The New York Botanical Garden is holding its annual Orchid Show, this year named “The Orchid Show: Jeff Leatham’s Kaleidoscope” after its designer, Jeff Leatham. Leatham is the famed artistic director of the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris. Leatham launched his design career in 1995 and has gained acclaim for his dramatic, boldly-colored floral installations. A nursery in the Netherlands named an orchid after Leatham, the Vanda Sunanda Jeff Leatham, which is featured in the orchid show.
Leatham’s inspiration for the Orchid Show was the kaleidoscope’s infinitely shifting colors and patterns. A red sign blended into the exhibit displays a quote from Leatham: “I want visitors to come away with an unforgettable impression of the color and beauty of Orchids.”
This impression immediately imposes itself on visitors once they enter the exhibit. A large orchid sculpture made of geometric pieces of glass functions as a fountain that pours clear water into a small pond. It sits in the middle of a hanging square with four walls of a variety of pink and purple hanging orchids. It took my breath away, but the exhibit has so much more to offer.
I spoke to NYBG employee Ciara Donovan, who considers this orchid show to be one of the best shown at the New York Botanical Garden.
“I think it’s beautiful, I love the arrangement of the colors,” Donovan said. “There are certain ‘wow’ moments where the colors mesh together really well.”
This was intentional. Signs along the exhibit explain Leatham’s choice of bright blue poles or berry-colored walls that complement the diverse orchid colors. The colors bring solid features to offset the diversity of color within individual orchid species themselves. The berry-colored walls, for example, offset green, white, yellow and maroon speckled Paphiopedilum hybrids.
It cannot be stressed enough that orchids are among the most diverse types of flowers. This diversity is due to the flower’s evolution. A sign in the exhibit explains how orchid species evolved to attract specific animal pollinators. Charles Darwin theorized that the white orchid, Angraecum sesquipedale, native to Madagascar, had its nectar at the end of a long tube, which would attract a pollinator like a moth with an extremely long tongue. The Morgan’s sphinx moth, which has an extremely long tongue, was discovered to be the pollinator of these kinds of orchids, which confirmed Darwin’s theory.
A tunnel lit by flashing, colored lights makes you feel as though you are in a kaleidoscope as you travel from desert to rainforest within the exhibition. The next section of the exhibit presents a myriad of even more diverse orchids.
Jeff Leatham’s Orchid Show features deceptive orchids that evolved to mimic other flower species to attract pollinators. The dancing lady orchids resemble Malpighiaceae. These two types of flowers grow alongside each other in South and Central America. Bees feed on the Malpighiaceae flower’s edible oils and seek the same from the dancing lady orchids, but the dancing lady orchids are pollinated without providing food for the bees. The dancing lady orchids are crafty even in design. They do not look like the typical image of an orchid that has large petals centered around the lip of the orchid.
Along the walls, orchids drape down from the arches in unbelievable shape, displaying stunning colors. Pink and white, peach and pink, yellow and purple and porcelain white orchids blend into each other, creating an oasis of orchids.
Jeff Leatham successfully shows the incredible variety of orchids that exist in his personal kaleidoscope that is the New York Botanical Garden’s conservatory.
Be sure to see “The Orchid Show: Jeff Leatham’s Kaleidoscope,” on display until April 19, 2020.