Jeff Leatham’s “Kaleidoscope” Vision for NYBG’s Orchid Show

Spread the love

By Jill Brooke

How many people get to do a redo? Few, of course, but for famed event planner and florist Jeff Leatham, he has the distinction of creating not one but TWO New York Botanical Garden Orchid Shows. 

Luckily, the one he launched in 2020 at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory right before the pandemic rooted and shortened its visibility was named “Kaleidoscope” – as is this one that was unveiled today. How prescient.

“A kaleidoscope shifts colors and designs all the time,” explains Leatham, whose award-winning designs dazzled at the Philadelphia Flower Show and also routinely at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Paris. 

Now in its 19th year, the NYBG’s orchid show for 2022 is once again Jeff Leatham’s “Kaleidoscope” and will be available for public view from February 26-May 1. Although it was Halston, the fashion designer, who is credited with popularizing orchids so that decorators used them ubiquitously, it is this annual show that the collectors and orchid lovers covet each year to see the variety that is rarely shared at flower shops or supermarkets.

Throughout the byzantine colorful mazes in all the verdant-lined pathways with arches of flowers, his designs enchant the eye to look down but also up, a feature he strategically implemented as a metaphor for “uplifting people’s spirits.”  

For Leatham fans, and I am a big one, one always expects to see vibrant purple and magenta-colored orchids – especially the Vanda, his fave – weaved through the designs. And there were plenty. Not only in the main entrance but also in another room where small rectangular pools separated soaring orchid trees filled with a wide range of pinks and purples blooms. Scattered in these pools were orchid leaves in an incandescent stream of shimmering violet. “In nature, petals fall and this is like nature,” he explained. 

Leave it to Leatham to make that a design element. But somehow his leaves weren’t scattered haphazardly but in lovely clusters. This technique also tied the tropical colors from the top of the orchid structures to the bottom floor where the experience was glorious orchids enveloping you everywhere. 

Included in the exhibit was also one peaceful room filled with thousands of white, ivory, and creamy orchids that included chandelier-like structures filled with moth orchids that looked like they had outstretched arms to delight. And because everything Leatham does always has an element which I call “fluffy fantasia,” there were also chandeliers with trailing white amaranthus with orchids popping up on top. 

The technical wizard overseeing this installation was once again world-renowned horticulturist and NYBG’s orchid expert Marc Hachadourian who shared some fun facts about orchids. 

Did you know that there are few blue flowers on earth but NYBG – the Harvard of botany – has a blue jade plant that is part of the tour.

Also, vanilla – the joyous flavoring for our cakes and ice creams is actually derived from “an orchid seed.” 

The pansy orchid shown here has a delightful fragrance that is elevated when the sun hits it. 

The talented NYBG team also helps care for stolen orchids that are rescued from all parts of the world including the Philippines and bring them back to life.

With some of the world’s most exotic and diverse orchids. – including ones that date back to 1902 – their orchids have so many interesting shapes and characteristics. 

“There are 30,000 orchids around the world and 150,000 hybrids,” explained Hachadourian. “Antarctica is the only place where orchids don’t grow.” 

Yup that means, as he showed, there are also orchids that grow in the desert. In fact, this little orchid can determine foe or friend and makes itself look as though withered. 

For Leatham and Marc Hachadourian, their relationship is not withering but in full bloom and still growing. Together these two floral masters have created an experience few will forget at the NYBG’s orchid show. 

Jill Brooke is a former CNN correspondent, Post columnist and editor-in-chief of Avenue and Travel Savvy magazine. She is an author and the editorial director of FPD and floral editor for Aspire Design and Home magazine and contributor to Florists Review magazine.