When landscape designer and botanical artist Lily Kwong takes on a project, it isn’t necessarily the client who dictates the direction—Mother Nature sets the tone. Kwong, the founder of Freedom Gardens (modeled after the Victory Gardens project during the 1918 pandemic), prefers to replace exotic plants with native ones that assist important species such as bees and butterflies. Her past work has included vivid installations for New York’s High Line and Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central, but this latest one, as guest designer of the New York Botanical Garden’s 20th anniversary Orchid Show, is already a favorite.
“The Orchid Show: Natural Heritage,” which opens to the public tomorrow, features a range of orchids and Southeast Asian plants that Kwong says she used to “paint, using their subtle differences to create textures and different themes.” For her, it’s never enough to create a landscape that’s simply pretty—though all she touches undoubtedly is. The intention is deeper. With each of her projects, Kwong challenges herself to make a greater ecological and community impact, she says. At the top of her wish list is to integrate native plants into public spaces and transform vacant lots in her current home of Los Angeles into “nourishing plots that can support food access, artistic expression, and community capacitation programs.” Here, Kwong spills on botanical inspiration, her favorite landscape design trend, and more.
AD PRO: Which plant or flower first captured your imagination and planted the seed for this career?
Kwong: The redwood tree. It was the greatest gift of my life to grow up just 10 minutes from Muir Woods. The redwoods are like wise grandparents to me and taught me about the power and magic of the natural world from a very young age.
Is there a landscape design trend you’re seeing emerge of late?