Walking into the Enid Haupt Conservatory at the New York Botanical Garden, my mood changed instantly for the better. The biting cold I’d just weathered walking from the train, gave way to the soothing heat and humidity of the tropical oasis inside. Eyes closed, I took a deep breath and felt myself relax.
For 15 years, the Garden has offered visitors a welcome respite from February’s grey skies and sub-zero temperatures with its annual Orchid Show, a lush and vibrant affair made up of thousands of orchids of almost every color, texture and variety. Some that are extremely rare.
I’ve been before and have always loved it. It’s like stepping into a floral fairy tale, not to mention it’s a great photographic opportunity. On this occasion, I was getting a sneak peek before the opening on February, 18. (See visitor info below)
Every year, the exhibit is based on a theme. In 2016, it was Orchidelirium, a nod to the Victorian era obsession that inspired wealthy collectors to pay explorers extraordinary sums to search for rare breeds.
This year, the show pays homage to Thailand, home to more than 1200 orchid species and the world’s leading exporter of these cultivated lovelies.
According to Christian Primeau, the show’s designer, conception to presentation is a nine-month process. It culminates in two weeks of creative mayhem in which the team spends long hours staging the orchids before it becomes the wonderland people will ooo and ahh over.
The New York Botanical Garden’s Orchid Show: Thailand
The show begins in the Palms of the World Gallery as soon you walk into the Conservatory, a spectacular main atrium with a soaring glass ceiling that bathes the room in glorious natural light.
The orchids are an explosion of color and it took me a moment to distinguish the flowers from the sea of hues. In the middle are two large topiaries in the shape of Asian elephants, one with its trunk in the air in snorkel fashion, presumably to smell the flowers. At their feet, a large reflecting pool mirrors the vibrant scene above.
The elephants, a national Thai symbol, along with other culture and design references are woven throughout the exhibit along with objects often found in traditional Thai Gardens. Sky lanterns, called Khom Loi, lit for celebratory occasions, are hung from the trees that flank the guest walkway leading into one of the Seasonal Exhibition Galleries where the show continues.
Spirit houses, shrines to the spirits of protective ancestors and found in the yards of every Thai home, contain offerings of orchids and small trinkets meant to help and please the spirits, including three open cans of Strawberry Fanta (yes, you read that right)—with straws no less—because, apparently, the soda is a favorite among the ancestor set and the straws make it easier for them to drink. Who knew?
Small pools and ponds tucked into the greenery and sprinkled with flowers add a calming touch of zen.
The show’s centerpiece is a large, arched façade of a traditional Thai pavilion covered in hundreds of orchids. You’ll find more elephants here, tiny pineapples, bamboo, and my favorite, the slipper orchid, a gorgeous flower that would make Cinderella giddy. (See the slide show below for a photo.)
I recommend giving yourself at least an hour to savor the thousands of blooms. Longer if you intend to photograph. The weekends are usually very busy so if you’re schedule allows, visit during the week when there are fewer people and you’ll pay less for admission.
In addition to the show, the Botanical Garden offers complementary events that include film screenings, Thai dance performances, tours and demonstrations. There are also Orchid Evenings with music, drinks and lite bites. I’m told the flowers lit up against the black of night is absolutely stunning.
(If you’d like to see more of the show, please take a moment to check out the slide show below.)
February, 18 through April 9, 2017.
Winter hours are from 10am – 5pm.
Transportation: For directions to the Bronx where the Botanical Garden is located check here. I took the Metro North train from Grand Central. The fare for a round-trip ticket was ~$14.00 and the ride was a pleasant 15-20 minutes. The train lets off in front of one of the Garden’s main gates and then it’s a brief 5-minute walk to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.
- Weekdays – Adults $20, Seniors $18, Children $8 (Kids under two years of age are free).
- Weekends and Monday Holidays – Adults $25, Seniors $22, Children $10
Clothing: This is tricky one, considering the Winter cold. It’s hot and humid in the orchid show and there’s no coat check. I recommend wearing layers and a down coat that’s warm and lightweight, since you’ll have to carry it with you. In past, underneath my coat, I’ve worn a sweater that I wrapped around my waist when I arrived, leaving a t-shirt too keep me cool.
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Special thanks to Canon Professional Services for loaning me an EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens and
Speedlite MR-14EX II to shoot some of the images in this piece.