Patrick Blanc‘s travels and expertise have taught him that no one plant can convey the true beauty of a vertical wall–the living art, as Francisca Coelho, our VP for Glasshouses and Exhibitions explains, can’t realize its full potential on the shoulders of an individual flower. That’s why this year’s Orchid Show is not only about spotlighting these captivating tropical blooms, but about complementing their place in one of our most complex and beautiful presentations of the last decade!
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.
Vertical walls of orchids, mosses, and other plants are going up–straight up–for the annual Orchid Show in the Enid A.Haupt Conservatory. Even after ten years, it’s like no other orchid show we have ever seen. Thousands of plants are being suspended on towering, grid-like structures that surround the walkways. We experienced a whole new way of seeing and appreciating the flowers and colors in a kind of woven hanging tapestry. Surely this show will give new meaning to the term “air plants”–a term often applied to orchids and other epiphytes.
As we near the 10th anniversary opening of the NYBG‘s yearly Orchid Show, we begin looking at the work of French designer Patrick Blanc, the mind behind the elegant and awe-inspiring living architecture being raised for this year’s exhibition. Of course, his efforts in the botanical field extend well beyond the complex aesthetics of his world-famous “green wall” creations. As one of the most renowned plant hunters to have traveled abroad, his global gallivanting yields many an interesting result for the scientific community.
2011 brought with it an important milestone for Dr. Blanc: a plant named in his honor. Previous adventures into the Philippines had yielded rumors of an elusive, undescribed foliage growing in the jungles there, a plant that the local population had no name for. With a team of fellow researchers and a group of field guides, he set off on a journey to the sweltering jungles of the island province of Palawan to locate it, and discovered what was proven to be a begonia. Blanc’s background as a specialist in understory rainforest plants made this a particularly exciting discovery for the group.
Sonia Uyterhoeven is the NYBG’s Gardener for Public Education.
It turns out that the French botanist and designer, Patrick Blanc, is in fact very green. If you are unaware of his reputation as “The Green Man,” the eccentric eco-artist and designer sports bright green hair, and electric green nail polish painted on a long, curvy thumb nail.
With a strong background in botany under his belt, Blanc has explored the natural world while traveling extensively throughout the tropics. Through his travels he has paid particular attention to how plants situate themselves in their native environments–tangling and twisting amongst other species, climbing over each other, and colonizing small territories in diverse communities.
Blanc has paired his fascination with plants and their natural communities with new technologies, and is now one of the leaders in the field of vertical gardening, or “living walls.” In this day and age when space is at a premium–particularly in urban environments–vertical gardening is quite literally a breath of fresh air.
It won’t be long now. Our Caribbean Garden is moving right along, and already preparations have begun for our next exhibition. It’s not a haphazard process that brings us to these moments, either–everything that springs to life in our Conservatory and elsewhere is the product of months (if not years) of careful planning. In the case of this year’s Orchid Show (our tenth!), one man’s lifelong passion will make its mark on the NYBG.
“Eccentric” comes to mind when considering Patrick Blanc. What other adjective sticks so well? Clover-green hair and patent emerald shoes, a matching Aloha shirt and vintage jacket; Patrick’s a walking canvas for his profession. As a renowned botanist, plant hunter, and designer, Blanc makes his mark on the world of landscape design with grandiose ideas of verticality and hanging foliage–not just from baskets or trellises but from the very walls themselves. Gravity is no constraint worth considering for this worldly creative.