Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
Thanks to Grading Gardens, I have a legitimate excuse for making a spontaneous trip to gardens and other floral events, but even without my dedication for reporting on the front lines of horticulture, I would have had to experience the Orchid Extravaganza show at Longwood Gardens. During my first visit last year I was entranced by the four-acre conservatory, so I could only imagine the picturesque wonder of an orchid show set within this gorgeous greenhouse.
At the Philadelphia Flower Show just week ago, I was spoiled by big, splashy flower arrangements that baffled the senses with countless amounts of blooms in dramatic indoor displays. Longwood’s show had a few similarly ornate constructions, which were beautiful but seemed made for selfies and staged engagement photos. For the most part, however, the orchids that were on display were mixed into the impressive indoor landscaping, which I found refreshing if a bit subtle.
Meandering about, I sometimes didn’t notice the featured orchids right away, but it was fun to discover them as they seemed to appear in unexpected places. The orchid, in its many forms, becomes the guide that leads you through the labyrinth of interconnected glass houses, and functions as a thread that ties all of the different garden rooms together. In fact, following a trail of orchids led me to my favorite section, tucked inconspicuously in the back of the greenhouse, which had bunches of orchids in loose arrangements with informative signs on each species.
Two sculptural installations functioned as central attractions of the show, both featuring the popular Phalaenopsis orchids with their stems of multiple showy blooms adding up to form masses of colorful structures. The first, a twelve-foot archway constructed of pink Phals rising out of a dark reflective pool greeted visitors as they entered the East Conservatory. It really did the trick, beautifully framing the sweeping gardens beyond and looking radiant in the sunlight that streamed through the glass ceilings.
The second, a floral curtain of 250 purple and white Phalaenopsis and Cattleya orchids, draped over a double doorway at the end of a long tree-lined fountain in the Exhibition Hall. It was made more impressive with two huge purple orchid globes suspended above the water of the fountain. The picture is really complete when looking from the perspective of the Main Conservatory, through ivy-covered pillars down a path flanked by a hanging display of rare Japanese orchids.
Taking a detour through the Silver Garden, I discovered hanging over my head another display of orchids that was even more creative and understated. Thin wire attachments hung from the ceiling suspended individual flowering plants, their roots unfurling in a delicate tangle beneath them. This exhibit was more about the structure of the plants and their ability to grow in unique conditions rather than focusing on colors and patterns, so it fit in beautifully with the muted palette of the cactus and succulent garden.
Even though I was appropriately amazed by the Orchid Extravaganza, I must admit that it is difficult to top the horticultural masterwork already on display on any given day at Longwood Gardens. All of the gardens across the property, and especially those housed in the massive Conservatory, are of exceptional quality and designed to impress. (The reopening of their Main Fountain Garden this May after two years of construction will surely be worth another trip.) Any visit to Longwood will not disappoint—it might change themes to fit the season, but it consistently delivers a first-rate garden experience. The orchid show just becomes a great excuse to make a trip to Longwood, whether or not you have a blog.