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Photographing Orchids

Carol Freeman —  February 18, 2015 — 2 Comments

Compared to photographing flowers outside, photographing in the Greenhouses will be much more challenging and darker than you think.

Photograph the Orchid Show through March 15.
 
Tripods and monopods are allowed in the Orchid Show on Wednesdays during public exhibition hours. Enter your photos in our digital photo contest here.

It may be bright outside, but the light in the greenhouses is being filtered through glass and other plant material; be aware that it will be even darker on overcast days. Most people will be hand-holding cameras, so getting shots that are sharp will take some adjustments. Here are a few things you can try:

Use a shorter lens.

This will be a bit of a compromise, as many of the orchids are up high or hard to reach. It would be nice to use a longer lens to get photographic access to more of the flowers in the Greenhouses. However, a shorter lens—100mm or less—is easier to hand-hold, and has a better chance of capturing sharp images at a slower shutter speed. (Typically, you want to have at least 1/400th of a second for a 400mm lens, or 1/100th of a second for a 100mm lens, etc., so the shorter lens will gain you two stops in this example—a significant benefit when taking hand-held shots.)

PHOTO: Orchid.

With a limited depth of field, I chose to focus on the “face” I saw in this orchid. Photo ©Carol Freeman

Watch for what is in the background.

It is easy to be distracted by the beauty of the orchids and then get home and realize there are many unwanted elements in your photos. One easy option is to move in closer. When you get closer to the flower, you will get less background around the flower. Find flowers that are near the edge of an aisle—you will then be able to move your camera slightly up or down, or left to right, to get a pleasing background. Sometimes just an inch of movement can make all the difference.

PHOTO: Orchid.

Note the distracting window in the background. Photo ©Carol Freeman

PHOTO: Orchid.

By moving just a few inches to my left, I was able to get a more pleasing background for this orchid. Photo ©Carol Freeman

Increase your ISO.

Many of the newer cameras have improved sensors that let you increase the ISO and still get clean images with little noise. I like to do an ISO test before going out to shoot to see just how far I can push the ISO and still get images I find pleasing. It’s best to do this before you are on site so you will be able to review the images on a large screen and know what will be acceptable to you on the day of your visit. Every camera is different, and what may work for me may be too grainy for you. Most cameras will provide nice images in the 400 to 800 ISO range, and some can go much higher.

PHOTO: Orchids.

I was able to get a nice shot of these orchids—in a dark area—by upping my ISO to 1000. Photo ©Carol Freeman

Use your flash.

I much prefer natural lighting, but in the Greenhouses on a cloudy day, there may be no other option for getting that shot of “the most beautiful orchid you have ever seen” that is hiding in the shadows.

PHOTO: Orchids.

When using my flash, I can add some extra depth of field. Here I was able to get most of the flower sharp. Photo ©Carol Freeman

PHOTO: Orchids.

Sometimes using a flash is the only way to get a shot. Here I found orchids that were away from other elements, limiting the distracting effects of the flash. Photo ©Carol Freeman

Increase your depth of field.

Orchids are tricky to photograph, even in ideal conditions. Many of them are deep flowers and require a large depth of field to get a pleasing amount of the flower in focus. Increasing the depth of field, however, comes with a price, as the increased depth will often allow much of the background to be in focus as well. And in the Greenhouses, you may not want what is in the background to be in focus, especially windows, people, or other parts of the building. Hand-in-hand with depth of field is plane of focus. Many orchids have very interesting centers, almost like faces. Be sure to get those features in focus to make the whole photo look sharper.

PHOTO: Orchids.

By moving closer, you can eliminate the distracting elements from your shot. Photo ©Carol Freeman

PHOTO: Orchids.

Here I moved in even closer. I love capturing the intricate details of the orchids. Photo ©Carol Freeman

Have fun, experiment with different apertures, and get creative with composition! There is no right or wrong way to photograph these amazing flowers. They are here for your enjoyment and all that is needed is your appreciation.


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

It’s a sneak peek behind the scenes of our second annual Orchid Show, which opens at the Chicago Botanic Garden this weekend! (Purchase tickets here.)

And the winner is?
Could be you!
 
Finally got that gorgeous shot? Enter it in our Digital Photography Contest! Send the best of what you’ve photographed at the Orchid Show. Click here for details.

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

The most frequently asked question at our Orchid Show last year: “How do I repot my orchid?” The answer is with tender loving care, of course…and these easy-to-follow tips found on our website.

PHOTO: Repotting an orchid.


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The start of a new year prompted us to ask experts here at the Chicago Botanic Garden what they expect to see in 2015. Their predictions might help you anticipate problems, promote pollinators, and add interest to your own patch of green.

What’s likely to trend? Rainwater management, cumulative stress problems, corresponding color schemes, new compact hybrids, and heightened concern for butterflies, birds, and bees.

“Two fundamental issues will drive gardening trends in 2015—erratic weather patterns and a growing concern for the environment,” said Tom Tiddens, supervisor of plant health care. Additionally, gardeners will move away from contrasting color schemes and increase their use of outdoor spaces for entertaining and relaxing. Here’s a closer at what our experts anticipate for the coming season:

Cumulative Stress

Several years of erratic weather—drought followed by prolonged, record-breaking cold—have had a cumulative stress effect on many plants, especially evergreens. “I think we will be seeing more stress-related problems in 2015,” Tiddens said. Stress causes a lack of plant vigor, increasing plants’ susceptibility to pests and diseases.

PHOTO: Brown marmorated stink bug.

Be on the lookout for brown marmorated stink bug ( Halyomorpha halys ). Photo by David R. Lance, USDA APHIS PPQ

Give your plants extra TLC and be on the lookout for viburnum leaf beetle, expected to hit the Chicago region soon. Other high-consequence plant pests and pathogens to watch for include brown marmorated stink bug, lantern fly, and thousand cankers disease. Emerald ash borer and Asian longhorn beetle remain threats.

Rainwater Management

More home gardeners will take steps to either improve or prevent the lake that seems to form in their yard every time it rains, said Heather Sherwood, senior horticulturist. Rain barrels and rain gardens will be two increasingly popular solutions. Rain gardens temporarily hold rainwater and rely on specialized native plants to wick water into the soil. Rain gardens offer many environmental benefits, soaking up 30 percent more water than a typical lawn, and minimizing the pollutants that flow into storm drains. The native plants used in rain gardens provide habitat for birds, bees, and beneficial insects. To learn more, go to: chicagobotanic.org/conservation/rain_garden or chicagobotanic.org/library/spotlight/raingardens.

Corresponding Color Schemes

PHOTO: Dahlia 'Gitt's Crazy'.

Monochromatic color schemes are in! Experiment with the 2015 Pantone Color of the Year: “Marsala.” (Shown: Dahlia ‘Gitt’s Crazy’)

Gardeners will move toward more monochromatic displays, such as using shades of oranges alone, or shades of purples and blues together in the same design, according to Tim Pollak, outdoor floriculturist. Increased use of leaf interest will provide texture and shades of green. Sherwood sees red: from the earliest tulips to azaleas, dahlias, Japanese maples, large maples in the fall, and lastly, the red twigs of dogwood for seasonal interest.

Pollak also predicts home gardeners will use their outdoor spaces more and more for relaxing and entertaining, increasing the demand for outdoor décor. The Antiques, Garden & Design Show, April 17–19, 2015, will offer ideas and one-of-a-kind garden elements.

Less Is More

Jacob Burns, curator of herbaceous perennials, is excited to see new compact hybrids to make their way into the U.S. market next year, and expects them to catch on with home gardeners. New breeding efforts have produced dwarf versions of Japanese anemones (Anemone x hybrida) that are perfect for containers, or the front of the border. Rare among these fall-blooming windflowers is Anemone ‘Wild Swan’, which produces white blooms with a beautiful blue backing. Burns also welcomes new compact cultivars of little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) available in 2015. ‘Cinnamon Girl’ reaches a height of just 28 inches, and transitions to red-purple foliage by late summer. Also on his list are cultivars ‘Twilight Zone’ and ‘Smoke Signal’.

Birds, Bees, and Butterflies

PHOTO: A honeybee from the Fruit & Vegetable Garden hives pollinates some Echinacea purpurea

A honeybee from the Fruit & Vegetable Garden hives pollinates some Echinacea purpurea.

The increased availability of equipment and support—both online, and at better garden centers and the Chicago Botanic Garden—will help boost the number of backyard beekeepers, said Lisa Hilgenberg, horticulturist, Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden. Hand in hand with the hives will be the continued rise of bird- and pollinator-friendly gardens filled with nectar-rich and native host plants. Pollak predicts a continued upward trend in demand for organic, pesticide-free and non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) plants and products. Gardeners looking for more information may be interested in attending a Beginning Beekeeping Workshop on February 7, 2015.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Scientist with Orchid Fever

Karen Z. —  January 14, 2015 — 2 Comments

With our second Orchid Show set to open on February 14 and the first shipment of flowers due to arrive any day, we all have a touch of orchid fever here at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Naturally, we wondered who among us might have the worst case (or best, depending on how you look at it). So we sent out a simple query: do you grow orchids at home? Here follows the best answer ever, from Jim Ault, Ph.D. (He’s our director of ornamental plant research and manager of the Chicagoland Grows plant introduction program.)

PHOTO: Orchids in kitchen window at Ault house.

A view of the kitchen window at the Ault house.

Yes, I do indeed grow orchids at home. I haven’t counted them recently, but I’d admit to 50-plus plants. 

I simply find orchids to be fascinating for their seemingly infinite variations of flower sizes, shapes, colors, fragrance (very important to me!), and for their diverse ecological adaptations (epiphytes, terrestrials, lithophytes) and the resulting puzzle of how best to cultivate them. I first got interested in orchids in the 1970s, both from seeing some in the greenhouses at the University of Michigan, and also from visiting my grandmother in Miami. She was very active in the Florida fern society of the time, and had a backyard of ferns she grew from spores, with a smaller collection of orchids. She would send me home with plants on every visit, all of which I eventually lost, as I didn’t really have a clue as to how to grow them! But I was hooked, I think safe to say now, for life.

PHOTO: Rhynchostylis gigantea.

Rhynchostylis gigantea

As a graduate student in the 1980s, I had a fairly extensive collection of orchids, and was in fact breeding them and germinating their seed in tissue culture; my first breeding projects ever. This hobby actually led me to my career as a plant breeder (of perennial plants) today. I was a member of the Baton Rouge Orchid Society for five or six years, attended quite a few orchid shows and meetings, gave lectures on orchids, and had the chance to visit some of the venerable orchid businesses like Stewart Orchids in California, Fennell’s Orchid Jungle, and Jones and Scully in Florida at perhaps their peak heydays. But my orchid collection had to be abandoned in the late ’80s when I moved to Pennsylvania. Most were sold to a nursery in North Carolina, and some were donated to Longwood Gardens, where I worked from 1988 to 1995.

My orchid hobby came and went multiple times over the intervening years (decades), mostly from a lack of appropriate space to grow them, time, etc. But starting about three years ago, I began seriously accumulating plants again. There was a bit of a learning curve, as many of the hybrids I knew were no longer available; there has been an explosion of breeding new orchid hybrids, many of which were unknown to me; and also orchid names are changing rapidly due to modern DNA technology being used to revise their nomenclature. Just figuring out where to buy plants was an adventure, as most of the orchid nurseries I knew were long gone.  

PHOTO: Slc. Little Toshie 'Gold Country' (upper) and Sc. Seagull's Beaulu Queen (lower).

Slc. Little Toshie ‘Gold Country’ (upper) and Sc. Seagull’s Beaulu Queen (lower)

Currently I grow mostly Cattleya alliance species and hybrids, with an emphasis on the “mini-catts” or miniature Cattleyas, and also a smattering of the larger Cattleyas. Among my favorites of this group are Cattleya walkeriana selections with their heady mix of cinnamon and citrus fragrance (to my nose) and their hybrids like Cattleya Mini Purple; various species formerly in the genus Laelia such as Laelia pumila, (= Cattleya pumila), Laelia dayana (= Cattleya bicalhoi), Laelia sincorana (= Cattleya sincorana), and other closely related jewels of the orchid world.

I’m excited to have in bloom right now the diminutive Sophronitis coccinea (= Cattleya coccinea) with oversized, 2-inch wide flowers of an intense orange-red on a plant no larger than 3 inches tall. S. coccinea is a challenge to grow at all, let alone grow well, but its hybrids are much easier to cultivate, and strut their stuff with flamboyant flowers in deep red, orange, purple, and violet, often produced two and even three times a year.

I also grow a modest number of other species and their hybrids, mostly Neofinetia falcata, Rhynchostylis gigantea, and related hybrids.

PHOTO: Laelia pumila 'Hawaii'

Laelia pumila ‘Hawaii’

I grow most of my orchids in bark mixes, some in New Zealand sphagnum. I use both plastic and clay pots as well as plastic or wood baskets. I prefer the latter as the plants respond best to the excellent aeration around their roots that the open wood baskets provide. Unfortunately this also poses a challenge, figuring out how to hang baskets close enough to windows to provide the necessary high light needed, as well as providing sufficient humidity in the dry winter months. 

My plants spend the summer outdoors on a nursery bench under a piece of shade cloth, and overwinter indoors under lights in the basement, and in nearly every south-facing window in the house! My family is to be commended for their suffering—and patience—after finding sinks and bathtubs filled with plants freshly watered, or obstructed views out windows crowded with plants. Such is life with an orchid addict.

The 2015 Orchid Show opens on February 14—a lovely way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Order your tickets now!


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org