Behind the Scenes at Asia in Bloom: The Orchid Show

Renee T. —  February 8, 2018 — 5 Comments

The hand-carved Buddha is in the house. A circa-1850 glazed Chinese jar is filled with green Cymbidium orchids native to Asia. And we’re pampering 10,000 other orchids so they’ll be in full flower for Asia in Bloom: The Orchid Show.

Lighting crews, horticulturists, and dozens of other staff members are putting the finishing touches on Asia in Bloom: The Orchid Show, the Chicago Botanic Garden’s biggest flower exhibition of the year. The Show features sweeps of orchids native to Asia, blooming with color and scent. In our heated greenhouses and galleries, the exhibition runs February 10 to March 25 and kicks off with a Members’ Preview night on Friday, February 9.

A circa-1900s hand-carved Buddha is unwrapped for display by Gabe Hutchison

A circa-1900s hand-carved Buddha, on loan from Pagoda Red, is being prepared for display. In parts of Asia, such as Myanmar, orchids are used as offerings to Buddha.

This year’s Orchid Show is infused with a deep sense of history and culture, thanks to our friends at Pagoda Red galleries in Winnetka and Chicago. Pagoda Red loaned us many lovely items—including the circa-1900 Buddha and vintage glazed jar from Shanxi province, China—that helped us bring the theme Asia in Bloom to life.

You’ll see Pagoda Red’s pieces throughout the Show, as grace notes to the stories and legends we’re telling about orchids in Asia. The narrative includes fairies, native headhunters, and the secret ingredient (we cannot vouch for this, sorry) in love potions.  

From dream to reality

Here’s a peek at how we make our design ideas happen:  

This idea for an entryway was inspired by a modern Japanese tea house. It started with a sketch by Gabriel Hutchison, the Garden’s exhibitions and programs production manager.

Gabriel Hutchison's Japanese tea house sketch illustrates his concept for the show.

Gabriel Hutchison’s Japanese tea house sketch illustrates his concept for the show.

Carpentry supervisor Andy Swets built a frame for the tea house and constructed the finished walls.

Frame for the 2018 Orchid Show "tea house" entryway

A recessed panel in the frame will house a “window” featuring orchids.

A fabricated "window" backed by shoji screens for the Orchid Show 2018

The finished window, backed with shoji screens

Horticulturist Brian Barker sketched this idea for a Japanese-inspired dry garden surrounded by rolled bamboo walls:

Sketch of the Joutras Gallery bamboo walls and dry garden concept

It took three crew members two days to get the rolled bamboo walls just right.

The finished bamboo wall in the Joutras Gallery as part of the Orchid Show 2018.

The finished walls support moss baskets filled with orchids native to Asia in the Joutras Gallery.

Brian and senior horticulturist Salina Wunderle also thought it would be cool (pun intended) to shade orchids in the Semitropical Greenhouse with handmade parasols from Myanmar:

Handmade parasols from Myanmar hang in the greenhouse.

Handmade parasols filter light from the greenhouse roof above the “checkerboard.”

Meanwhile, our horticulturists are keeping a close eye on the 10,000 orchids, each of which has its own water, humidity, temperature, and light requirements.

Other new features

New this year is a display of the graceful Japanese flower arrangements known as ikebana, with orchids as the focus. Also new is Orchids After Hours on Thursdays, from 4 to 8 p.m., with Asian beer, sake, sushi, poke bowls, and other light fare for purchase.

Rhynchostylis orchid

This Rhynchostylis orchid, native to the humid forests of India and Southeast Asia, was kept in our new orchid house at 60 degrees Fahrenheit so it wouldn’t bloom too early.

Remember that the look of the Orchid Show changes throughout, as new orchids come into bloom and the ikebana displays change. And the Semitropical Greenhouse? You’ll get a different view each time, depending on the angle of the winter sun as it shines through the patterned parasols on to the orchids.  

Pro tip: Save time and buy tickets and parking in advance; members park for free. Share your photos: #CBGOrchidShow


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Renee T.

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Renee T. is an editor at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

5 responses to Behind the Scenes at Asia in Bloom: The Orchid Show

  1. Beautiful orchid show
    But concerned that you chose t decorate with items from Myanmar.
    A country currently practicing genocide against the Rohingya people.

    • Thank you for your comments about the Orchid Show.
      All of the props in this year’s Orchid Show, including the parasols from Myanmar, are meant to pay homage to the rich culture and traditions of Asia, and not intended as any commentary beyond that.

  2. So sorry that you have decided to make the orchid show a shrine to buda. I regret that I cannot attend because of this. In the future I hope that you take care not to leave flower “offerings to idols”.

  3. Asian gardens are absolutely beautiful and peaceful. It is a time for simple beauty and peace of mind for everyone. I cannot wait to attend. My husband and I love the serenity that orchids do offer.

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