Orchids with a Brazilian flair
The New York Botanical Garden’s orchid show this year honors the father of modern landscape architecture, Roberto Burle Marx.
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Marx was known for using living plants as sculpture, like the Orchid Show’s 30-year-old staghorn fern that erupts from a wall panel, its silvery fronds waving like Medusa’s tresses. A staggered stack of rectangular planters, reminiscent of the work of minimalist sculptor Donald Judd, rises like a ziggurat, filled with bromeliads and spilling purple and white orchids.Skip to next paragraph
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In classical gardens based on ancient Roman models, figurative stone sculptures on pedestals were used as “accents or exclamation points,” according to Joseph Becherer, curator of sculpture at Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Over the past four decades, large-scale, abstract sculptures have taken on a more independent role, often becoming, Mr. Becherer says, “the star of the show.”
For Marx, plants were arresting sculptural forms. Outside the Museum of Modern Art in Rio, he created wavy, scalloped patterns using two kinds of grass. He placed a stand of palm trees in a grid to look like a columnar hall, “an interesting cross between sculpture and landscape,” Treib says.
Marx also created columns bristling with succulents and air plants, similar to Jungles’s painted, black bamboo poles dripping with attached orchids – a sort of frilly oil derrick.
A self-taught botanist who went on collecting expeditions in the Amazon rain forest, Marx became a passionate ecologist and proselytizer for colorful, native flora.
“I can’t think of anyone in the modern period who knew and used plants as well and as much as he did,” says Treib.
Some Marx-derived elements, which Jungles re-creates in the show, include “chandeliers” composed of baskets of green philodendron leaves, large as elephant ears, that drip streamers of lavender, fuschia, and lemon-yellow orchids.
Mark Hachadourian, curator of the botanical collections, describes horticulture as “the slowest of the performing arts,” since it requires patience to achieve its ripened form.
This orchid show underlines the theatrical element. An eight-foot “wall” of white moth (Phalaenopsis) orchids cascades down one side of a corridor like a Niagara of flowing flowers.
Garden design is one of the more complex art forms, Jungles says, “because of the fact that it uses living material, which adds both interest and challenge.”
Yet when people compared Marx’s gardens to painting with plants, Jungles says his mentor was “a bit taken aback. Designing a garden is a three-dimensional art form,” Jungles insists. “Marx’s distinctive use of plants for contrast, to take account of their textures, volume, color, and spatial qualities is more about sculpture than painting.”
For Jungles, garden design means creating a habitat for human beings and animals, “something that brings joy to people” and “comforts the psyche.”
eferring to his mentor as a poet who used nature as a means of self-expression, “Burle Marx had a unique ability,” Jungles says, “to take the best of nature and fuse it with the best of the creative spirit.”
Both fusion and profusion are in ample evidence at the Orchid Show.