a hanging basket of yellow blooms suspended above a sunny hallway filled with greenery

The Beauty of Height

By Jim Sutton, Display Designer, on

There’s something magical about being surrounded by plants, and there’s a particular kind of magic when it comes to being able to walk underneath them. Maybe that thrill of feeling so small and in awe of something overhead stems from childhood, or maybe it’s just an element of child-like wonder to find excitement in seeing something from a different view. Either way, being able to look up and see the overhead garden of hanging baskets that we’ve created for the Winter Wonder season is a thing of beauty … it’s also one rooted not only in design, but also in truly knowing the behavior of plants we’ve selected to—quite literally—elevate this season.

For this season, we’ve created a true sanctuary of warmth inside our Conservatory, with a record number of more than 50 baskets throughout our East Conservatory and Main Conservatory spaces. Baskets of a variety of plants, brimming with jasmine to cape-primrose to lipstick-plant, help create this indoor paradise of vibrant flowers and foliage. Here, you can stroll underneath rich chocolate Cymbidium Edith McDade ‘New Horizon’ when you enter our East Conservatory, beautiful Centradenia inaequilateralis ‘Blushing Cascade’ along our Center Walk, sunny yellow Guzmania ‘Depladia’ Diana in our fragrant Acacia Passage, and much more.

Baskets of many textures and hues float overhead, from Centradenia inaequilateralis ‘Blushing Cascade’ in the foreground to Stenotaphrum secundatum ‘Variegatum’ (St. Augustine grass) in the background.  Photo by Carol Gross.

Our hanging baskets are a big part of our multi-height display this season and they’re an element that we’re quite proud of. They help draw your eye up, so you are encouraged to look up and take in the architecture and scale of our soaring Main and East Conservatory spaces. Baskets are also a fantastic way to showcase particular plants in the round so they don’t get lost in the planting beds.

Look up! Baskets of yellow Guzmania ‘Depladia’ Diana add a sunny overhead element to our Acacia Passage. Photo by Carol Gross.  

Creating our baskets requires not only intense planning, but also concentrated efforts by a variety of our staff from our Horticulture and Facilities departments. The frames for our baskets are specially crafted by our metal shop and expertly filled by our gardeners using precise technique … and that’s after our production team nurtures those plants grown from cuttings for months on end before they find their hanging basket homes. We hang our baskets using large articulating lifts driven to the location where chains hang from the Conservatory roof. We then use a rope and pulley system to hoist the baskets in place and then secure them with stainless steel connectors to ensure a safe fit, while following precise structural engineering for load capacities. We can then raise and lower the baskets in order to water and care for them throughout the season.

Baskets of Streptocarpus ‘Concord Blue’ float above the Fern Floor. Photo by Carol Gross.

We select each and every plant for our baskets for very good reason. Some plants grow better that others when elevated in basket form and we followed a series of criteria when selecting the best plants for our Winter Wonder baskets. We consider plant behavior and how long each plant will continue to grow and flower, and we gravitate towards those that flower for a consistently long time, such as Cymbidium and hydrangea. We also select plants that flower in lower light and cooler temperatures, as well as those with foliage that are aesthetically pleasing when placed in baskets.

Bursts of color draw the eye upward in our Patio of Oranges, courtesy of these textural Codiaeum variegatum var. pictum ‘Norma’ baskets. Photo by Carol Gross.
The leaves of Cymbidium Edith McDade ‘New Horizon’ beautifully cascade downward in our East Conservatory entrance. The Cymbidium buds will soon expand, resulting in beautiful chocolate brown flowers that will serve as the main feature of these baskets. Photo by Carol Gross.
Vibrant Centradenia inaequilateralis ‘Blushing Cascade’ baskets adorn our Main Conservatory. Photo by Carol Gross.

We also avoid any plants that display tropism, or a growth or turning movement in response to an environmental stimulus. Plants that display tropism may turn and grow upwards as they reorient and grow towards a light source, so those plants would not work well in a hanging basket as they’d turn away from those guests trying to view them from underneath. Ideal for hanging baskets, fuchsia is a very good example of a plant that will never display tropism, as well as a stunningly beautiful plant thanks to its teardrop-shaped flowers that face down to greet guests below. To that same end, we select plants of cascading cultivars with stems that hang down rather than stick straight up. We want to be able to see all the vibrancy and beauty of our plants, no matter the angle!

Come see these beauties for yourself during Winter Wonder, on view now through March 21.

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