Inside Eye Candy: A Guide to Orchid and Tropical Bonsai Show
In my ten years here at Phipps, Eye Candy has been the most sensory-rich Orchid and Tropical Bonsai Show we have displayed — it is incredibly fragrant and colorful, with new ways of displaying orchids and added details to our bonsai collection that just beg for you to stop and look closer. As the associate director of exhibits, I design many of our seasonal flower shows, and for this show, I had the pleasure of pairing up with our orchid specialist and bonsai specialist to highlight their collections and get creative with new display ideas.
This year includes a wow factor that greets visitors when they walk into the Palm Court. Standing at six feet tall, two oversized orchid lollipops are planted with miniature pink and white candy striped Phalaenopsis ‘Little Gem Stripes.’ I worked with our orchid specialist Katie Schuller to come up with the concept for displaying these orchids in a fun new way. Each lollipop head is made of an internal 20” topiary sphere stuffed with a planting medium of sphagnum moss, and then planted with 200 individual orchids. The lollipop head is then set on top of a post which we covered in a waterproof paper to resemble the paper sticks of said confectionary.
In our Sunken Garden, orchids are also displayed in colorful hanging kokedama, the Japanese art form of growing plants in small moss-covered spheres of soil. Katie worked with horticulture staff to plant these up with Oncidium hybrids, then wrapped the moss spheres in vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow yarn to compliment the color scheme in this room. Suspended in air, plants grown in the style of kokedama are fun and simple to make at home as well.
The Serpentine Room currently has on display 28 tropical specimens from our bonsai collection. In the art of bonsai, trees can be classified by the style in which they resemble circumstances in nature — such as the “cascade” style which imitates the way a tree may be growing on a steep cliff, bending downward from constant wind or snow. To show off the styles in our collection, we created simple white backdrops to put the emphasis on the branching and detail of selected bonsai, and interpreted their different styles. There’s a true skill and art to bonsai care, some of our bonsai trees have been “in training” for over 35 years, but the art lies in making the tree look much older than it actually is.
This is my favorite time of year to dazzle with color, when the temperature outside is in the single digits and the snow and wind can be brutal. A walk through the Conservatory this time of year offers a lot more than just eye candy, it is a true sensory experience. In the Palm Court, we selected a series of fragrant orchids standing out in hot pink planters in the planting beds. My favorite is Oncidium Sharry Baby ‘Sweet Fragrance,’ it smells like raspberry and dark chocolate together, a winning combo in my book. It fascinates me that these exquisitely beautiful flowers also have an incredible fragrance as well. The Conservatory’s warmth and humidity is also desirable in the middle of winter, so make a plan to stop in soon and smell the orchids!
Photos © Paul g. Wiegman, Phil Johnson II