Dutch roots

Former model Frederique van der Wal shows LLNYC her favorite secret gardens

From left: The launch party was held under a canopy of vines at the McKittrick Hotel’s rooftop garden bar, Frederique van der Wal
From left: The launch party was held under a canopy of vines at the McKittrick Hotel’s rooftop garden bar, Frederique van der Wal

Under a canopy of vines and flowers at Gallow Green in Chelsea, the McKittrick Hotel’s rooftop garden bar, Frederique van der Wal, 48, announces the U.S. launch of her flower brand, Frederique’s Choice, to a VIP crowd that includes media executives, models such as Iman, and fashion designers, like previous LLNYC cover star Nicole Miller.

“Flowers are in the blood of the Dutch,” van der Wal, a former supermodel who has posed for Victoria’s Secret, Vogue and Cosmopolitan, to name very few, says. “Growing up in Holland, flowers are part of our heritage.”

Van der Wal, who has been filming a new show for A&E on decorating with flowers, launched her ecommerce flower brand seven years ago in Europe, after the Dutch government named a lily after her. But she is only now making her American debut — despite having lived in NYC since she was discovered as a model at age 18. “The idea was to launch immediately in America, but in 2009, the shit hit the fan, economy wise,” she says.

The Friday before her launch party, Frederique met with LLNYC for a tour of her favorite secret gardens in Manhattan. We start with the small garden at the Church of Saint Luke in the Fields in Greenwich Village, where, despite the cooling weather, flowers were still in bloom, before making our way through Chelsea.

“In New York there are quite a few little spots where people can get back to nature,” she says as we push aside overgrowth to walk the garden’s rambling paths. She adds that different kinds of greenery affect the character of a neighborhood.

“If you think of the High Line, landscaper Piet Oudolf designed it in a very particular way. He loved grasses. Around the seminary in Chelsea there are a lot of older trees, so that creates a wonderful depth.”

From St. Luke’s, van der Wal bicycles to the High Line Hotel at 180 10th Avenue near 20th Street — we follow in a cab. The recently opened hotel occupies an 1865 red-brick dormitory with stained-glass windows, abutting the General Theological Seminary, founded in 1817. Passing through the hotel’s lounge and café into the back courtyard, it is easy to forget you are still in New York.

“How stunning,” van der Wal remarks, looking up at the wide trees shading the quadrangle of the neo-Gothic campus. “I remember coming through Chelsea 20 years ago, and saying, ‘Wow, this reminds me of Europe.’ ”

When van der Wal first arrived in NYC, she was jarred by the lack of flowers at her friends’ homes. So she sought out places like the seminary and filled her home with flowers from the Flower District.

Now, through her flower brand, she hopes to change the way many New Yorkers live.

“In places like New York, it’s important to learn how to create an environment that becomes happier and healthier, and that’s what flowers and plants do,”
she says.