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Kaleidoscope!

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By Nicollette Samuels

The chilly weather of winter is still in effect in New York City, but at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), spring is all year round. Maybe not in terms of the weather, but in terms of the abundance of bright and captivating flowers.

“Jeff Leatham’s Kaleidoscope” is the NYBG’s 18th annual orchid show and is being held in its Victorian-style Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. Jeff Leatham, this year’s guest designer, is the famed artistic director of the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris.

He has created a colorful and psychedelic experience, using orchids of assorted colors and textures. “Color is the first and most important aspect of my work, always,” says Leatham. “I want every gallery to be a different color experience, like looking into a kaleidoscope,” says Leatham.

Entering the conservatory, visitors are welcomed by a huge orchid shaped, silver fountain in front of a wall of pink and purple orchids with pink orchid columns along the sides. The fountain’s mirrored facets were made to reflect the movement of the water below, creating a sparkling kaleidoscopic effect.

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Leatham designed this fountain for the exhibition and it was constructed by a French craftsman. Some of the orchids featured were named after Leatham himself by Ansu Vanda, an orchid nursery in the Netherlands. The Vanda Sunanda Jeff Leatham Orchid is a dark purple speckled flower and was scattered throughout the show.

Orchids and other plants favor hanging gardens because they suspend from the ceiling highlighting white, yellow and green colors. This section featured moonlit orchids, which are some white and light-colored orchids that attract nocturnal moths for pollination. Their pale color reflects in the moonlight and makes them visible to moths that can only differentiate light from dark.

Navigating through the conservatory is one of the highlights of the show. The rainbow lit tunnel is an entertaining attraction with colors continuously moving around, resembling a color kaleidoscope. It is also the perfect photo op for social media.

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At the other side of the tunnel is a tropical rainforest full of vibrant hues of green, purple, yellow, and orange, along with a beautiful waterfall. Leatham designed arches of orchids to complement the existing architecture and flowering vines in the gallery.

The plants in the rainforest contained some of the most unique flowers, such as tropical orchids. Most tropical orchids are epiphytes, which are plants that grow by clinging to other plants. Tropical orchids tend to grow on tree branches giving them better access to sunlight.

Although the rainforest may seem like a mess of plants jumbled together, it is really made up of layers and each layer has its own climate. The layers consist of the emergent layer (the tallest layer), canopy layer (protective layer), understory layer (the shadiest layer), and the forest floor (the lowest layer). The New York Botanical Gardens and Leatham really wanted to replicate that and stay true to nature in this exhibit. Trees, flowers, and other plants surround the area, and with the help of stairs to move through the “rainforest” up to that top layer.

The Orchid Show is one of the most anticipated events in February. This year Jeff Leatham crafted a very captivating theme in the kaleidoscope’s infinitely shifting colors and patterns.

The Orchid Show is closed due to the coronavirus with suspension of all in-person events, on-site programs and classes, and exhibitions through April 30. The NYBG says it will use this time to care for its living collections and maintain the operations of the Garden’s 250-acre landmark landscape.

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