A week ago on Saturday I had a chance to enjoy the RHS Orchid Show & Plant Fair in London. Weather was sunny and warm and tulips greeted me cheerfully with bright pink on the streets of Westminster. First, I visited extravagant orchid displays at Lindley Hall. Orchids were hanging from the ceiling, rising up on trees, tacked in enormous moss plates and planted amongst ferns. Small nurseries from Ecuador, Peru, Malaysia and Taiwan were offering cool and rare houseplants found nowhere in the UK. Filled with exotic colours from head to toe I crossed the road to Lawrence Hall. There I found lovely spring flowers: narcissi, muscari, primroses and helleborus; a beautiful Fuji cherry Kojo-No-Mai and a wide range of indoor plants including succulents, air plants, begonias and streptocarpus.
Here are some of the wonderful displays that caught my attention.
At the entrance to the show a massive orchid covered with white blossoms welcomed visitors. It was part of the Writhlington School Orchid display and 27 years old, marking a date when this school started cultivating orchids on its grounds. The display was designed by school pupils from years 7 to 13 who knew more botanical information about orchids than me. That wasn’t surprising as Writhlington students work with orchids on a daily basis, before and after school. They are involved in the propagation of orchids from seed, cultivation of those orchids in school greenhouses, research science and expeditions overseas.
Pupils also participate in creating the orchid displays for each show. I was intrigued by their exhibition this year which cleverly combined the biggest and the tiniest of orchids as well as some fragrant varieties (don’t ask me their names!). I particularly liked two miniature orchids from the South America, Stelis Lapio and Poroglossum Meridionale. I was looking to buy this pair, but none of exhibitors had them. In a matter of minutes I acquired reputation as an orchid specialist hunting for rare varieties! It was funny and a bit embarrassing!
Have you heard about Jane Perrone’s On The Ledge show? Listening to this podcast got me hooked on collecting and propagating houseplants. Few episodes back Jane introduced OTLsowalong, a new project to get people involved in growing their own indoor plants from seed. Discovering Clivia at the show made me think this would be a perfect plant for the Sowalong project. From seeds to berries in four years – I am certainly up for this challenge!
- Push seeds in the soil half way , don’t cover completely
- Seeds germinate in 6 to 8 weeks at a temperature around 20°C
- Restrict roots to encourage flowering
- It will take 4 to 5 years for first flowers to appear in spring
- To pollinate flowers transfer pollen from one flower to another for 5 consecutive days
- Leave green berries on the stalk until they change colour to yellow, peach or red
- Colour of the berry indicates what colour the flower will be
- Clean your berries and start a growing cycle again!
I am fascinated by air plants (Tillandsia). They are so unbelievably weird! My friend Caro said they look like fish out of the water, which is certainly true. Only… they don’t like water, closing their stomata during the day to prevent water loss and opening them at night to breathe carbon dioxide. Tillandsia remind me of aliens from outer space. First they invaded the rain forests, deserts and mountains in the Americas and now air plants have conquered our homes. Small, colourful, exotic and easy to care for, they have become popular quickly.
I stopped by the Weird Plants display to begin my journey in the Tillandsia world. Gill gave me tips on their care and propagation and kindly wrote the names of plants I chose. Water, air and light are three main components of air plant care. Submerge them in water two-three times a week, shake off excess and ensure good air circulation. Place them in a bright area, but not direct sunlight.
I started my collection with Tillandsia Pseudobaileyi, Kolbii and Butzii but I will be back at RHS Urban Show in October to pick up some more weird plants from Gill.
I remember propagating Begonias from my childhood. Cutting leaves, sticking them in the soil, waiting impatiently for a new plant to grow! So much excitement and fun! Begonias were firmly imprinted in my brain as pre-historic beasts. The name Begonia Rex and hairy spiral leaves, surely they were as ancient as dinosaurs. Well, not quite so…
Begonia Rex was introduced to England from India in 1856 by pure accident! It is said the plant arrived from Assam on an orchid and was spotted by a Belgian horticulturalist, Jean Linden. Since Victorian times, many varieties have been developed, including a new breeding line of Super Rex Begonias with large leaves and double the height from Dibleys.
There were lots of stunning begonias at Dibleys display from shinning green to deepest red, all forms and shapes: curly, hairy, spirally and star-like.
My favourite begonias are Emerald Giant (large leaves with various shades of green), Escargot (super spiral-y), Curly Fireflush (very red-hairy), Silver Lace (elegant white with dark edge) and I treated myself to the last two varieties.
Not being an orchid specialist or an enthusiast, I enjoyed the day, discovered weird and wonderful houseplants, learnt about their habitats, wrote down a few Latin names and felt happy surrounded by beautiful spring flowers and colourful orchid displays. Well worth a visit!