Orchids Aloft!

Ann McCulloh, contributing editor

The orchids have landed! Or rather, they are hovering, given the theme of this season’s Orchidmania at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. “Hanging Gardens” are beautifully realized in a number of inventive assemblages that feature this stunningly colorful and varied family of flowers. The current exhibit reveals a sophisticated design sense in nearly every detail. And lovely details abound!


I visited this year’s version of the Garden’s annual orchid extravaganza on a recent sunny weekday afternoon. This year the show runs from January 29th through March 5. http://www.cbgarden.org/orchid-mania.aspx. The best times for leisurely, less-crowded visiting are weekdays after the school buses depart, around 1pm. Greeted in the lobby by a remarkably realistic oversized sculpture of the familiar Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis species), I walked under a dense arch of yellow Cymbidiums into the darkened Atrium. There, vertical towers of Moth Orchids, ferns and Spanish moss rise from fountains pouring into a dramatically purple-lit pool.

 Colorful lighting is another feature of the show.

Orchids “float” throughout the show, suspended in open grapevine spheres, on bamboo towers and levitating in baskets at nose and eye level.


Artful displays in the dark, somewhat dry interior spaces of the building rely on the familiar, incredibly durable Moth Orchid.

(Moth basket)

I have real affection for this type of orchid, which can actually thrive and rebloom in challenging living spaces, where most orchids wither, yellow and decline.

A delicious diversity of orchid color, texture and form awaits visitors in the glasshouses, where abundant light, warmth and humidity help the flowers flourish. Orchids, ferns and bromeliads (aka “air plants”) play off each other in impressive set pieces.


The key to success with orchids (well, plants of any type) is in reproducing the conditions of their original environment. Many orchids, like this blue Vanda, require very bright, but indirect light, temperatures that range above human comfort, and humidity that would cause the sofa to grow mold.


For anyone who wants to succeed with orchids at home, the American Orchid Society provides a wealth of information tailored to specific types of orchids on their website in the “All About Orchids” section http://www.aos.org/orchids.aspx. The Garden will host an orchid sale with multiple vendors on the weekend of February 18th and 19th.

I fall under the spell of orchids every year in the dreary depths of February. More than any other family of flowers they invite fantastic comparisons. The odd ruses they employ to trick insects into pollinating them, the fleshy substance of their petals, and even the characteristic “nose” in the center of each blossom give them a sort of animal presence. I mean, don’t these Pansy Orchids (Miltonia sp.)

( Miltonia) make you think of the Seven Dwarves? And this Slipper Orchid (Paphiopedilum)

(Villain) seems positively villainous, while these two are frankly sensual?


This natural extravagance of shape, color and pattern brings out an answering creative impulse in artists of all sorts. Orchids are like candy to photographers, of course, and photo contest entries are on display, but that is just the beginning.


(Candy) There’s more orchid themed art in the Café, with tasty paintings on silk by Gunther Schwegler,



and even a pretty table setting with a lush petal-covered table cloth. A silk painting workshop is offered in March, too, more info on the Garden’s web site. A very fun feature of Orchidmania is the dozen or so orchid-inspired dresses by students in the fashion design program of Kent state University, on display in Clarke Hall.


If this season has you feeling uninspired or pessimistic, the orchid show may provide much-needed uplift! Bring your camera, and give yourself time to saunter slowly and stop often. Get lost in some fabulous detailed flower.


Seek out the sweet fragrances of the Chocolate Orchid (Oncidium ‘Sweet Sharrie Baby’)
(SharrieBaby) and the Foxtail Orchid (Rhynchostylis)


(Foxtail) It’s an invitation to take some deep, slow breaths and feel yourself float a little.