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Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Chrysanthemum (2008): Home

October 18, 2008 – January 11, 2009

illustration from Japanese print


NYBG was pleased to welcome the return of Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Chrysanthemum, the Garden-wide flower show and art exhibition which presented a magnificent floral tradition and celebrating the many aspects of the chrysanthemum’s cultural and historical significance. Throughout the years, tens of thousands of visitors discovered the exquisite beauty of kiku—meticulously cultivated and trained chrysanthemums utilizing techniques developed for more than 1,500 years—on a scale never before seen outside Japan.

In 2008, four traditional styles of the Japanese chrysanthemum, highlighted by dramatic shapes, vibrant colors, and numerous blossoms, were on display. As ozukuri (“thousand blooiri’), ogiku (“single stem”), and kengai (“cascade”) did last year, the intriguing shino-tsukuri (“driving rain”) style debuted in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory Courtyards, along with a towering bamboo sculpture by artist Tetsunori Kawana.

On view in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library’s William D. Rondina and Giovanni Foroni LoFaro Gallery, The Chrysanthemum in Japanese Art illustrated kiku as a versatile motif in Japanese arts and literature through several centuries. The 32 works in the exhibition were on loan from exceptional collections of Japanese art, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mary Griggs Burke Collection of Japanese Art, and several private dealers and collectors.

Kiku Matsuri, a festival celebrating Japanese art and culture, presented traditional Japanese dance and music performances and home gardening demonstrations throughout the Garden, while Kiku for Kids featured hands-on activities for childreh and families that explored different rituals of Japanese life, including the tea ceremony, in the Everett Childrerfs Adventure Garden.

Together all of the elements of Kiku; The Art of the Japanese Chrysanthemum revealed the enduring legacy of the tradition that celebrates the king of autumn flowers. Special recognition goes to the Garderis Horticulture and Education staff who contributed to the success of this Garden-wide effort.


Gregory Long
President, The New York Botanical Garden

(excerpt from exhibition catalog; edited for tense)

Kiku 2008 - YouTube Video

About the Art of Kiku

(excerpt from the exhibition catalog)

In Japan the constantly changing beauty of the natural world is celebrated and appreciated in many ways. Each season is treasured along with its distinctive plants and flowers. Autumn in Japan ushers in festivals and the tradition of making excursions to view colorful leaves.

The chrysanthemum, known as kiku, is perhaps the most revered of all fall-flowering plants, both for its beauty and its rich cultural associations. Its name originates from the Greek words chrysos (gold) and anthos (flower)—a description fitting of the wild flower that resembles a yellow, wiry, long-stemmed daisy.

Native to China, Korea, and Japan, this flowering herb was originally domesticated by the Chinese for medicinal use. Around the 8th century cultivated ornamental chrysanthemums were introduced to Japan, where they have since flourished, achieving horticultural distinction through the growing of new and different flower forms and display styles. The flower’s increasing popularity led to the adoption of the chrysanthemum as the Imperial crest in 1868.

In 1878 Japanese Emperor Meiji hosted an exclusive garden party to view chrysanthemums grown in one of his gardens. Later, a large nursery was created at what is now Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo solely to grow chrysanthemums for the annual event, and in 1929 the party’s venue itself shifted to Shinjuku Gyoen.

For the past 100 years gardeners at Shinjuku Gyoen have perfected the art of growing and displaying exquisite chrysanthemums, using intricate techniques to produce amazing results such as hundreds of beautiful flowers from a single stem. The once-exclusive Emperor’s garden party is today open to the public. Known as Kiku Kadan-ten, this 15-day exhibition is held each November at Shinjuku Gyoen during the chrysanthemum season.

The secrets of these traditional growing techniques had been carefully guarded until recently. During a five-year cultural and educational exchange, gardeners at The New York Botanical Garden learned from their colleagues in Japan—and from kiku master Yasuhira Iwashita—how to grow and train these extraordinary plants. Last year’s unveiling of Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Chrysanthemum at the Botanical Garden was the first time that the techniques and styles developed and displayed at Shinjuku Gyoen were presented outside of Japan.

Because the Botanical Garden’s exhibition runs twice as long as the chrysanthemum exhibition held at Shinjuku Gyoen, two groups of plants are prepared—one for display during the first half of the exhibition, the other held in reserve for the final weeks.

Four Imperial styles of kiku are presented in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory Courtyards for Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Chrysanthemum: ozukuri ("thousand bloom”), ogiku (“single stem”), kengai (“cascade”), and new this year, shino-tsukuri (“driving rain”). They are housed and protected in decorative Japanese garden pavilions known as uwaya. These intricate structures protect and frame the beauty of the kiku displays; they are constructed from bamboo and cedar and then edged with ceremonial drapery.

Accentuating the uwaya displays in the two Courtyards are stone and kiku gardens designed by Marc Peter Keane based on a traditional Japanese garden style known as karesansui. Composed of stones placed in raked sand, the dry landscapes of karesansui gardens are meant to represent larger landscapes. In the Courtyards, kiku and grasses set amid large boulders and smaller stones evoke the mountains of Japan in autumn and in winter.

Overall, the Courtyards themselves are transformed into a microcosm of fall in a design created by Keane and Susan Cohen. An array of Japanese plants and trees associated with autumn are on display. Among the rich reds of maples and dark greens of Japanese conifers are many kinds of towering bamboos, a host of grasses, and the last of the lotus and waterlilies in the reflecting pools.

Amid this spectacular fall arrangement is a magnificent bamboo sculpture created by artist Tetsunori Kawana, a Master Teacher of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana, the traditional Japanese art of flower arranging. Kawana is known worldwide for his creative installations that transform the celebrated Japanese tradition ofikebana through the use of new materials and techniques. His installation uses freshly split timber bamboo to create a sculpture that calls to mind clouds moving through a forest.

The scene is accented with bonsai displays in both the Courtyards and the Conservatory. Bonsai, which means “plant growing in a tray,” is the ancient Japanese art of growing dwarfed plants in containers. Bonsai are trained to reflect a variety of landscapes found in the natural world. A range of styles is presented, from single specimen trees to multiple specimen displays that suggest large forest settings.