As a kid growing up in Northern New Jersey I was fascinated with biology and the diversity of nature. The idea of plants that catch and devour insects, trees thousands of years old reaching up like sky scrapers, and plants developing an army of vicious spines as defense was irresistible. I read as much as I could find about strange and unusual plants. I distinctly remember seeing an illustration and a description about a plant with a flower as large as a human, one that took ages to reach blooming size, smelled like rotting flesh, and looked like it came from outer space—it all seemed too wild to be true.
The blooming of Amorphophallus titanum has been one of the “holy grails” of botanical garden horticulture since the first plants were coaxed into bloom by gardeners nearly a century ago. First recorded by science in 1878, I can only imagine what botanists thought upon seeing the inflorescence for the first time. Anyone who has seen reports or images of the plant in flower would agree these plants look more like photographic trickery than reality. Often described as a “once in a lifetime event,” it is no wonder that when a plant of the Corpse Flower blooms it creates a sensation, with people flocking to see it with their own eyes.
Claire Sabel is a Junior Fellow at the Humanities Institute of The New York Botanical Garden.
The Humanities Institute at The New York Botanical Garden was launched in the spring of 2014 to support interdisciplinary research between the arts and sciences. The Institute brings scholars to the Mertz Library to research relationships between humanity and nature, landscapes, and the built environment. This summer, several Fellows joined the Institute to pursue research projects that focus on the Library’s collections, which are some of the best in the world for the history and practice of horticulture, botany, and landscape design. In this series, they explore how visiting living plant collections in the Nolen Greenhouse has informed their work.
As Humanities Fellows, we work primarily with inert objects: a printed page, handwritten letters, sketches from field notebooks, an occasional herbarium sheet. Between our various research projects, which you can read more about here, we cover centuries and continents, and almost everything we need to do so is contained within the rich collections of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library (with the occasional help of the Internet).
Part of what makes the Humanities Institute so special, however, is its position within a much larger and varied research institution and living museum. Although humanists typically make use of archives and museum repositories, the Botanical Garden has a unique set of special collections housed in the Nolen Greenhouses.
In the dog days of summer, when many plants are looking tired from the heat and humidity, there is one group of plants that is at its absolute peak of perfection with a non-stop display of color and fragrance in the courtyards of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. The Water Lily Pools are dotted with outrageous blooms of intense color and fragrance. From the prehistoric-looking, platter-like leaves of the Victoria cruziana to the vibrant hues of the tropical water lilies, they never fail to put on a spectacular performance.
Sometimes overshadowed by their tropical cousins, the hardy water lilies have a more subtle beauty. Perhaps one of my all-time favorite hardy water lily hybrids is Nymphaea ‘James Brydon’. It has exquisite six-inch, cup-shaped blooms in deep rose that rest just on the surface of the water amongst the dark green foliage.
The climate outside is in a bit of a state, to put things lightly. But a few steps inside our Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections, the sleet and snow give way to nothing short of a tropical oasis. It’s here, among the kaleidoscope of plants housed within, that you’ll find thousands upon thousands of orchids–all waiting to make their way into the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. It’s sort of a bubble of pleasantry on an otherwise heinous Friday.
With just a few weeks left of our Tropical Paradise exhibition, there are still myriad opportunities to warm up and shrug off the chill. But we figured that on today of all days, you could use a toasty peek at what’s in store for New York come March 2. We stopped in with Kevin Character and the orchid wizard himself, Marc Hachadourian, to see how The Orchid Show is coming along under the glass.
Creating a masterpiece takes more than simple inspiration. It requires preparation–arranging each color and readying the canvas. And as with a painting, Monet’s Garden at the NYBG is a work of art with as much going on behind the scenes as happens in the open.
Marc Hachadourian, Manager of the Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections, takes us through the expansive collection of delphiniums, poppies, nasturtiums and other flowers that will soon embody our homage to Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny. Months of careful tending in specialized growing environments have allowed us to tease the flowers into bloom all at once, re-creating the artist’s living muse at its kaleidoscopic peak. But you won’t have to wait that long to see them.
If you haven’t reserved your tickets yet, get to our ticket page! The doors to the French master’s private paradise open to New York on May 19.
Walk through the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory and you may come upon a peculiar chandelier of a plant, with a vine spiraling right up to the roof and clusters of flowers dangling from it like upturned flamingo bills. You can’t miss the rings of vibrant, coral-red blooms.
Garden Horticulturist Appears for Booksigning as Co-Author
John Suskewich is Book Manager for Shop in the Garden.
The publication of Botanica Magnifica: Portraits of the World’s Most Extraordinary Flowers & Plants gives us an occasion to really celebrate the career of our wonderful orchid curator, horticulturist, and all-around plant enthusiast Marc Hachadourian, the book’s co-author.
As Manager of the Nolen Greenhouses here at The New York Botanical Garden, Marc helps provide the spectacular range of material for the flowering displays that amaze and astonish visitors to our 250-acre Eden in the Bronx. This season, thanks to his propagation skills, the discerning observer would have seen Meconopsis in the Ladies’ Border, the towering Echium pininana from this year’s Dutch Bulbs spring flower show, and the usual killer show of waterlilies and lotuses in the Conservatory Pools.
But of all the plant families, Marc seems to have the greatest kinship for the Orchidaceae. This relationship is beautifully expressed annually in the work he does curating The Orchid Show in the Haupt Conservatory, in the displays he puts on throughout the year in the Library building Orchid Rotunda, and now between the covers of the quite striking new book, Botanica Magnifica. But he doesn’t stop there; he goes beyond orchids and has written more than half the text for the book.
It is an understatement to call this a luxurious volume of flower photography. Botanica Magnifica contains 250 portraits of rare and exotic plants taken by Jonathan Singer “in a manner evocative of Old Master paintings” (ARTnews). He is a Hasselblad Laureate Award winner—like an Oscar for shutterbugs—and his orchid images are especially memorable: the cymbidiums, dendrobiums, and Polyradicion, better known as the ghost orchid, float and fly and drip and droop against their black background with a sculptural quality that belies their transient beauty.