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Choosing orchids for the festival

Elisa Biondi
24 January 2014
Blog team: 
Elisa Biondi explains how Kew selects which orchids to include in its annual orchid festival.

Preparing for the festival

The preparations for the Orchid Festival usually start a long time before the final run-up. Discussions about new concepts, how to improve the interpretation of the displays and refresh the general layout are already in the air the previous summer.

However, for the horticulture team things get more exciting when the stars of the show start to be involved: the orchids themselves!

At the beginning of December we organise a trip to the Netherlands in order to see new varieties, meet new suppliers and visit the ones who have helped us in previous years.

 Nicolien, part of GreenBalanZ sales team, showing us new varieties in her nursery.

Dressing the pillars

Phalaenopsis are the first orchids to arrive. They are usually here three weeks before the opening day, which means they need to look at their best for seven weeks until the festival end!

The orchids used for dressing the pillars have it the toughest: their pots are drilled and a wire is passed through the holes to create a hook. Afterwards the pots are covered with sphagnum moss and the plants are finally ready to be 'hooked' on pillars. This means these varieties have to be reliable and already known.

Diploma student Alex Hoyle with Phalaenopsis ‘Panda’ ready to go on a pillar. This is one of our favourite varieties: interesting, strong and very long lasting.

Phalaenopsis ‘Diamond Sky’

Every year we are keen to show the public what`s new and try to deliver as colourful a festival as possible. This year, an exclusive variety of Phalaenopsis will be presented at Kew for the first time - Phalaenopsis ‘Diamond Sky’. It will also be available in our shops.

The intriguing flower of ‘Diamond Sky’

A lot of other spectacular plants will be displayed, including more 'species-looking' varieties ie varieties of orchids whichdon`t obviously look like hybrids (like Phalaenopsis) but more like the species we grow at Kew. Making their first appearance this year will be the strange and beautiful twisted flower stem Phalaenopsis.

The twisted flower stem Phalaenopsis.

There will also be many cascading stem varieties of orchid and, of course, the ever-flamboyant Vandas.

Why Vandas arrive last

Talking to Vanda specialists from the breeders Anco Pure Vanda we realised how high light levels are important for these fantastic orchids to shine bright. They are grown in greenhouses under high intensity lights.


Anco Pure Vanda Nursery in Holland. Lights here are very bright!

This is the reason why Vandas are delivered to Kew last, only one week before the opening day of the festival. It is the best way to make sure they will be at their best and ready for the show.

- Elisa - 


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7 February 2014
Elisa: Thank you for the two informative and fascinating blog articles re "KEW Gardens' Orchids Festival 2014" which I have just read in preparation for attending the official opening day tomorrow, 8 February 2014. I keenly look forward to seeing and photographing the beautiful orchids that you and your colleagues have got for EVERYONE to enjoy and I must remember to check out the Phalaenopsis Diamond Sky and the twisted flower stem Phalaenopsis. Many thanks for all your good hard work.

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