Lift it up.
Take a big sip
And you will be immortal
Not aging, not dying!
–displayed on the Botanical Garden’s Poetry Walk
Kiku means chrysanthemum in Japanese, I’ve learned, and this is chrysanthemum-viewing season in Japan, where the flowers are trained, staked, and composed with mathematical precision. I and other members were privileged to learn this on Friday morning from New York Botanical Garden president Gregory Long, who introduced the current exhibition in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory: “Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden.”
I didn’t check out what was the exhibit was about beforeheand, and naively arrived at expecting spare environments of raked sand, rocks, bonsai, bamboo, Buddha statuary, and koi ponds. I was in for a surprise. So were many other guests who toured this remarkable, unusual exhibit.
Every blossom is staked to stand perfectly straight—the flower heads resting upon little wire racks—and to play its part in a carefully engineered, geometric composition.
The exhibit was designed by Francisca Coelho, the Garden’s VP for Glasshouses and Exhibitions. She and other staff members traveled to Japan to learn about the art. She was assisted by Kiku expert Yukie Kurashina, who oversaw the training of the flowers.
Francisca Coelho, above, explained to guests how a single stem is trained to produce hundreds of blossoms in an Ozukuri, a dome-shaped array, which is grown in a specially built wooden container. “The plants are cultivated from tiny cuttings,” she said, “pinched back, tied to frames, and nurtured for more than a year to form arrays of blooms in traditional forms like domes and cones.”