Steinhardt Eyes Medicinal Mums, Grasses at Botanical Garden

  • Gathering also celebrates chrysanthemum’s healing properties
  • Bank of America COO Tom Montag and Lazard’s Rosen are guests

Michael Steinhardt, chairman of WisdomTree Investments, likes to count trees.

At the New York Botanical Garden, "there are 160 maples, and they are well planted at a wonderful distance," Steinhardt said, establishing a benchmark for his own maple collection in Bedford, New York. "We have 700, and they’re a little more cramped and not as elegant, perhaps. But we just love them -- their color and leaf shape and tree size."

Michael Steinhardt on the hunt for plants to try growing at home

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

It was Thursday night, and Steinhardt was in the conservatory of the New York Botanical Garden with his personal horticulturist, Cathy Deutsch, touring the exhibition "Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden." The show, which runs through Oct. 30, is a showcase for carefully cultivated chrysanthemums that look nothing like the mums on the fall supermarket shelves. Instead of tightly packed, small flowers, the kiku blooms have the heft and delicacy of peonies.

Extended periods of darkness trigger the chrysanthemum to bloom. NYBG shades the plants starting in July.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/BLoomberg

But it was not these showy flowers that most intrigued Steinhardt as he considered what he might try planting at home.

"What I really loved were the grasses,” Steinhardt said, calling them “precious and exciting and distinctive.”

His fellow trustees, assembled for cocktails and dinner to celebrate the exhibition, concurred about the wispy plantings accenting the displays of substantive blooms. "In the sunlight, they have a lavender cast," said Marjorie Rosen, head of the horticulture committee.

"Tonight it was pink," said Maureen Chilton, board chair. "It gave the effect of almost a fog or smoke. It was ethereal, almost otherworldly."

Wispy grass accents the hefty blossoms in the kiku exhibition

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Nature, it seems, can have a potent effect. Steinhardt said at the peak of the fall foliage season, his maples "light up the sky. It’s almost a supernatural sense of beauty."

As for the chrysanthemum, their "alleged medicinal purposes" include "the power to cure drunkenness as well as increase stamina," Stephanie Wada, a curator who has studied the history of the plant in Asian cultures, said during a dinner presentation. At banquets during China’s Han dynasty, wine was steeped with chrysanthemum so guests could consume more, she said.

Mary Beth Harvey, Janet Montag, Motoatsu Sakurai, and Mish Tworkowski

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Sake and wine were served at the NYBG dinner, the first formal meal tied to the kiku exhibition. The chairmen of the dinner included Tom Montag, chief operating officer of Bank of America, and his wife, Janet, an NYBG trustee (the couple learned to love Japanese gardens while living in Tokyo, she said), as well as Marjorie and Jeffrey Rosen and Janet Ross. Among the guests were Lewis Cullman, Marian Heiskell and Ali Wambold.

The honorees were Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas), sponsor of the kiku exhibition, with chief executive officer Hidemoto Mizuhara accepting, and Judy and Michael Steinhardt, who had been celebrated at a luncheon earlier in the day for their support of the NYBG’s maple collection.

Hidemoto Mizuhara stands with guests in the kiku exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Gregory Long, the CEO of NYBG, presided at both occasions.
"Gregory, the chicken was fantastic for lunch and fantastic for dinner," Steinhardt said. "Are we having chicken for dessert?"

Nope: it was yuzu mousse.

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