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Designing the 2017 Orchid Show

Renee T. —  February 9, 2017 — 5 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

It’s a sneak peek behind the scenes of our annual Orchid Show! (Purchase tickets here.)

All hands are on deck as the last orchid shipments have been delivered, the ladders are lowered, the final moss gets tucked in, the lights get positioned, and the delicate task of watering and caring for 10,000 orchids begins.

Behind the scenes, it’s been quite a production, and staff have been documenting it all. Their “befores” and “afters” give you an idea of the complex and wildly creative infrastructure that supports all those gorgeous orchids. 

Looking forward to seeing you there—and don’t forget your camera!

PHOTO: Boxes of orchids lined up for unpacking.

Organized orchids: as boxes and boxes of orchids from warm-weather nurseries arrived, they were staged in Joutras Gallery…

PHOTO: Unpacked orchids await final placement on rows of tables in Nichols Hall.

Unpacked orchids line tables as they await placement in the exhibition.

PHOTO: Horticulturist Liz Rex unravels Vanda roots.

Patience and a horticulturist’s touch: root-bound Vanda orchids had to be teased out of not one, but two pots each, root by root.

PHOTO: Vanda orchids in the greenhouse.

Each Vanda is then tucked into the displays in the Tropical Greenhouse.

PHOTO: Horticulturist Heather Sherwood creating orchid chain.

Upcycling at its best: horticulturist Heather Sherwood trimmed ten years of wisteria vine growth from the English Walled Garden…

PHOTO: Finished orchid chain.

…then hung it inside the skylight as a backdrop for these “waterfall” chains of mini Phalaenopses.

PHOTO: Notched bamboo supports await orchid plantings.

What a difference a week makes! Last Friday, bamboo supports in the Bridge Gallery looked like this.

PHOTO: Dendrobium orchids fill bamboo supports.

This week, Dendrobium orchids are being layered in, transforming the entrance to the Orchid Show.

PHOTO: Staff plant up the bamboo trees and wire baskets to create orchid trees.

Building orchid nests: the size of a small tree, each orchid “nest” holds 175 to 200 brightly colored orchids.

PHOTO: A blooming Phalaenopsis orchid tree in the exhibition.

Finished “trees” in both bud and bloom ensure peak blooms throughout the show.


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Spring isn’t progressing very quickly outside, so we stopped by the production greenhouses to find out how spring is growing behind the scenes. Tim Pollak, outdoor floriculturist, was excited to show us what it takes to grow thousands of the spring annuals and vegetables that will soon be planted outdoors.

Tim told us we are growing 73,000 spring annuals and vegetables this year to be planted outside in the gardens in April. If you like pansies and violas, you are in for a treat, as we’ve planted almost 30,000 of them! A lot of planning goes into scheduling when to start seeds, thin them, transplant them, and harden them off to be ready when each horticulturist needs them. The production team of more than 50 staff members and volunteers makes it all look easy, but I’m guessing with this harsh winter, it hasn’t been easy.

Just one of the wows visitors will see this spring are the hayracks that hang over the bridge from the Visitor Center to the main island. Staff members and volunteers just recently spent 12 hours planting them with 1,200 plants. They will grow safely in the greenhouses until the weather gets warm enough to bring them outside. Can’t wait!

Click on the video link above or watch on YouTube to learn all about getting ready for spring!

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

In three days, the Chicago Botanic Garden will present its first ever Garden-designed Orchid Show (purchase tickets here).

PHOTO: Gabe Hutchison in the greenhouse.

Horticulturist Gabe Hutchison attaches orchids to their new habitat: the orchid trees in the Tropical Greenhouse.

Looking at it now, the winter of 2014 has not been an ideal year to tackle an in-depth and delicate project of this scale. A winter season with near record snowfall and record low temperatures has posed plenty of challenges in getting warmth-loving tropical orchids to the snowy, freezing Midwest, and securely into the Regenstein Center Greenhouses. Single-digit and sub-zero temperatures have been putting the Garden’s horticulture staff on heightened concern to protect these orchids in their various stages of buds and blooms. The transfer and well-being of more than 10,000 orchids has been a well-orchestrated undertaking shared by Garden staff (especially horticulturist Sharon Nejman) and the vendors who packed and sent the trucks.

PHOTO: A metal cage holding branches is suspended from the greenhouse's glass ceiling.

A combination of metal cage and hazelnut (Corylus) tree branches creates the perfect framing to place an orchid display.

Beginning just a month ago, the Garden’s horticulture staff began a tear-down of Wonderland Express, immediately switching gears to the equally large endeavor of creating and setting up the Orchid Show. Existing Greenhouse beds have been modified to make room for impressive structures, and organic materials host epiphytic orchids of different genera. Presenting these impressive splashes of colorful orchids in a nontraditional display comes with some scalp-scratching challenges.

More than 10,000 orchids find homes on a variety of structures designed and fabricated by Garden staff.

Working closely with Orchid Show designer and horticulturist Brian Barker, I had the shared task of designating orchid choices based on the length of bloom life and needed care, while trying not to limit creativity and whimsy. My experience in maintaining private orchid collections for individuals and overseeing the care and aesthetics of three preexisting cork bark orchid “trees” in the Regenstein Greenhouses opened a role in the planning and installation of the show for me.

PHOTO: Pine bark lines the walls of a hallway, and vines and creepers stretch across the ceiling.

The entry to Nichols Hall transforms into an incredible tropical gateway.

In June 2012, when first presented with the challenge of building a new exhibition—an orchid show—we discovered logistical riddles we hadn’t considered being thrown at us. Along the way, new visions and ideas were presented, and have become focal points of the show during planning. Now we are here at the installation stage, with our materials, wondering,”How do I get hundreds of this particular orchid in these two or three colors to hang sideways or upside down over the visitors’ heads (sometimes way over), and keep the flowers happy?” Or, “How do we water a structure like this, and how do we do it efficiently?” Or, when we discover orchids are not happy in a location, how do we replace them quickly and in a way that doesn’t jeopardize the aesthetics of this visual centerpiece?

PHOTO: Two staffers gently weave orchids and roots into a metal cone framework.

Teamwork is critical! Leah Pilon and Aysa Pogue gently weave orchid roots into a display frame.

Together, the horticulture staff is figuring out the solutions to these in-no-way-little challenges as they are presented, and in the process, admiring the great orchid creations that are coming together around us with pride. With every step, we are enjoying Brian Barker’s visions with the awe they deserve, knowing that in a few more days, we will be able to step back and appreciate our final creation and see it in the eyes of a Garden visitor.

Winter white blankets the ground outside, but inside, the Greenhouses are alive with jewel tones.

From the moment the public enters Nichols Hall, crossing through Joutras Gallery and the entrance into the Greenhouses, our goal is to present an experience of grandeur, a lush habitat of color, and a mix of curiosity and wonder.


©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org