A rare flower

It was a moment out of “The Karate Kid,” Belgian floral designer Daniel Ost said:  His Japanese teacher, or sensei, told him that “One flower can say more than 10,000 words. It’s knowing where to place it.” 

For more than 40 years, Ost has known just where to place flowers, individually or within a group, creating some of the most architectonic, theatrical designs for everything from a royal wedding in Saudi Arabia, with spectacularly lit palm trees and table umbrellas made out of flowers; to an exhibit at Japan’s Kinkaku-ji, or Golden Pavilion, with a giant floral cylinder suspended from the ceiling; to a Paris runway show for Dries Van Noten, with a dramatic pink floral backdrop.

Daniel Ost’s architectural designs for the recent “Orchid Show” at the New York Botanical Garden. Photograph courtesy the NYBG.

Most recently, Ost created the designs for the 16th annual “Orchid Show” at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) in the Bronx, paying tribute to the soaring nature of these enticing tree- and air-dwelling plants and of New York City itself. There were domes and towers of orchids in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the Garden’s Victorian glasshouse, threaded with pliable bamboo and tubing that reflected the glasshouse’s transparency and, perhaps, a way to water the orchids. (Actually, they were watered the old-fashioned way, by hand with a hose.) 

The result was an “Orchid Show” unlike any the Garden has ever done, said Todd Forest, NYBG’s Arthur Ross vice president for horticulture and living collections:

“Our collaboration with Daniel Ost and his team was a fun, enlightening and sometimes challenging departure from traditions we have developed over the last 15 years of creating ‘Orchid Shows’ at NYBG. Although we have worked with outside designers, including Scott Pask, Raymond Jungles, Jorge Sanchez and Patrick Blanc on previous ‘Orchid Shows,’ we have never worked with a floral artist so invested in every detail of an installation, from the colors of orchids to the type of wire used to hang them. 

“We gave Daniel access to the incomparable Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the support of our highly skilled horticulturists and the creative freedom to make something new. In return, he gave the Garden and our visitors a thought-provoking and beautiful work of floral art.”

Ost returns the compliment:  “It was a challenge, because I was impressed by the collection and by the dedication of the people who work there.”

So much so, Ost told the press, that he informed Belgian botanical officials that they should have the passion that their New York counterparts evince in their work. He is like that — unfiltered and impish. He enjoyed himself here so much that he said it was the first time he traveled with his wife for work in 30 years. (Not that he doesn’t love her, he quickly added. Indeed, the couple are the parents of two grown daughters — Maarten, a children’s book author and animation designer, and Nele, who has followed her father’s footsteps into his design business.)

Daniel Ost. Photograph courtesy the NYBG.

Ost also recalled the time he thought he was meeting his sensei at a flower shop in Japan. It turned out to be a gay bar. Oops. 

In an international career, Japan may hold pride of place. Not only did Ost train there — as he did in his native Belgium, The Netherlands and Taiwan. But he was the first Westerner allowed to exhibit at the aforementioned Golden Pavilion, the Kyoto temple covered in rolled gold that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ost has created discs of euonymus alatus and equisetum hyemale to symbolize winter and spring for the Ohara Residence & Museum in Kurashiki and an abstract Christmas tableau of asahi, the rising sun, with red and green cornus branches and berries of smilax china for cosmetics giant Shiseido’s headquarters in Tokyo.

But Daniel Ost the company is about more than flowers, gardens and events.

“We stand for design,” the website proclaims. “True creativity has no boundaries. Our team consists not only of florists, but also of interior designers, garden and landscape architects, product developers and much more.” Their projects range from a postage stamp for Great Britain’s Royal Mail to a Coca-Cola bottle.

There’s also an academy in which amateurs and professionals alike can learn more about flower arranging and two shops, one in Brussels and one in Ost’s native Sint-Niklaas, where he grew up the eldest of six children. According to his website, he was forced to go into the military “but soon found a way to chase his dreams.”

The mighty oak fights the wind, Ost observed in a brief Garden video. The bamboo lies down to survive and then thrive when it passes.

“I’m like the bamboo,” he said with a smile.

For which we are all eternally grateful.

For more, visit danielost.be.

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