Proceeds from the Orchid Dinner support the development of the New York Botanical Garden’s research collection, which helps to maintain orchid conservation standards. The Garden, a designated Plant Rescue Center, saves improperly documented shipments of endangered wild orchids which are seized at international borders.
Garden staff members have successfully brought a majority of ailing plants back to health; many are exhibited at the Garden. The Dinner, chaired by Veranda editor-in-chief Clinton Smith, was held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
I attended the Dinner’s cocktail reception where I was immediately greeted by a plethora of plants offered for sale. The assembled orchids had such intriguing names as Dendrobium Spring Dream Kimiko ($165), Crytocidium Kolibi Red ($175), and Phalanenopsis Fuller’s Sunset ($190). Who knew that plants have such complex names? They were pretty to the extent that I anthropomorphized them and hoped that they all would find good homes. I wished them well as I munched on a succulent sweat and sour shrimp hors d’oeuvres and listened to musicians generating beach music via guitar, saxophone, and keyboard.
The beach music accented the Dinner’s theme: Key West Contemporary. Each table setting was created by individual designers and reflected their interpretation of the theme. The tables were over the top stupendous; they were simply the most gorgeous, ornate, and creative tables I have ever seen in my life! I mean there were beach umbrellas, tiki bars, direction signs, candy cane seat covers, thatched huts, scarves placed on chairs, and a white porcelain flower pot which was giant to the extent that it looked like it could grace a mausoleum.
I could not imagine how the people seated at the flower pot table could manage to converse. The creative diversification was awesome to the extent that it resulted in a “lions and tigers and bears oh my” response. Luckily, lions and tigers and bears do not reside in Key West.
I was drawn to a table which contained a colorful flower surrounded bird cage which had garish large magenta bird feather plumes emanating from the top of the cage. When a man approached me to start a conversation, I just blurted out exactly what I thought:
“This table looks like Shirley MacLaine decked out in an outrageously ostentatious 1920’s feather outfit on the season four finale of Downtown Abbey,” I proclaimed.
“Yes. Yes. Yes. That’s spot on exactly right. What a wonderful description. Who are you?” the man responded.
It turned out that I was talking to Michael Devine, the table’s designer. He said that he was inspired by Key Westian “bright, sunny, beachy, fun and as happy as I can make it. You know, birds and feathers.”
“But how will you feel when the guests sit down and mess up what you created?” I asked.
“People enjoyed it. That’s what it was meant for,” he answered.
I also chatted with designer David Salvatore, the creator of the event’s most subtle table. As I stood near his butterflies suspended on thin branches centerpiece, he wistfully looked at the giant white flower pot mausoleum object. He explained that he wanted the guests to feel comfortable engaging with each other. “I wanted to keep it lean and include everything from the sea. I didn’t go full throttle. But next year my table will be huge,” he said.
When the dinner bell tolled, it was time for me to exit enlivened by spending time with natural and person-made things of incredible beauty. And, last but not least, as I was leaving, I noticed that all the orchids offered for sale did find good homes! I genuinely felt happy for them.
– Marleen Barr
Photos via the New York Botanical Garden