Designing the Orchid Show

Renee T. —  February 9, 2017 — 2 Comments

Take a sneak peek behind-the-scenes at the Orchid Show, the Chicago Botanic Garden’s biggest flower show of the year. Buy tickets here.

PHOTO: Phalaenopsis Sogo Yukidan 'V3'

Phalaenopsis Sogo Yukidian ‘V3’

We’ve rolled out the tall ladders, prepped hanging baskets with Spanish moss, and worked hard to keep 10,000 warmth-loving tropical orchids happy (including an orchid that is rarely shown in the United States, Phalaenopsis Sogo Yukidian ‘V3’; be sure to check out the unusual number of big blooms on each spike).

It’s all hands on deck for the Show, which runs February 11 to March 26, following the Members’ Preview night on Friday, February 10. Volunteers across the Garden and beyond have pitched in to help from departments including Education, Model Railroad, and Horticultural Therapy Services, along with our Woman’s Board.

Volunteers from all departments unpack orchids for the Orchid Show 2017.

Volunteers from different departments unpack orchids for the Orchid Show 2017.

It all starts with ideas from our creative team, which starts brainstorming shortly after the end of the previous year’s Orchid Show. 

PHOTO: Sketch of the Orchid Show designs for 2017.

Last June, horticulturist Brian Barker had an idea that looked like this.

The Orchid Show displays in the Tropical Greenhouse.

Now it looks like this: an arch of Vanda and Oncidium orchids between the palms.

Sketch of planter layout for the Orchid Show at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Three big planters are nestled amid the existing greenhouse plantings.

Manzanita branches cover the framework of the planters for the Chicago Botanic Garden's Orchid Show.

Manzanita branches cover the framework of the planters; orchids will fill the top and stem of the structures.

Setting up the structure for the orchid "wind chime"

Setting up the framework

In the completed archway, supporting vines are woven together and attached to a hidden framework. Notice the dangling aerial roots from orchids that are epiphytes—plants that grow on trees, with above-ground rather than in-ground roots.

Sometimes, things don’t always go as planned. Work on the 13-foot high orchid “wind chime” got delayed while we waited and waited for a delivery of bamboo supports from Colombia… Luckily, the shipment arrived before the Show.

When you walk into Nichols Hall, don’t forget to look for the dozens of blooms overhead.

The finished orchid "wind chime" in Nichols Hall

The finished “chime” looks deceptively simple…

This year’s theme is Orchids in Vogue, a playful look at the influence of orchids in popular culture, including fashion. Last summer, senior horticulturist Salina Wunderle came up with an idea for an orchid “dress.” Now we have three design teams working on orchid dresses; come see the final result.

Materials sketch by horticulturist Salina Wunderle for one of this year's highlights: 3 orchid gowns.

This materials sketch by horticulturist Salina Wunderle details one of this year’s highlights: orchid “dresses.”

Salina Wunderle's dress sketch shows how her material choices will be layered to create the final look.

Salina’s dress sketch shows how her material choices will be layered to create the final look. The availability and maintenance of the plants might mean some changes in the final design.

Under construction, this is one of 3 gowns made of orchids and other plants to be displayed at The Orchid Show this year.

We did some trial runs, testing materials to help determine weight and structure, and making sure they’ll stay fresh for the run of the Show.

PHOTO: Cymbidium Sarah Jean 'Peach'

Cymbidium Sarah Jean ‘Peach’

Don’t miss our exclusive Members’ Preview night, Friday, February 10. Visit the Orchid Show February 11 to March 26, 2017. 

…and don’t forget to tag us in your selfies: #CBGOrchidShow


Photos by Maria Rebelo and Robin Carlson.
©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Renee T.

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

2 responses to Designing the Orchid Show

  1. I love orchids and the pictures enclosed are lovely. Orchids can be sturdy when left indoors for long periods of time. I must say the orchid wind chime enclosed here looks beautiful – such a talented and colorful creation! How did they manage to set the orchids on those bamboo chimes? It must have taken a lot of thinking to make this happen. Also, the arch of Vanda and Oncidium orchids between the palms add to a romantic statement.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words!

      Here’s what Gabriel Hutchison, exhibitions and programs production manager, said about the wind chime: “The small Oncidium Twinkles and small Phalaenopsis are actually attached to aluminum structures that are made up of alternating and ascending rings. The larger Phalaenopsis and Vanda orchids are attached to a metal basket structure that is filled with moss to retain moisture at that height. Since the smooth surface of bamboo would make it tricky to adorn with orchids, we left the bamboo poles natural to complement the chains and baskets of orchids.

      Every day, before the Orchid Show opens, members of the horticulture staff get up on tall ladders and water the orchids on the wind chime as needed.”

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