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Creating a Showstopper: Our Living Tree

By Lauren Grow, on January 4, 2017
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Every season, our gardeners strive to create new and innovative displays while preserving the spirit and traditions of A Longwood Christmas. For this year’s display, Senior Gardener Koa Kanamee spearheaded the brainstorming, design, and execution of the largest “Living Tree” in Longwood’s history. Standing in the flooded Fern Floor of the Exhibition Hall at 30 feet tall and 20 feet wide, the tree boasts 1,300 individually potted plants, including red poinsettias, white Euphorbia fulgens, Canary ivy, Hedera canariensis, white Phalaenopsis orchids, and hand-painted winged Euonymus.

Elegant ferns skirt the base of the tree, honoring a design tradition of displaying the plant in the Exhibition Hall. Beautiful crystal garland is laced around the tree, sparkling in the twinkling lights that blanket this towering centerpiece of the Conservatory. In total, the Exhibition Hall “Living Tree” took more than a year of intensive planning and an estimated 136 hours of work to install within the three days leading up to Thanksgiving.

Staff members place the first portions of the tree’s foundation in the Exhibition Hall’s Fern Floor. Photo by Koa Kanamee.Staff members place the first portions of the tree’s foundation in the Exhibition Hall’s Fern Floor. Photo by Koa Kanamee.

The project required all hands on deck! To ensure the stability of the display, our metal workers and carpenters engineered a tiered structure consisting of a lower half made of wood and an upper half made of metal. Over the course of three days, an incredible team of staff constructed the massive tree, first assembling the upper half and suspending it from the ceiling. Once securely in place, the lower portion of the tree was then assembled on wheels on the Fern Floor and rolled over to align beneath the hanging portion of the display.

Scaffolding, ladders, and various machinery were used to construct the infrastructure made from wood and metal. Photo by Richard Donham.Scaffolding, ladders, and various machinery were used to construct the infrastructure made from wood and metal. Photo by Richard Donham.

An aerial shot shows the upper portion of the tree complete in the background while the lower portion (in the foreground) is decorated with cascading ivy. Photo by Koa Kanamee. An aerial shot shows the upper portion of the tree complete in the background while the lower portion (in the foreground) is decorated with cascading ivy. Photo by Koa Kanamee.

After the foundation was finished, the tree came “alive” with the potting of all 1,300 plants from top to bottom. Not only is the “Living Tree” the largest in our history, but it contains an irrigation system that is the first of its kind at Longwood. Hidden in the infrastructure is 5,700 feet of irrigation tubing that waters each individually potted plant. Multiple tubes, connections, pressure regulators, and waterlines are able to cater to each plant’s watering needs. The system is so ingenious that the two Euphorbia species, orchids, and ivies are divided into separate watering systems by their location on the structure. The tree is hollow to allow access so that our gardeners can perform routine maintenance and grooming of the blooms. This thoughtful planning and engineering allowed for the record-breaking height of the tree because hand-watering is not possible from 30 feet above the Fern Floor!

Our horticulturists designed the planting scheme meticulously to take into account each plant’s needs for water, sunlight, and temperature. From the top to the bottom of the tree, conditions change from dry, warm, and sunny at the top to moist, cool, and shady a few inches above the reflecting water. In addition, the Living Tree required low maintenance plants with the correct size and color for the best aesthetic impact.

Nearing completion, the tree is adorned with silver ornaments and crystal garland. Photo by Richard Donham.Nearing completion, the tree is adorned with silver ornaments and crystal garland. Photo by Richard Donham.

Senior Gardener Koa Kanamee in front of the finished Exhibition Hall “Living Tree”. Photo by Morgan Cichewicz.Senior Gardener Koa Kanamee in front of the finished Exhibition Hall “Living Tree”. Photo by Morgan Cichewicz.

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