Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden at the New York Botanical Garden

If you follow us on Instagram, you might have caught whiff that I’m heading on a trip to Japan.  My family lives half a world away so we try to meet up somewhere we can all have a fun vacation, and this year we agreed on Kyoto.  I’ll spare you the ugly details on how many WhatsApp messages it actually took for all of us to reach a consensus — we’re one of those weird families that’s not remotely alike.  (Truth be told, my older brother is still wishing we were headed to a beach.)  

The workaround with our diverse family usually involves large swaths of time in the schedule that are “open”.  During those periods we split up and do whatever our hearts desire.  I have no doubt I will spend many of my open slots dining solo: my family isn’t quite as food-obsessed as I am, and for God’s sake, I’ll be in Japan.  I’ll want to eat every fifteen minutes!  My parents will likely find themselves in many of the gardens Kyoto has to offer, as they have long been fans of horticulture.

Serendipitously, on a recent visit to the New York Botanical Garden, the exhibition that occupied the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory was NYBG’s annual Kiku exhibition.  (As an aside, the Victorian-style stunner is one of our favorite buildings.)

Kiku, which means chrysanthemum in Japanese, is a flower that has been long revered in Japanese culture.  Kiku has been said to embody the idea of perfection, and is also viewed as a symbol of the sun. It’s featured in the Imperial Seal and the Japanese emperor sits on the Chrysanthemum Throne.  The art of growing and training the flowers is a dying tradition in Japan, so the long-standing alliance between the New York Botanical Garden and the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo has been mutually beneficial.  Shinjuku Gyoen trains NYBG staff so that the craft lives on and enjoys worldwide attention.

Kiku NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC BlogKiku NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Kiku NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC BlogKiku NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC BlogKiku NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC BlogWhat’s unique to the art of kiku is that there’s a repetitive process of “pinching” that takes place over several months.  So there is a lot of trial and error — and a lot of contingency planning.  My inner control freak goes berserk at the thought of it.  The preparation for the annual Kiku event begins 11 months prior!  It’s the kind of contradiction I find synonymous with Japanese arts: they always manage to make something so complex seem so effortless.  And the lack of tension allows us to feel a sense of calm.

One of my chores as a child was to water the plants in my parents’ garden.  I had no appreciation for it then, and the idea of cultivating a garden still holds no appeal for me today.  I’ve always assumed the green thumb just skipped a generation.  But as often as I find myself at the New York Botanical Garden, I wonder if that’s still true.  I may not have inherited my parents’ gardening skills, nor the patience to pursue it, but I’m pretty sure I’ve inherited their love and admiration for the craft. 

Pair it with:

A Japanese-inspired meal at Hudson Garden Grill

Husdon Garden Grill NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC BlogHusdon Garden Grill NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC BlogHusdon Garden Grill NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC BlogWe’ve already covered the Hudson Garden Grill, because it’s quite simply the best option for a meal if you happen to be at the New York Botanical Garden.  And it’s not the kind of meal that you settle for out of convenience, either.  To further prove the point, while the Kiku exhibition was running at the New York Botanical Garden, the Hudson Garden Grill offered a Japanese-inspired menu in tandem.  The $35 prix-fixe lunch offered appetizers like a Hamachi salad and a Wagyu Beef entree.  Pictured here are the Avocado Roulade appetizer, the Miso Glazed Cod entree and the Black Truffle ice cream dessert.  It was an enjoyable, immersive experience that served to showcase how nimble the eatery truly is.  We’re looking forward to more themed menus to come.

Lunch served 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.
Bar service, coffee, and lights snacks 3–6 p.m.
Weekends and Select Mondays:
Full menu served 11:30 a.m.–6 p.m.

– L.

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