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Bournemouth Orchid Society bring their tropical blooms to Wimborne

PUBLISHED: 10:52 10 March 2014 | UPDATED: 10:52 10 March 2014

Judging the orchids

Judging the orchids

Archant

A dazzling array of blooms grown by members of the Bournemouth Orchid Society will be on display at their annual spring show bringing a dash of tropical splendour to Wimborne

Some of the colourful blooms at the showSome of the colourful blooms at the show

Orchids are the exotic counterpart to roses. A Valentine’s Day stalwart, roses are metaphors for thorny encounters as well as romance whereas orchids are a metaphor for passion that can verge into perilous territory. Indeed over the centuries many an orchid hunter has perished in pursuit of this exotic bloom as they ventured into unexplored jungle and rainforest in the hopes of discovering a new species and bringing it back from the tropics to England.

Even today, within seemingly mundane houses, Dorset harbours adventurous souls whose tropical encounters have inspired a lifelong passion for growing orchids, and others who voyage to distant shores via their greenhouses by nurturing exotic orchids.

One such adventurous soul is Michael Powell who has been growing orchids for 18 years and often takes phone calls from Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, with questions about orchids. Michael’s interest in orchids started when he was growing up in West Africa. “I was about 5 years old and saw bright pink spikes of flowers,” he recalls. “I started wandering towards them but was promptly told off in case I trod on something nasty lurking in the undergrowth, but the fascination remained.”

Those bright pink flowers that so captivated Michael as a child he now knows are Eulophia orchids. Decades after that first memorable encounter, his garden has become an orchid appreciators’ paradise with hardy orchids in the flowerbeds and two greenhouses containing orchids with more particular needs. One greenhouse is unheated but well ventilated for orchids that tolerate the cool temperatures of British winters but not their damp. The other is ventilated, heated and bubble-wrapped to provide extra warmth for orchids that need warmer temperatures. “For people new to growing orchids I would suggest initially limit your plant choices to what will grow on a windowsill,” he advises, “then if you want, progress to orchids that grow in a greenhouse or conservatory.”

Progressing from an initial attraction to taking care of a collection of orchids is not a solitary pursuit. Apart from advice on the internet and the numerous books that have been published on orchids, joining an orchid society is one way to meet people who share a similar enthusiasm and to exchange knowledge. Michael is a committee member of the Bournemouth Orchid Society (BOS) and can often be seen manning their ‘Orchid Advice and Repotting’ stand along with fellow society members at their orchid shows, which are held twice a year.

Nick Fry, another BOS committee member and also its publicity officer, came to orchids via a less exotic route, as he explains: “My interest started with a bee orchid on the North Downs in Kent,” he tells me. “Eventually my interest burgeoned into orchid orientated travels in the Atlantic Forest in Brazil where I also had to negotiate snakes.”

Nick has been growing orchids for 28 years. Mostly he grows epiphytic orchids – which in their wild habitat, where there is abundant moisture in the air, are found growing on tree branches. By contrast Michael mostly grows terrestrial orchids – those that in their wild habitat grow on the ground.

Bournemouth Orchid Society’s annual public shows, which are held on the last Saturday in February and the last Saturday in September, have been described as ‘one of the best Orchid Society Shows in the country’. The public shows provide a great opportunity to enjoy these exotic blooms, which come in all shapes, sizes and hues, as well as getting expert advice on orchid growing.

The many colourful displays at the show are provided by orchid vendors, as well as showpiece orchids grown by society members who submit their best orchids for competition – the finest specimens of their type are given an award. I was dazzled by the huge variety of orchids for sale which ranged from those that will thrive on a windowsill to orchids that require conditions that can only be provided by a heated greenhouse.

BOS are keen to make their shows accessible for everyone and when I visited their autumn show there was a small but near constant queue for the ‘Advice and Repotting’ stand. Anyone who has ever bought or been given a flowering orchid and then found that it does not reflower can bring the plant or a photo of it to the show and get advice on how to get it flowering again. Sick orchids, or photos of them, can also be brought in for a diagnosis at the Plant Clinic who will also give advice on how to bring them back to health. You can even take your orchid to the show and have it tidied up and repotted by experts!

Over recent years the horticultural trade has been linked to declining wild orchid populations however BOS actively seeks out experts to lead discussions on current research in orchid conservation and orchid conservation projects. At their Autumn Show Amy Hinsley, who is carrying out PhD research on orchid trade at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, gave a talk. For the Spring Show in February BOS have invited the Writhlington Orchid Project, a school-based orchid growing and orchid conservation enterprise, to talk about their work.

The Writhlington School is in Somerset but BOS would be keen to support a similar school-based project in Dorset, and as Nick explains, orchid conservation is a fundamental element of orchid growing. “Orchid growers often become custodians of orchid species that have declined in the wild due to habitat loss. Being knowledgeable about orchid cultivation can also help with preservation - the intersection between orchid growers and orchid conservation is not just about prevention of trade in endangered species but also using growers’ knowledge in conservation.”

So whether you are an orchid fan or just curious to find out more visiting this month’s Bournemouth Orchid Society show will not only give you practical advice and tell you about the conservation of the species in the wild but also provide a visual spectacle that will brighten up the winter months and potentially inspire more orchid enthusiasts for the future.

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Bournemouth Orchid Society

Founded in 1959 the Bournemouth Orchid Society is one of the largest amateur orchid societies in the UK. As well as holding twice yearly public shows in February and September, the Society also holds monthly meetings which include lectures and sharing of expertise at the Bournemouth Natural Science Society, 39 Christchurch Road, Bournemouth. There are also regular social events and visits to orchid nurseries.

Spring Show: 22 February, Allendale Community Centre, Wimborne. Show opens to the public at noon (ends 4.30pm). Entrance fee £3.

Membership: £15 per year or £25 for a couple

More details: Visit their website Erythos.com/BOS or call Honorary Secretary Ken Griffiths on 01425 672492

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Getting started with orchids

Most orchids like good light but not full sun.

Bathrooms are good for orchids that like humidity.

Never leave an orchid sitting in water; their roots will rot.

Buy one orchid and see how you go with it. Even a talented plantsman can expect a few initial losses of plants.

Get a book that offers specific tips on the conditions that different types of orchids thrive in and how to create those conditions at home.

Join a club so that you can get hands on advice.

Vandas and Phalaenopsisor (also known as moth orchids) are the easiest orchids to start with as they can cope with the dry air conditions found in modern houses, and their flowers last a long time.

Vandas like bright light and can be grown placed in a glass vase with no soil; so you can see what is happening. All you need to do is fill the vase with rainwater or distilled water once a week and then tip it out.

Phalaenopsis do not need as much light as Vandas, and their flowers last even longer.

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