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Key West Contemporary: The New York Botanical Garden's Annual Orchid Show

Botanical Garden Orchids EntrancePhotography by Ivo M. Vermeulen

In the gray and gloom of late winter, it’s hard for anything to seem beautiful, so I’m looking forward to escaping the snow at this year’s orchid show at the New York Botanical Garden. Every spring, the garden’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory is transformed into a flower enthusiast’s paradise, stocked with thousands of the most striking orchid specimens from all over the world.

This year’s show is no exception. Titled “Key West Contemporary,” the exhibit owes its Floridian-inspired design and geometric architecture to a spectacular contemporary garden in Key West designed by architect Raymond Jungles. It opened on March 1st, and will run through April 31st.

Botanical Garden Orchids

Orchids are one of the largest and most diverse families of plants, with more than 30,000 species worldwide, thousands of which can be seen at the garden. With so much individuality, it’s no surprise that the show features such an incredible spectrum of rich, fabulous colors. Still, it's important to recognize that the orchid show is more than just a floral beauty pageant. It's also an exercise in effective conservation. The NYBG takes painstaking measures to protect these beautiful orchids, which are constantly threatened by illegal importation and habitat destruction.

Marc Hachadourian, orchid curator and manager of the Nolen Greenhouses at the New York Botanical Garden, believes that even those without a green thumb can (and should!) take care of an orchid. “Some of the easiest orchids for beginner gardeners that are still quite showy are Phalaenopsis and Paphiopedilums,” he says. “There’s now a spectacular and interesting selection of these types available from growers and specialty nurseries in a variety of colors, patterns, and sizes.” A gorgeous yellow Pahiopedilum variety is pictured below.

Botanical Garden Orchid Beginner

One of Hachadourian's tips is simple: Water and fertilize the plant even when it's out of of bloom. "Many people pay attention to their plants only when they're in flower, neglecting them when they're not. The plant is growing and storing the necessary energy for the next bloom. If you don't give it the proper light, water, and fertilizer during this time, it might even skip a blooming."

Botanical Garden Orchids Closer

The show’s main attraction is complemented by a dozen activities and events, including live concerts. Personally, I’m most excited for the Poetry Walk, which will feature the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, James Merrill, and Richard Wilbur, who traveled to the Keys in the 1930s and '40s in search of a peaceful artistic haven.

According to Gayle Schmidt, associate director of public education at NYBG, one of the most popular programs is the Orchid Care Demonstration, where visitors learn how to select the right orchid for their home and care for it properly. There are plenty of activities for the younger set, too, from a create-your-own-terrarium class to a plantcentric food festival.

Botanical Garden Orchids

There’s even a way to enjoy the show after hours. Whisk your significant other to the aptly named Orchid Evenings, where you can enjoy live music, complimentary cocktails inspired by all things beachy, and a dinner voucher at one of the garden’s partner restaurants in Little Italy.

Consensus on this year’s show? There’s something special for everyone. Get to the garden!

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Text by Rebekah Lowin