they are my paramour… I’m a garden artist; a nature lover, & horticulturist. I’m an author & writer. My passion for culture & beauty, along with my trait curiosity, brings you an authentic celebration of life. I’m a storyteller ~ weaving the artful gifts of horticulture, garden design, tablescape decor, floral design, cocktail culture, garden-to-glass recipes & their glamorous garnishes, homegrown edibles, food & drink; & cooking, to bring you my flair & what I’ve been told is an avid elan ~ as well as the stories from those who inspire me ~ to pursue an elegant, enduring, & joyful, entertaining lifestyle. It’s an honor & a privilege to do what you love.

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