Inside The New York Botanical Garden

Imagining the Green Wall

Posted in The Orchid Show on March 14 2012, by Matt Newman

In looking at the green walls that Patrick Blanc pulls from his imagination, you might regard each one as something similar to a painting. In a way, they are–they rely on careful color choices and shapes to create (in this case) an abstract flow. But depending on the artist you ask, the process of building a green wall can be far more organization-intensive.

Blanc’s Orchid Show creations–as with those he builds around the world–require planning. A lot of planning. Plants must be picked not only for their visual appeal but for the way they mesh with the rest of the leafy things on the wall. Sturdy, light-thirsty plants may need to sit higher up, while shade-loving species fit in lower on the totem pole to ensure each individual can thrive within the miniature ecosystem. There is nothing haphazard about the selections. And once Dr. Blanc has a solid idea of what he wants to fit into a given wall, he must then sketch out a blueprint using finely-delineated sections for each type of plant. This is how the swooping, soft-edged sections of color and texture come about.

The gathering begins shortly thereafter. Each wall can require a broad and exotic variety of plants, some in great quantity, and all of them needing tending before, during, and after their placement.

As assembling a green wall is not a one-man effort, the blueprints serve to help each staff member in our Conservatory work as efficiently as possible. We were lucky enough to get our hands on some of Dr. Blanc’s “set lists,” if you will, and came up with some fascinating breakdowns of what goes into each climbing work of art.

In this case, we’re looking at one of the centerpieces of the Orchid Show: the waterfall wall. It towers like a monolith over the Conservatory floor, with tiger-striped sweeps of orchids interspersed along a wall of contrasting greenery. And broken down into its component parts, it’s simultaneously simple and complex:

You can better understand the blueprint comparison here–it’s not too far removed from a floor plan for a house. And as with any blueprint, the final result can be so much more awe-inspiring than the paper concept:

The Orchid Show runs from now until April 22. During the course of the exhibition we’ll be offering lectures, workshops, and special evenings dedicated to the elegant allure of this most exotic of flowers. Be sure to get your tickets!

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