The orchid experiment

Orchids are one of my favourite flowers, and up until now I’ve had three orchid plants living with me in the flat. Two of them are phalaenopsis plants which I bought when they were reduced to about a pound each in Homebase because they’d finished flowering (I’m such a sucker for a slightly sad looking plant that’s been reduced because it looks like it’s past its best). That was a couple of years ago and I’ve had loads of flowers from them since. One of them has actually been in bloom for about three months now- they must just really like that spot on my windowsill. I also have what I believe to be a dendrobium orchid, which was a keiki taken in 2007 from a plant my mum had. It’s struggled along ever since, and I’ve had to rescue it from near death a few times by removing it from the orchid compost it was potted in and just leaving it in a jar of water. This seems to have worked as it’s now grown lots of healthy looking roots and I’ve planted it back in a pot of orchid compost. Fingers crossed it’ll finally get settled!

Keiki taken from my mum’s plant in 2007.

People often seem to think that orchids are difficult to look after, but I think as long as you put them in a place they like, they pretty much look after themselves. Phalaenopsis orchids in particular make good houseplants.

One of my phalaenopsis orchids.

Being an orchid fan, I’ve been particularly enchanted by the orchid section of the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew Gardens on the two occasions I’ve visited. On my most recent visit there, I was inspired by the orchids growing on bark and branches to have a go at trying something like that myself at home. I realise I’m being a bit ambitious, bearing in mind I don’t have a special conservatory with regulated temperature and humidity like Kew Gardens does. However, the seed was planted (no pun intended) in my mind so I sourced the necessary items online:

Clockwise from top – large piece of cork bark, LEGO Boba Fett to show scale, raffia, sphagnum moss, dendrobium taurinum keiki, white dendrobium nobile keiki. (Large portion of optimism not pictured.)

I bought two keikis to attach to the bark. The dendrobium nobile came from Ashford (which is half an hour’s drive from where I live) and the dendrobium taurinum came from Malaysia (which is a 14 hour flight from where I live). I was actually surprised at how well the dendrobium taurinum had fared on the long journey here, but I’ve still decided to put it in water for a bit to promote the root growth before I transplant it onto the bark as it wasn’t quite as healthy looking as the other one:

This is the finished product with the other keiki attached to it, the idea being that the roots will grow into the fissures of the bark over time:

And this is an example of an orchid display at Kew Gardens which inspired me to embark (again, no pun intended) on this project (which looks a lot more spectacular than the example above!):

While the bark of trees is an orchid’s natural habitat, a first floor flat in Kent is not, and I haven’t really thought through where to put the bark now I’ve attached the orchid. There is a fine line between having a beautiful display of orchids growing happily on bark and a weird looking thing cluttering up the living room, so I’m hoping it doesn’t look too tacky…

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

I first went to Kew Gardens sometime in the early Noughties. I went on my own as I couldn’t think of anyone who’d want to go with me, but still absolutely loved it and have wanted to go back ever since. So, we recently happened to have a day off together midweek and decided to go. Owen is used to being dragged round all sorts of horticultural visitor attractions in various parts of the country, so walking round Kew for five hours was par for the course. I actually saw a lot more this time round as we had all day and the weather was perfect too. Even Owen said he enjoyed it, which for someone who’s not that interested in plants is saying something.

I think my favourite part is still the iconic Palm House- an original Victorian glasshouse built from wrought iron and hand blown glass. You can walk up decorative spiral staircases inside it to the balcony, which gives you a view down over the enormous tropical plants and trees below. I’ve decided that my dream house would have a conservatory very similar to this- maybe slightly smaller. Only very slightly mind. I’d have twisted, woody vines climbing up inside it with orchids growing on the branches, and I’d spend hours in there, my hair gradually getting frizzier and frizzier in the humidity…

Anyway, we took about a bajillion photos, and here are some of them…

Hibiscus flower – possibly ‘White Kauai Rosemallow’, if my Googling serves me correctly.

Orchids growing on a branch.

Madagascar Periwinkle – extracts from this plant have been used in the effective treatment of leukaemia.

The Waterlily House – god it was hot in there. Beautiful though.