Flower Sculpture

When other flowers have faded, chrysanthemums in my garden bloom profusely in the fiery shades of autumn leaves, as they have been doing in cultivation since at least the 15th century BC. Like many gardeners I tend to take this beauty for granted. That changed when I visited the New York Botanical Garden during its chrysanthemum festival last month, an annual event since 2007. This display draws on centuries of chrysanthemum training developed in Japan. Though the show lasts only a few weeks in October, preparation basically takes the rest of the year.
The most dramatic plant sculpture is the Ozukuri, which translates as a thousand blooms. Because of space constraints the one pictured here is only hundreds of blooms, still clearly an incredible feat. The record was grown in Japan, a single plant with 2300 blossoms. To achieve this display, a cutting is started in a small pot nearly a year ahead. Gardeners choose the strongest stem, pinch it off to form five branches, and shape them with wires. As the plant grows, it is moved several times into its ultimate frame, where the flowers are symmetrically spaced in a half sphere. As insurance, some blooms are hidden away under branches in case plant disaster strikes and a stem or bloom is damaged.
Though this was the highlight of the exhibit for me, I also appreciated the hundreds of different flowers and the many creative ways to display them, from butterflies to bridges to surreal bonsai trees. I may not have the patience to pinch and prod my flowers into magnificent sculptures, but whenever I see them glowing in my autumn garden, I will remember their potential. It is now too easy for me to see my garden as mundane, but the flowers themselves provide a reminder with their frost defying blooms that they are magical in whatever form they take.