At the NYBG Conservatory, a Delirious World of Orchids in Unearthly Hues

At the New York Botanical Garden, electric-hued orchids almost leap from Patrick Blanc's mur vegetal, an exotic vertical garden planted with moss and ferns, rising from a pool of water.

At the New York Botanical Garden, electric-hued orchids almost leap from Patrick Blanc’s mur vegetal, an exotic vertical garden planted with moss and ferns, rising from a pool of water.

New York, how do I love you? Let me count the ways….

But after a week off the grid in the Caribbean, I found myself craving silence. (Let’s not, please, discuss the impulse buy of a gilded Burmese Buddha, nor my obsession for Stella McCartney’s dark blue silk paisley pajamas, nor the truckload of books that just arrived…)

Where was I? Oh, yes, craving silence. So early one morning we fled to the Bronx, where in the New York Botanical Garden everything from yellow magnolias to golden daffodils was in bloom.

The most exotic blossoms, though, were in the Conservatory where Patrick Blanc, visionary creator of the mur vegetal or vertical garden, had erected lush tropical walls featuring the rarest orchids….


Rising from a pool of water, the first mur vegetal set the stage for a trippy display of color and form. The showy orchids almost leapt from their nest of moss and ferns.


A few steps on I was swept away by the frothy yellow oncidiums or “dancing ladies,” which, if you squint your eyes, do look like belles in ruffled ball gowns. In fact the ladies were swaying to tango music, part of a mesmerizing play list someone put together for the show…

We went for silence, but instead found…


Electric purple Vandas, possible descendants of an orchid with large blue flowers discovered in Northern India in 1837. No one in England had seen an orchid of that color before—they named it vanda caerulea—and it became the Holy Grail of orchids, often sought but rarely found.


Just as the pensive faces couldn’t get any sweeter—these orchids of the genusMiltonopsis, named after Lord Fitzwilliam Milton, a 19th century orchid expert, which grow in the cloud forests of Central and South America, are called pansy orchids because of their clear resemblance to that flower….


It began to get strange. As we drifted along Blanc’s living walls, we were stopped in our tracks by these twisted white specimens with big purple blotches. I’m not an orchid fancier but these were alluring in a psychedelic way…


And as we passed under a mossy arch we could almost touch these hanging orange and yellow blossoms. Don’t they look like Jacks in the Pulpit?


I wouldn’t have recognized these bright pink flowers as orchids at all, especially with the dangling berries.


It was almost a relief to pause at a naked grotto, adorned only with green moss and ferns…


And then to go outside where, well, everything was blooming but I could see the sky.

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By the way, did you know that vanilla is an orchid?

You can read more about Patrick Blanc’s vertical garden at Paris’s Musee du Quai Branley right here on SpiceLines. At the Shop in the Botanical Garden I discovered The Vertical Garden: From Nature to the City which shows Blanc’s most recent works. The photo of his leafy office which sits atop a glass floor covering an enormous aquarium must be seen to be believed.

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