From Saturday the 4th February 2017, until Sunday the 5th March 2017, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew are hosting their Orchid Extravaganza! This year, Kew’s Orchid Extravaganza has been designed to showcase India’s vibrant plants and culture. Visitors will be treated to an array of inspiration, provided by sights, sounds, and scents which will entertain and delight from the moment you enter the Princess of Wales Conservatory during this very special event.
There are a few reasons that the theme of India was chosen as the theme of Kew’s 2017 Orchid Extravaganza: firstly, 2017 is the year of culture between the UK and India. Secondly, India is a very special country, India has a close relationship with plants – you can observe the use and appreciation of plants in every walk of life in India – in the textiles, customs, cuisine, as well as in horticulture. The importance of the relationship between plants and humans is both evident and pronounced when you learn and find out more about life in India.
Highlighting the importance of plants is a great message for Kew to convey to their visitors during the Orchid Extravaganza. In our modern age, sadly many people have now become somewhat disconnected from plants and nature, as technology, pre-prepared foods, city living, concrete jungles, and our fast paced lives, disconnects us from our natural world. Often the importance of plants, and even our own reliance upon plants can be forgotten, as we are not always aware, or appreciative, of the importance of plants to us, either for our own survival or for the health of our planet. I hope that visitors to Kew will be reminded of how wonderful, interesting, exciting, and important plants are.
In order to ensure that the Orchid Extravaganza was authentic, in the run up to the Orchid Extravaganza, Kew held workshops with local Indian communities to ensure that the displays they were creating conveyed a true reflection, essence and vibe of India. Bala Kompalli, an Orchid Expert from Kew’s Orchid Unit, who is herself from India, was on hand to give advice and direction at each stage of development of the Orchid Extravaganza. I hope that Indian communities living in the UK and beyond will come to Kew, to visit the Orchid Extravaganza and enjoy the festival and the gardens.
To create this year’s Orchid Extravaganza, around 5,600 plants (3,600 of which are orchids) have been used. Kew’s Orchid Extravaganza features many exhibits. The Indian flag has been recreated using five thousand Chrysanthemum flowers to display the three colours of India! In the centre of the flag, the ‘wheel’ is made of skeletal leaves of Ficus religiosa, also known as sacred fig, which is a native tree of India. The blue part of the central design is made from Eucalyptus leaves.
The friendly tiger is made from a wire structure, which is then covered with moss. The stripes are made from Dracaena leaves from plants growing inside the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew. The tiger’s nose has been inspired by a picture of Elisa Biondi’s pet cat.
The peacock was again created from a wire structure, its tail is made of Phalaenopsis plants, with moss and ferns making up the peacock’s body. The peacock’s head features dried Hydrangea flowers, and his eye is a peacock’s feather.
Monkeys are a commonly seen primate in India. At the markets in India the monkeys can cause trouble, as they frequently steal fruits from the market sellers. An important botanist, Edred John Henry Corner, who lived from 1906 to 1996, trained macaque monkeys to collect plant specimens for him, as he travelled through India and Singapore. E.J.H. Corner’s skills in monkey training enabled him to obtain plant specimens from a wide range of plants in less time, including specimens taken from the tops of the tallest trees.
The traditional marriage swing is used by many religions in India, it gives a blessing for the couple at their wedding, blessing their future life together. The plant on the swing is Ocimum tenuiflorum, also known as holy-basil, which is significant in the Hindu religion and is used in wedding ceremonies. Ocimum tenuiflorum is used for medicinal purposes throughout India, and you can also use this herb to make a tea.
Inside the Princess of Wales Conservatory’s temperate orchid zone, a second tree arch has been created for this year’s orchid festival. The first tree arch was built for last year’s Brazilian-themed orchid festival. In the past, orchids were mounted onto real wood tree stumps collected from around the arboretum, but naturally the moist conditions and continual humidity inside the glasshouse resulted in the real wood rotting quickly, and eventually collapsing – making it hard to maintain the displays. These days a metal framework is created, this is clad in polystyrene and chicken-wire, which is then covered with three layers of different coloured renders, which is then sculpted by hand to produce a realistic but faux wood texture, onto which the orchids can be mounted permanently, mimicking their epiphytic habit in the wild.
Nick Johnson oversees the public glasshouses at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Nick Johnson and Elisa Biondi have co-ordinated and planned this year’s Orchid Extravaganza. Nick and Elisa have worked their socks off, together with nine members of Kew staff from the Princess of Wales Conservatory, alongside staff working in the other glasshouses at Kew – the palm house, the nurseries, etc who have also worked together as a team to create the Orchid Extravaganza.
Nick Johnson also conceived the idea for the central sculpture in the Princess of Wales Conservatory pond. Nick was inspired by his travels in India, where he was frequently told ‘In India, anything is possible’. With this thought in mind, Nick came up with the idea of an upturned cake-stand, which has been planted with over 400 orchids in the traditional colours of the Indian flag. This design involved complex metalwork to support the structure, the base of which is clamped to the pond’s central trough, which in warmer weather houses Victoria amazonica with its recognisable giant lily pads.
Henck Röling, a master florist who volunteers at Kew, created the 3D floral art displays for this year’s Orchid Extravaganza. The majority of help that Kew receives is from volunteers. This year around 100 volunteers have contributed to the Orchid Extravaganza. The volunteers have worked so hard, putting in a tremendous effort, both behind the scenes to create the fantastic exotic plant displays you see here when you visit Kew, and also by helping to ensure Kew’s visitors make the most of their visit, by explaining the exhibits to visitors and giving advice and information where necessary. When I visited the Orchid Extravaganza I received a warm welcome from Linda and Cathie, who both generously volunteer their time at Kew, these ladies were both warm, knowledgeable, helpful, and friendly – everything I have come to expect from the staff that work in every department of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Other links and articles that may interest you……………….
To see more photographs from the 2017 Orchid Extravaganza at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, please click here.
To visit The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s website, please click here.
To read about the Queen of Orchids, which is believed to be the largest orchid in the world. This special orchid flowered in 2015 at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, please click here to see photographs and find out more.
For information on buying seasonal, British grown, cut flowers, please click here.
To read the first part of my Miniature Orchid Trial – Growing Miniature Orchids in the BiOrbAir, please click here.
To read the results of my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial, please click here.
To read about terrariums and bottle gardens, please click here.
To read about The RHS London Orchid Show 2016, please click here.
To read about beautiful, edible plants, please click here.
To read about beautiful, important and historic gardens to visit in Surrey, Hampshire and West Sussex, please click here.