Sunday at the Bee and Pollination Festival

Our second day at the Bee and Pollination Festival and here are some more of our display orchids.  Below is Stenoglottis fimbriata, from South Africa.  It is pollinated by butterflies.  Stenoglottis grows on riverbanks where, in the wet season, it has lovely green, spotty leaves and beautiful pink flowers.  In the dry season the leaves die back and the orchid retreats below ground where it waits for the rain to come and then grows new leaves again. We water our Stenoglottis orchids well, when they are in leaf, as they like to be wet but as soon as the leaves begin to turn brown we stop watering and let them go dormant.  In the spring, usually February for us, the leaves begin to grow and we resume watering.


Here is our hummingbird pollinated Masdevallia paiveana from Peru.  We grow it in our Cool Americas section of the greenhouse.  Masdevallia paiveana is a friendly orchid which tends to like visiting other plant’s pots where it will grow away quite happily keeping its neighbour company.

Cymbidium suavissimum is pollinated by small bees.  The orchid comes from the Himalayas and we grow it with most of our other Cymbidiums in the Temperate section of the greenhouse.  I think it is unusual and not nearly as showy as our other Cymbidiums.

Next is Oncidium blanchetii with a very long flower spike, over a meter long.  The orchid grows  such a long flower spike to hold the flowers above the grasses and scrub with which it grows.  It comes from Brazil and is the second orchid on our display that is pollinated by bees.  In our greenhouse this Oncidium lives in our Cool Americas section.

The white petals of Epidendrum ciliare, from Central America, shine out in the dark so that it’s moth pollinator can see it but the orchid does not give the moth any nectar in return for pollination.  In the wild Epidendrum ciliare grows in Central America.

Our third and final bee pollinated orchid is Coelogyne speciosa.  The large flower needs a large bee to pollinate it.  This Coelogyne comes from Malaysia.  It enjoys growing in the Warm Asia section of the greenhouse and likes plenty of water.

All our orchids are now safely back in the greenhouse. Their next outing will be The Devon Autumn Show at Burnham Nurseries on Sunday October 15th. Hope to see you there.



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.