An Oasis of Beauty – The Botanical Garden Dinner

All photos Lieba Nesis
(Click images for larger views)

The New York Botanical Garden held its annual Orchid Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.  This is a premier social event with floral enthusiasts and social luminaries gathering to show their support for horticulture.  The dinner began at seven with a cocktail hour and scant hors d’oeuvres, where rare and precious orchids were for sale as well as the auctioning of various plants.  The Hearst Corporation, Veranda, and BNY Mellon were underwriters of the evening, and all the proceeds from the dinner, which raised six hundred thousand dollars this year, go toward developing the Garden’s orchid research collection.  Orchids, which have more than thirty thousand naturally occurring species, are the largest family of flowering plants.  The garden itself has more than six thousand orchids in its permanent collection, but enough about this amazing flower, let’s talk about the illustrious crowd and the elegant atmosphere.

Jean Shafiroff and Dawne Marie Grannum in Oscar de la Renta with Joanna Fisher

The group this year appeared more jovial and relaxed- perhaps attributable to the excitement in seeing flowers amidst the frigid temperatures.  Martha Stewart, Jean Shafiroff and Alexandra Lebenthal were just a few of the social glitterati present to show their support for the Garden; however, it was the tables and their designers that were the true stars of the evening. The Garden and Veranda assembled an acclaimed group of over twenty five designers from the world of fashion, architecture, horticulture and literature who donated a dramatic orchid centerpiece and table setting for the event.  The theme of this year’s event was “Key West Contemporary,” celebrating the symbiosis between lush gardens and vibrant architecture to recreate Key West’s charm in the heart of New York City.

Dan Dahl design coordinator

This event is all about understated elegance and Dan Dahl, the coordinator of table designs for the past eleven years, reiterated this by stating, “this year is not quite as flashy as the other years and I am not sure if this is due to the poor state of the economy.  However, the details of the vases, linens and arrangements are more intricate and exquisite.  I don’t know too many people that don’t like orchids; they have a beautiful color and scent and they last a very long time.”  He prepares for this night months in advance and enjoys the way it transports him to another time period.  Martha Stewart, who of course grows her own orchids and probably talks to her plants more than she was willing to converse with me, loves the lavishness of this species of flowers.

Martha Stewart and Marc Hachadourian

Marc Hachadourian, the Garden’s orchid specialist for fourteen years, has been growing orchids since he was ten years old, and is fascinated by the diversity of this plant life.  Hachadourian, has traveled to South Africa, Australia and Colombia to view these flowers in the wild and his passion for them has informed his life. Shawn Henderson, a relative novice in floral arrangements but a renowned interior designer who has designed homes for Will Ferrell and Glenn Close, designed his modernist table with inspiration from a Paul Rudolph sketch and loved that the table design only took him a day whereas, home design can take years.

Alexandra Lebenthal

As the cocktail hour began to conclude I spotted Alexandra Lebenthal, in a beautiful white springlike Tahari dress with jeweled sleeves.  She acknowledged that she wears white in the winter and does not believe in dressing “season appropriate.”  Lebenthal, who chairs many Conservancy events, said the botanical gardens, in addition to being aesthetically beautiful, has a utilitarian function because it has more plant specimens than any other institution in the world, which are used heavily in pharmaceutical research.

Table settings

While the group proceeded to the larger room adorned with magnificent tablecloths, flowers, and silverware, a small crowd began dancing.  Before leaving I encountered a woman named Joanna, in a pink vintage coat and diamond and pearl earrings.  When I inquired as to her love of flowers she responded, “as a heavy set woman with few fashion choices the paltry sum I spend on clothing allows me to indulge in horticulture and gardening.”   The exuberance and solace people feel around flowers is unsurprising and highly contagious; arriving in my apartment I hurriedly unwrapped the flowers I received for my birthday –  the beauty of the roses ameliorated the misery that accompanies turning a year older.

Lieba Nesis

My love of fashion, writing and photography were something that always dominated my lifestyle however it wasn't until I was approached by the editor of Lookonline that I realized I could utilize these three skills in combination.

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