Friday 23 February 2018

Kew Gardens Orchid Festival

The other day I toddled along to Kew Gardens with Jenny, one of my besties, to see the Kew Gardens Thai Orchid Festival. It was all her idea. Having grown up in Columbia she really knows her orchids, which is more than can be said for me. I'm more of an Ikea, bargain basement orchid grower - someone who should never be trusted with anything too precious or too delicate.

The Festival is running until 11th March in the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew.

The standard advice to an orchid newbie - or incompetent like me - is to buy a Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis hybrid if you're into the scientific names). They tell me that it is the very easiest to keep alive. As it happens I was given a white (bought from Ikea in a matching pot) Moth Orchid by a dinner guest several years ago. And to everone's astonishment it is still blooming happily on my kitchen window. I do absolutely nothing other than water it occasionally - when I remember, and it has flowered and flowered and flowered. If they were giving out medals for heroic plants, my little Moth Orchid would definitely be a contender.

The display includes orchids in their natural(ish) habitats. Orchids also appear in contrived floral displays. There are great arches of orchids spanning the walkways, and pillars of orchids reaching up into the leaf canopy. Orchids grow from suspended hanging baskets. My personal favourite, was an installation using orchids in lieu of Chintz wall paper. This magnificent wall of orchids was a real winner. And, given how little was actually sustaining each plant, they may even have potential chez moi!

Scattered around the conservatory were various models of Thai architecture and design. In one corner we stumbled upon a rice paddy, complete with a water buffalo, and some meadow orchids who clearly weren't too fussy about having wet feet.

At times it was difficult to get to the orchids with the press of people. We were there on a weekday morning, so it wasn't too bad. But I imagine if you go on a Saturday or a Sunday afternoon it would be quite another matter.

One group of plants (admittedly not orchids) that always make me ooh and aah in the Princess of Wales Conservatory are the air plants. I'm simply amazed by the fact that they can live on air or perhaps, more accurately, the moisture from the air and whatever sustenance they derive from their host plant. Whatever the way of it, they always strike me as pretty miraculous.

And at the other end of the spectrum I loved these HUGE leaves.

And these hanging basket displays were really something else. Although given the amount of moisture they needed, they'd only survive in a purpose built glass house where no one minded the drips.

If you plan on visiting I'd advise you to layer up. When we were there it was bitterly cold outside, but inside the conservatory it was really stuffy. I think I'd have been gasping for breath it I'd not been able to shed a layer or two to control my own temperature.

In the steamier parts there are jets of water vapour being pumped into the air and, inevitably, fat, heavy drips of water falling from the suspended plants and leaves. If you're really curious and want to hang around in those parts you'd be well advised to have a waterproof outer layer. We ducked and dived our way through without any mishap, but we were content to trot on and not linger too long. A more curious visitor could have come away feeling a bit soggy. 

 We stopped off for lunch in the Botanical, where we dined on Thai green sea bream with galangal and coconut rice, which was perfect. They were also doing a nice line in Thai-inspired afternoon tea treats: satay chicken with cucumber and mint followed by a wedge of dark chocolate and chilli ganache tart sounded pretty good to me, but, sadly the school run beckoned and I couldn't hang around for tea.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

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