You Are Invited to Orchid Christmas


Our annual Orchid Christmas will be held this year on Thursday 14th December.  We will be giving tours of the famous Writhlington greenhouses, with expert advice from our students.  We will have orchids for sale, an opportunity to buy an orchid gift for friends and family or for yourself. There will be a repotting service and refreshments available.   There is no need to book just come to Writhlington School, BA33NQ, between 4pm and 6.30pm.

We look forward to welcoming you all.




A Victorian Botanical Find

Yesterday I visited Shepton Mallet antiques fair. On one of the stalls I found these beautiful, hand coloured  pages taken from a Victorian botanical book.  Before the internet, television or coloured photography, how wonderful it would have been to look at these coloured illuminations of new botanical discoveries from far away places. The colours are still as bright and clear as the day they were printed.

Below is Zygopetalum maxillare,  a terrestrial orchid native to Brazil.  It is said to grow in crevices between rocks. We don’t seem to have this at Writhlington but I have one in my own collection which I grow around 12 degrees Celsius.  At school we do have Zygopetalum maculatum which smells gorgeous when in flower and is cooler growing.

Satyrium erectum, shown below is another terrestrial orchid, from Southwestern South Africa .  It grows on  sloping sandy soils. Another orchid we do not have at Writhlington.

We have quite a few Gongora species in our greenhouses but not this one. Gongora atropurpurea shown below is native to North Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.  The flowers are said to have the scent of cloves.  It needs to be warm, humid and moist.  Perhaps our school greenhouses would not be warm enough for it.

  Huntleya meleagris is not one in our Writhlington collection either but might grow quite well in our Cool Americas greenhouse as it is a cool growing, free flowering epiphyte from the  cloud forests of Venezuela, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago.

Maxillaria tenuifolia, well here is one we do have and it grows well for us.  The flowers smell of coconut and it makes a good house plant. I have one that thrives in my sitting room, not needing too much attention.  I have it in a pot of bark but in the greenhouse we grow our specimens mounted.  It lives in our Warm Americas section as Maxillaria tenuifolia likes to be kept warm.

We find our greenhouses at Writhlington too cold for many of the Phalaenopsis species. Phalaenopsis amabilis or moon orchid is a single stemmed epiphyte and common house plant with long lasting flowers.  It is the national flower of Indonesia but is also found in the wild in Northern Australia, New Guinea and the Philippines

Trichopilia tortilis, or Twisted Trichopilia, is a fragrant, epiphytic orchid with waxy flowers.  It comes from Mexico and Costa Rica growing in damp, humid forests . This is probably why we do not grow it in Writhlington, our greenhouse are not warm enough.

I hope you have enjoyed looking at the Victorian botanical world. These pages are so beautiful I am going to get them framed so I can look at them every day.


This Week in the Greenhouse

Looking after the orchids in the Writhlington greenhouse is very rewarding.  I get to see beautiful orchids every day.  The  hot, humid weather this week seems to have encourage many orchids to flower. Below is Bulbophyllum guttulatum which lives in our Warm Asia section.  It grows from the Himalayas to Vietnam in monsoon forests at 800 – 2000 meters.

Next up is Dendrochilum magnum with it’s flowers just starting to open.  At the moment they are slightly green in colour but this will change to golden as the flowers mature.  The flowers have a spicy smell to them.  A few years ago we split our enormous Dendrochilum magnum into many smaller plants and this is one of them.

In our Cool Asia section I found Pleurothallis hemirhoda. I think the flower looks like it is conducting an orchid orchestra.  What do you think?

In the same section of the greenhouse was this lovely little Pleurothallis costaricensis.  This specimen is mounted but we find he grows well in pots too.

Scaphyglottis pulchella is a very attractive, delicate looking orchid.  I found it it Cool Americas but I think it should be in one of our Warm Americas section according to Simon in his Orchid of the Day.

Our Vanda coerulia is looking lovely this year.  It not only has beautiful flowers but really healthy new roots too.  It has obviously loved our cooler, in parts, summer this year.

Finally I must show you these pleurothallis gracillima the Orchid Project students propagated, from a larger plant, last June.  They are already flowering and growing really well.  Although small, classed as miniature orchids, Pleurothallis gracillima do make good specimen orchid over time.


Pods and Seeds

I decided to water the greenhouse very early this morning .  It was lovely and cool at 6.30am compared with yesterday afternoon’s 40 degrees, in Cool Asia. I don’t think the Coelogynes and Dendrobiums mind too much as long as they had plenty of water.

Whilst watering I always look for pests so that anything can be eradicated quickly before spreading about the greenhouse but today I was struck by the beauty of seed pods.

Another job whilst watering is to check that the pods have not started to split.  If they have the seed has to be collected, put in an envelope and placed in a shoebox to dry.  Our lab is warm and dry just right for drying seed.









The seed pod shown below is Sobralia macrantha.  It is large and will hopefully have millions of seed in it for us to sow in our lab.

Our lab window sill houses a small display of dry seed pods and orchid seed. They come in many different shapes and sizes.

Orchid seeds are the smallest seeds in the world. Unlike seeds from other plants, orchid seed only contain an embryo.  There is no carbohydrate to aid the start of germination.  Orchids are dependent on mycorrhizal fungus to provide the necessary sugars for germination.  Without the fungus the seed cannot germinate.

The lack of any baggage with the embryo makes the seed extremely light, ideal for wind dispersal.  Seed can travel a long way from the parent plant.  The photo below show tiny seeds on the sides of the glass jar.

Our lab sown seed is not dependent on mycorrhizal fungus to germinate because the media we use contains sugar to feed the embryo. It takes at least two years for one of our tiny species orchid seeds to become a viable orchid.



A Summer of Propagation

Whilst watering at lunchtime today I noticed the Dendrobium jonesii orchids that were created when Simon split a larger specimen in the spring.  When in bloom the flowers are similar to Dendrobium speciosum but the orchid is smaller.

Above is a photo of Dendrobium Jonesii and below Dendrobium speciosum.

There are now a number of plants all sprouting new shoots.

It looks like they have enjoyed our cooler wetter summer this year.  They have been kept well watered to encourage new growth.

Another orchid that was beginning to look a little tired, worse for wear and bald on the back, was our prize winning Aerides odorata.  It was growing in our Warm Asia section and when in bloom perfumed the whole space.

Now it has become many plants, rejuvenated, all destined to be as big as the parent plant.

Once again we have some lovely new shoots and roots.  We have kept them all really well watered over the summer.

I am sure we will be selling some of these Aerides odorata orchids, together with some Dendrobium jonesii, at shows and Etsy shop. Here is something else for the future Etsy shop. I have spent all the summer holiday repotting and splitting a whole bench full of Pleurothallis gracillima,  many different varieties of restrepia, plenty of Masdevallias and Dracula deltoidea, that will soon be available for sale.