Ant, Midge, Moth, Fly, Butterfly, Wasp, Hummingbird & Bee Pollination at Bristol Botanic Garden

This weekend is Bristol Botanic Garden’s Bee and Pollination festival. As usual it was up to Writhlington to prove that bees are not the only pollinators.  Simon and Otto joined us to help with our quest.  We set at off at 7am, from the Writhlington greenhouse, with Simons van loaded with orchids.  Much to Simon’s relief we decided our very smelly Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis should stay behind as we felt it was too large for our display.  It smells of rotting flesh to attract carrion flies.

Otto set up a lovely display of orchids and their pollinators.

Among our pollinators were ants, midges, flies, wasps, butterflies, hummingbirds and bees. One of the great favourites was Dracula amaliae also known as the Monkey Face orchid.  It is pollinated by fungus gnats and is trying to look like a mushroom.  Dracula amaliae likes to be grown cool, shady and wet.  The flowers grow downwards from the base of the leaves so it needs to be in a basket to allow the flowers to hang down.  In the greenhouse this orchids grows well in Cool Americas where we can replicate its native Colombian, cloud forest home.

Our Restrepias were popular too.  Below is Restrepia purpurea which is pollinated by flies.

Dendrochilum abbreviatum, also pollinated by flies is native to Java and we grow it in our Warm Asia section at a minimum of 17 degrees celsius.

Our sales table was popular too.  Lots of our orchids have gone to new homes today.  Customers were pleased to be given our website details so that they could read about orchid care.

Today was a time for meeting old friends and making new ones.  Many people said they had heard of Writhlington school because they had read newspaper articles, seen us on Points West, Countryfile, Green planet and the radio. Our orchids are indeed famous.










Charles Darwin at Home

Charles Darwin lived at Down House, Orpington Kent, from 1842 until he died in 1882.  He shared the house with Emma his wife and ten children.  Unfortunately English Heritage did not allow photography in the house. Here is a photo of the house from the garden.

Charles Darwin came from a wealthy family.  His father was a doctor and his mother was from the Wedgewood family.  In the Victorian era Charles Darwin would be a ‘gentleman’, not needing to work to support himself.  This meant he was able to concentrate on his studies and writing.

Every day Darwin would walk the Sand Path, just outside his home, and think about his work.  This is a circular walk through a wooded glade.  Each lap was one tenth of a mile and Darwin is said to have walked this ten times to make a mile. I walked a circuit today and saw my first ever Violet Helleborine Orchid.  It was difficult to photograph as it was protected by a cage.

Orchids fascinated Darwin and he studied the ones in the fields around his house trying to understand how they were pollinated. Darwin’s collection of tropical orchids were housed in his greenhouse.  In those days a coal burning stove heated water filled pipes to keep it warm. Now  a gas boiler and electric fans do the job. The greenhouse, built 1860, has been beautifully restored and consists of  three sections. In Darwin’s day there were more sections to the building.

Inside is a treasure trove of species orchids. They are the same species that Darwin cultivated and many of which we have at Writhlington.  All are beautifully cared for and very healthy.

The first section, by the widow, is home to carnivorous plants as well as Bifrenaria harrisoniae.

Against the back wall, on staging, are cool growing orchids which included Coelogynes, Cymbidiums, Dendrobiums, Laelia anceps veitchiana and a Ludicius discolour. I thought there would be too much light for the Ludicius discolor but it seemed to be growing very well, not minding the light

I did note this was a plastic free greenhouse with plants either in terracotta pots or wooden baskets .  Environmentally friendly and authentic as Darwin would not have had access to plastic.  The orchids didn’t seem to mind being in terracotta pots.

I was told by Susan -Mary who looks after the orchids that they are only watered once a week but, the floors are damped down regularly. The orchids are watered with RO water, rather than rainwater, and are given Rain Mix feed.  At Writhlington we water every day and, for Anthony O’Rouke, who asked me which feed we use, add 250ml  of Universol Blu fertilizer to to our watering system once a week.  We occasionally add calcium sulfate to the water because our rainwater does not contain calcium.  The sulfate does not leave unsightly white deposits on the orchid leaves.   I really enjoyed talking with Susan- Mary and Anthony O’Rouke about the orchid collection at Down House. Your orchids are obviously treasured.  Thank you for taking the time to talk to me.

Among the collection, in the warm section of the greenhouse, were two Angraecum sesquipedale.  Darwin hypothesized  the pollinator being a moth with a very long proboscis to reach nectar from the bottom of the flower’s very long spur.  This orchid was first discovered by a French botanist, Louis Marie Aubert in 1798  but it was not cultivated until 1855 when William Ellis  managed to bring it live back to England.  Its first flower in captivity was in 1857.  Darwin had a number of specimens in his collection at a time when they would have been very rare indeed.

I was rather taken with this enormous Angraecum Crestwood Veitchiana.  It is a hybrid between Angraecum sesquipedale and Angraecum eburneum.  I have one in my own collection but it is not as girthy as this one.

Despite driving for six hours, I would thoroughly recommend a visit to Darwin’s home.  It not just all about orchids but an absolutely fascinating insight into an incredible man’s life.






Bee and Pollination Festival at Bristol Botanic Garden

This weekend Writhlington Orchid Project will be attending Bristol Botanic Gardens Bee and Pollination Festival. We will have a display featuring some of our beautiful orchids and information about their unusual pollinators.

It has been a busy morning in the Writhlington greenhouses preparing our plants for our sales table, shown below.

We have plenty of lovely, healthy orchids that will be on sale at the event as well as expert advice on how to care for them.

Please come along it will be lovely to see you.



Propagating Restrepias from Leaf Cuttings

Restrepias can be propagated by splitting, potting a keiki or by taking leaf cuttings.  All of these forms of propagation produce identical genetic copies of the mother plant.  Below is Restrepia wageneri in flower.

Before starting a leaf cutting you will need Methylated Spirits, with which to sterilise a pair of scissors, a pot large enough to take the leaf cuttings and sphagnum moss.  Fill your pot with damp sphagnum moss.

Look at your plant and choose only young, healthy leaves for cuttings.  Make sure you take some stem with the leaf.

Trim the stems, with sterilised scissors, to about 2 cm

Use a pencil as a dibber to make a hole in the moss and insert the stem until the leaf touches the moss.

Label your pots.

Make sure the moss remains very damp at all times and after a while your cuttings will hopefully grow roots and become new little orchids.

We grow a variety of Restrepias at Writhlington in the Cool Americas section of the greenhouse. They like to be kept cool and damp. Restrepias never get really large and many of them flower repeatedly throughout the year.  They are very rewarding orchids to grow.








John Veitch and Killerton House

Killerton House would not look out of place in a Jane Austen production.  It is home to the National Trust’s 20,000 items of fashion collection.  The house sits in a Capability Brown style park and grade 2* listed garden.

The gardens are full of exotic trees from every continent in the world with the exception of Antarctica.  Some of the first Giant Redwoods brought to England are in this garden.  There are 100 species of Rhododendrons.  The photograph below was taken from the top of the icehouse looking down at the trees.

Below is a painting of Thomas Acland 7th Baronet who commissioned the gardens to complement his house, in 1770.

Below is the wife of Sir Thomas Lady Lydia with two of the couples ten children.

The man Sir Thomas chose to carry out the work was John Veitch, a nineteen year old scotsman.  John Veitch was later to be the founder of the Veitch nurseries.  Sadly there were no paintings of John Veitch at Killerton.  I did however find this photo of him, as an older man, in an old National Trust guide book.

John Veitch was born in 1752 at Jedburgh, on the scottish borders.  The story goes that in 1768 he was given ten shillings by his father and sent away to walk to London to find work.  He would have been sixteen.  John found work with Lee’s which was a scottish nursery based in Hammersmith.  In 1770 Sir Thomas Acland asked John Veitch to work on his garden and off he went to Devon.

Below is the summerhouse, built by John Veitch,in 1780, for Lady Lydia as a wedding present from her husband Sir Thomas.  It was known as the Bear House because later a bear was brought from Canada as a pet and it lived in the summerhouse.

The garden is said to be one of the first arboreta in the country.

On our visit we spotted two cork bark trees, Quercus suber, from Southern Europe and North America.

Below is a photograph of Cryptomeria japonica lobbii or Japanese cedar.  The lobii refers to William and his younger brother Thomas Lobb who were plant hunters working  for the Veitch nursery.  They went all over the world in search of plants.

We found one Magnolia tree with a label Magnolia x veitch Peter Veitch.  Peter Christian  Massyn Veitch 1850 – 1926 was the grandson of John Veitch.  He too was a nurseryman.

By 1780 John Veitch had been promoted to Land Steward for all the Acland estates.  Sir Thomas encouraged Veitch to start up his own nursery business and leased him land , for the purpose, near Killerton. According to a lady guiding for the National  Trust the remnants of the nursery can still be seen at the estate offices.  These are now on the other side of the M5 from Killerton House.

The business grew to be one of the most significant plant nursery dynasties of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  It is said to be the largest family run nursery, in Europe, of the nineteenth century.  In 1969 the business was sold to Bridget Nurseries of Exeter.

At Writhlington we have two species of orchid from the Veitchi nursery.  The photo below shows Masdevallia veitchiana .  It is a hummingbird pollinated orchid from rocky grasslands in Peru.  We grow the orchid in our Cool Americas section of the greenhouse and it flowers several times throughout the year.

Our other Veitchi orchid is Laelia anceps veitchiana.  It is thought that our original cutting of this plant came from a specimen that was wild collected in Victorian times.  If this is the case our orchid could possibly be 150 years old.