Orchid extravaganza a ‘sense’-ational experience

By Trevor Wallace
February 11, 2010

Shannon Keough

Dubbed the “divas” of the plant world, Longwood Gardens is holding their Orchid Extravaganza, which displays more than 500 species of orchids. From Central and South America, Africa, the Himalayan and Andes Mountains to the South Pacific Islands, Longwood Gardens’ orchids are from vastly different climates found around the world.

Out of over 25,000 species of orchids worldwide, more than 3,200 species of orchids are at Longwood Gardens’ disposal for its Orchid Extravaganza, taking place from Jan. 23-March 31 in Kennett Square, Pa. Beautifully and strategically placed, the orchids, which normally can be found in the Orchid House, are taken out and distributed throughout their conservatory and the rest of the gardens.

Nancy Bowley, head of the visitor programs department, has been diligently working to make sure this year’s Orchid Extravaganza shows only the most elegant of orchids Longwood Gardens has to offer.

“We’ve been designing this year’s Orchid Extravaganza since last year’s ended, and have included orchids that have been here since 1921,” Bowley said.

1921 was the year that Pierre du Pont built Longwood Gardens’ potting shed, which is where some of their orchids are grown. Five other greenhouses are used by only a handful of horticulturalists to grow Longwood Gardens’ orchids and hybrid orchids. While more than the 25 species of orchids are native to North America; the majority are imported from outside America.

Walking through the conservatory, each room has its own distinct character. Different temperatures and levels of humidity keep the assorted orchids healthy. Also, each room has its own scent, some of which are soft and gentle to the nose, while others were meant for their visual aesthetics. However, this just helps to demonstrate how much variety the orchid species has to offer.

The moth orchid, or Phalaenopsis, is suggested as the orchid for the novice grower, which can be easily grown at home. From this there are two types of orchids, known as the epiphytic and terrestrial orchids. Epiphytic orchids grow on trees, while terrestrial orchids have their roots in the ground.

Located in the greenhouse, which is open to visitors, there are three vanilla orchids. Although these aren’t highly prized in the orchid world, the vanilla orchids are set up because of their display value. This is what most of Longwood Gardens’ orchids are about, ensuring that what’s on display fits well with its surroundings, rather than how rare or sought after they are.

Longwood Gardens offers multiple classes regarding orchids, which include how to photograph them, repotting orchids and an introduction class for those interested in growing their own orchids.

Towards the end of Longwood Gardens’ Orchid Extravaganza, from March 26-28, orchid societies and growers from countries around the world will be bringing their orchids to end the two month display of orchids at Longwood Gardens. Here you will not only be able to view them, but also purchase orchids from growers spanning from two continents.

Finally, from April 3-4, Longwood Gardens will be selling its own orchids at discounted prices to anyone that buys admission to the gardens.

For more information and directions to Longwood Gardens, visit its Web site at longwoodgardens.org.

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Trevor Wallace

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