What flower best represents luxury? Orchids would have to be high on the list. Elusive, desirable, gorgeous, complex, delicate and refined, one could argue that these hothouse flowers are the very embodiment of luxury. We go to the annual Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) every year, and it never disappoints. Now in its 17th year, this is one of the best things to do in New York City in spring. This year’s theme? The orchids of Singapore.
are orchids the most luxurious flowers of all?
Orchids and orchid shows are usually associated with the elite. So you might be surprised to learn that while considered exotic, orchids are actually not all that rare.
They’re classified by botanists as members of the Orchidaceae family, one of the two largest families of flowering plants, with almost 28,000 currently accepted species. They’re the national flower of many countries, including Venezuela, Columbia, and Singapore.
iconic symbols in global cultures
In Chinese culture, orchids symbolize spring. We may not always associate flowers with masculinity in Western culture. But to the ancient Greeks, orchids suggested virility.
orchidelirium is real
For natural beauty, the loveliness and elegance of orchids is hard to surpass. Small wonder that they’ve inspired passionate and sometimes bad behavior.
“Orchidelirium” was the name for the ailment suffered by wealthy orchid fanatics in the Victorian era, who sent explorers and collectors to almost every part of the world in search of new varieties.
the annual orchid show at the new york botanical garden
The Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden is one of the best things to do in New York City in the spring. The organization’s Spring Gala is a fixture on the Manhattan spring social scene. The grounds are expansive and wonderful to roam around almost any time of year. But orchid time is one of our all-time favorites.
You’ll find families with young kids, couples, solo visitors who clearly know a thing or two about gardening – and lots of helpful volunteers to answer all of your questions.
this year’s show celebrates Singapore
On a blustery sunny late-February day, with the grounds of the NYBG still sporting a winter austerity, we happily ducked inside the magnificent Enid Haupt Conservatory to see the splendid array of orchids on display in celebration of Singapore.
One of the greenest places on the planet, Singapore is renowned as a global center for orchid cultivation. In fact, it’s known as the “City in a Garden.” Botanists believe that there are more than 220 orchid species native to the city-state. To create this exhibit, the NYBG partnered with Gardens by the Bay and the National Orchid Garden.
At the entrance to the exhibit, under the grand dome of the conservatory, we’re greeted by a towering homage to the iconic Supertrees of Gardens by the Bay in Singapore.
This version is 18 feet tall. But the actual towering vertical gardens in Singapore are over 160-feet tall. They leverage modern technology to mimic the functions of actual trees. Their canopies provide shade and an ideal habitat for epiphytes: plants adapted to grow on trees rather than in soil.
In this opening display, the seamless melding of orchids and palms in and near the reflecting pool makes for some incredibly beautiful scenes. That idea carries throughout the exhibit.
the lily pond
After this opening vignette, we followed a winding path through the various connected greenhouses, passing through many charming vistas. A high point is the European-style gallery with a classic Greek fountain amidst a pool of water lilies.
it’s not all about orchids
There are extensive stops along the way that are not related to orchids, but well worth seeing: succulents, mosses, and more. Just remember: sometimes at the Botanical Garden, the most unusual sights are up above your head.
But back to the orchids! At the show’s mid-point, there’s a stunning tableau in a large atrium filled with blooms.
room to run
A narrow pathway facilitates getting up close and personal with the gorgeous display.
The names are lovely, like these – they’re called Charming Fortune. They’re from the Cane Orchid genus and are native to Asia and Oceania.
a rainbow of blooms
This is the area when it first becomes very easy to see the incredible array of colors, sizes and shapes within the orchid family.
orchid evolutionary theory
Why are there so many variations on the size, shape and color of orchids? It’s all about evolution. The great Charles Darwin himself took a great deal of interest in the ways different orchid species evolved to attract specific insect pollinators.
which one is the loveliest of all?
We tried, but we couldn’t choose a favorite.
don’t be afraid to come close
To fully appreciate the loveliness of the blooms, you have to get close. We were not alone in our nose-to-nose interactions with the orchids. That’s part of the fun! Sadly, there’s almost no fragrance in the air.
And in case you need a palate cleanser, there are some patches of pure green that are also a perfect reminder of spring’s impending arrival.
a lovely grand finale
a glorious arch
The final greenhouse holds a dazzling display of orchids, including a series of spiraling arches – another homage to Singapore.
Here you’ll find blooms that evoke almost every characteristic and mood imaginable.
some are quite delicate and demure
others are wonderfully vibrant
some seem a bit sassy
others are absolutely sweet
view the show by day or night (or both!)
There’s a lot of beauty to behold here, and happily, there are also many different times of day in which to see it. In fact, why not see the Orchid Show by both starlight and sunlight? Orchid Evenings are held on selected Saturday evenings at the NYBG, with orchid show viewing, cocktails, live music and dancing. Sounds like a perfect date night!
other activities at the new york botanical garden
the shop in the garden
We never leave without a quick stop at the charming Shop in the Garden. If you love books about specific plants, or about the great gardens of the world, this is your place. In addition, there are botanical table-top items, archival prints, stationary, and hand-made soaps. You’ll find decorative lanterns, planters, pots and live plants on offer – all beautifully merchandised.
food and drink
There are refined dining options at the Garden that can make for a lovely beginning or ending of your visit to the Orchid Show. If you reserve far enough in advance, you can have a full meal at the Hudson Garden Grill, which serves New American cuisine in a bright and airy dining room alongside the Conifer Arboretum. If you’re seeking something more casual, the Pine Tree Café serves inventive sandwiches, pizza, fresh baked goods and wine and beer.
how to get there
Whether you’re a visitor or a native, it’s easy to get to the New York Botanical Garden, and well worth a trip. Metro North trains from Grand Central Station stop just steps away from the main entrance, and there’s ample parking for those who choose to drive.
Will you be going? What’s your favorite orchid? What’s your favorite orchid show? We’d love to hear your story.
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