On Sunday, the temperature inside Macy’s flagship store will drop to a cool 60 degrees — more than 10 degrees lower than a typical day. Hot pink orchids and lilies will sit atop an "alien tree" with colorful streaks of yellow, blue and green, and silver robotic structures reminiscent of a "Dr. Who" episode will hang from the ceiling.
The transformation has been in the works for months, and while visitors to the Herald Square store may need to keep their jackets on, the temperature is necessary to ensure that the thousands of blooms don’t wilt. When the annual Macy’s Flower Show finally opens on Sunday, organizers hope that visitors will feel transported to another planet, chilly temperatures and all.
"We start with a blank page … and say, ‘what is it that would be great, what is it that would be complexly original, what would we get excited about?’ " said Rick Pomer, the show’s creative director, about this year’s space-age theme: Journey to Paradisios. "What was beautiful about this idea was we didn’t find any great examples of it, we couldn’t find any images of flowers in space."
Pomer said the creative group started planning for the show as soon as last year’s ended, since there’s "something that’s really important about capturing that spike of creativity." It took about three months to formulate and fully develop the idea before they started planning what plants would go where and the characters who would feature throughout. Nearly two million people are expected to pass through the store during the two-week run, following the adventurous story of a pilot-turned-cosmonaut and R.H. Macy IV, the great-great-great grandson of the store’s founder.
"We sketch everything out — we like to envision everything and have a really good idea of what it’s going to look like. And then we move into production," Pomer said. "Just when New York needs it most, you feel like winter has its last grip on you, you need that shot of spring."
While the show may feel like a whimsical fantasy conjured from someone’s imagination, the thousands of plants, flowers and props didn’t simply magically appear. Instead, it came from months of planning.
On a recent afternoon in the Long Island greenhouse the company operates, rows of rhododendrons waited in the humid room to bloom. With less than two weeks to go before the show, they looked like ordinary bushes. But Peter Gustafson, who works for Earth Gardens (which partners with Macy’s to design and put on the flower show) and acts as the flower show’s showrunner, promised they would soon bloom with large purple flowers.
"We just kind of move them along," Gustafson said. "We know over the years that some plants will bloom very quickly, some will bloom very slowly. So we have to orchestrate it in such a way that they’re all timed for starting … when the show actually starts."
Long rows of yet-to-bloom flowers, topiaries and trees line the length of the greenhouse, its pitched ceiling allowing light to flood the room. In a separate section, an extra heater is set up to help plants along that might need more time (a hydrangea could take up to 70 days to bloom, for example, while those rhododendrons typically bloom in a week). Once the flowers have bloomed, they are placed in a refrigerated truck to stop the process.
"They’re kind of like people, they don’t all bloom on the same day," said Bart Visser, who manages the greenhouse. "It all depends if you have a lot of sun, a lot of clouds, if you have to turn the heat up, turn the heat down. We have a fan that we turn on that cools it. We try to keep it around 65 [degrees], that’s the ideal forcing temperature."
Brian Robinson, who owns Earth Gardens, pointed out topiaries in the shapes of the sun, moon and stars, and said more goes into the show than just growing flowers.
"One thing I’m planning on doing is using some acrylic rods and having air plants on them so they sort of hang out of this design and sort of float around in certain areas," Robinson said. "So that would be a nontraditional manipulation of a plant."
The plants are brought in from as far as Oregon and as close as just down the road from the greenhouse. They were finally brought to the store starting Tuesday, but constant upkeep is needed so the show looks as good on the last day as it did when it first opened to the public. That comes in the form of crews of about six people working five to six hours every night to water plants and pluck damaged flowers. And some, like cherry trees, which stand about 15-feet high and weigh several hundred pounds each, need to be replaced completely halfway through the show.
These are live flowers and they tend to produce a lot of humidity, Robinson said. Fans could even be hidden in the window displays, he added, to prevent that humidity from fogging up the glass. And when the show is over, the plants are either composted, donated to local parks and community gardens in the city or sold to Macy’s employees with proceeds going to the Macy’s Bag Hunger Campaign, according to organizers.
Ultimately, both Robinson and Pomer said the annual show is about sharing happy memories with the people that stop by to see it.
"We feel like spring is a moment during the year that is shared by everyone," Pomer said. "We want to help usher in the beauty that is spring."
The annual Macy’s Flower Show is displayed from March 24 to April 7.