This year The New York Botanical Garden is celebrating chrysanthemums—the most iconic of all Japanese fall-flowering plants—in a new, awe-inspiring display. The Kiku exhibition (open through October 30) in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory has a unique contemporary feel with new sculptural shapes as well as the older traditional forms.
Kiku means chrysanthemum in Japanese. It is the national flower of Japan, part of the Imperial Crest, and the subject of regular exhibitions at the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo, where Japanese masters have trained New York Botanical Garden staff over the years to cultivate special shapes and colors in the traditional Imperial style.
Kristine Paulus is NYBG’s Plant Records Manager. She is responsible for the curation of The Lionel Goldfrank III Computerized Catalog of the Living Collections. She manages nomenclature standards and the plant labels for all exhibitions, gardens, and collections, while coordinating with staff, scientists, students, and the public on all garden-related plant information.
If the idea of grass makes you think of dreaded after school yard chores or monotonous sports fields, consider a visit to Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden to amend this assessment. Attempting to steal the spotlight from the chrysanthemums are several decorative members of the Poaceae family, better known to most of us as grasses.
Several plantings of Muhlenbergia capillaris, a highly ornamental native grass commonly called hairawn muhly, create a spectacular floral display for fall throughout the exhibition. Clouds of airy, purple-pink cotton candy-like flowers float above long slender foliage. These hazy panicles glow in the sunlight, converting garden beds into dreamscapes. Hardy and heat- and drought-tolerant, hairawn muhly is as low maintenance as it is attractive. This colorful plant is also a highlight in the Home Gardening Center’s newly redesigned Grass and Bamboo Garden.
This Thursday is the opening of Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden, NYBG‘s stunning tribute to Japan’s most celebrated fall flower, the chrysanthemum—or kiku. For many months, NYBG’s specially trained experts have been painstakingly cultivating hundreds of Japanese chrysanthemum flowers along frames in a variety of traditional and contemporary styles. Masters of the art of kiku can coax hundreds of blossoms from a single stem. The end result will debut in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory on October 2, when these flowers blossom simultaneously to create showstopping displays.
NYBG will offer a variety of programs throughout the run of this special exhibit, from weekends dedicated to bonsai and ikebana to a special Japanese Pop-Up Restaurant in the Garden Café. Below, enjoy a behind-the-scenes, time-lapse video showing the progress of one of our kiku displays: the monumental ozukuri.
A couple of us hopped a golf cart over to the Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections last Friday, hoping to catch a peek at Kodai Nakazawa’s chrysanthemum sculptures before horticulture carefully moved them off to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. I use the word “sculptures” because it’s the most accurate way to explain Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden—a simple “flower” designation doesn’t do the plants justice in the context of this exhibition.
Each mountain, or waterfall, or burst of fireworks begins as a single young chrysanthemum, tediously cared for and trained into myriad forms by Nakazawa. Some designs are original, some informed by centuries of tradition. But each one is the end result of one of horticulture’s highest arts, a discipline our visiting gardener learned from experts at Tokyo’s Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.
I know we said that this year’s kiku exhibition would only run through Sunday, November 18, but we’ve had a change of heart; the display is just too popular to draw the curtains on it! For now, the Bourke-Sullivan Display House will keep its doors open to the public through at least this Friday, November 23.
Captured under glass in an intimate snapshot of a generations-old artform, this year’s Kiku collection is now up and running in the Bourke-Sullivan Display House, a wing of the Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections at the NYBG. And as exhibitions go, this one–as always–is a vital testament to the heights of beauty and expertise that horticulture can reach.
Like so many of our exhibitions, Nolen’s master horticulturists have spent months behind the scenes, sculpting and training otherwise commonplace flowers into shapes unlike anything seen in a workaday home garden. Thousands of chrysanthemum blooms across a rainbow of colors now take on the forms of Ogiku, Ozukuri, and Shino-Tsukuri. Now, those names may strike mysterious chords at first, but they’re easy enough to understand–if not recreate–once you spend a little time with our handy, dandy primer.
The New York Botanical Garden didn’t just start growing traditional styles of Japanese chrysanthemum–called kiku in Japanese–on a whim. It’s a labor intensive process that the Japanese have been perfecting for centuries, passing down techniques from generation to generation. Some of the more complex display styles can take a team of gardeners almost a year to pull off, which also includes the fabrication of multiple sets of giant metal frameworks upon which the flowers are trained. Training the plant, forcing its buds, timing the blooms; kiku is most definitely not for novices.