tropical flowers with orchids hanging overheads

A View Unlike Any Other: Orchid Extravaganza

By Jim Sutton, Display Designer, on

As Longwood’s Associate Director of Display Design, it’s my responsibility and my absolute joy to make sure that every view of our Orchid Extravaganza display is uplifting, inspiring, and beautiful. Whether you’re peering into the tiniest detail of a golden intergeneric Oncidium orchid in our Cascade Garden or looking up at the grandeur of the regal purple Phalaenopsis orbs that float overhead in our Exhibition Hall, every viewpoint of Orchid Extravaganza is one to enjoy—including the very first one when you step into the Conservatory.

This year, we have outfitted the East Conservatory’s Oval Basin with a new wow factor. Large baskets and urns filled with decadent brown Cymbidium Edith McDade orchids linger above a sea of 300 white, burgundy, and near-black Paphiopedilum. Cascading chains of Tillandsia spill from the basins, evoking a feeling of water tumbling from the urns into the sea of orchids below.

dozens of orchids on the ground with flower baskets hanging overhead

A sea of Paphiopedilum and cascading Cymbidium and Tillandsia welcome you. Photo by Casey Orlosky.

In contrast to the mix of colors in the Oval Basin’s sea of Paphiopedilum, the Patio of Oranges makes a bold, color-blocked statement thanks to its six panels of Phalaenopsis backed by tall palms. Each panel spans a whopping eight feet tall and four feet wide, each proudly displaying 175 of a named Phalaenopsis hybrid in one dedicated color. Phalaenopsis are a very mass-produced, heavily bred orchid, so the chance to have so many of a particular color and cultivar displayed in one place is as exciting as it is beautiful.

three wall panels of orchids

Our Patio of Oranges makes a bold statement with its Phalaenopsis panels. Photo by Cathy Matos.

There seems to be a fascination with walking under things and seeing them from a different viewpoint—and this year you’ll have the opportunity to do just that, many times over. Our Exhibition Hall shines with a canopy of 12 purple Phalaenopsis orbs, including five that float directly over our Center Walk, and one above the south door leading into the space. Look down the Center Walk toward the sunken Fern Floor and you’ll find six more orbs hanging overhead, drawing your eye through the entire hall. Each orb along the way is filled to the brim with 85 orchids and even more wonder.

tropical flowers with orchids hanging overheads

Don’t forget to look up! Orbs of Phalaenopsis float directly over our Center Walk. Photo by Casey Orlosky.

From the East Conservatory, take a stroll through the lush Acacia Passage lined with tall yellow and white intergeneric Oncidium orchids and white Phalaenopsis, and marvel at the ever-changing, ever-beautiful Orchid House, showcasing from 200 to 300 orchids at any given time.

a walkway with flowers and orchids in pots on both sides

The yellow and white intergeneric Oncidium orchids and white Phalaenopsis that line the Acacia Passage lend to this space’s sense of warmth. Photo by Casey Orlosky.

Also displaying a variety of orchids in all their splendor is this year’s orchid meadow exhibit in our North Passage (adjacent to our Bonsai Display). It’s here that we demonstrate the diversity of orchids and show how they’re all related, even though they look very different and come from so many locations around the world (they’re native to every continent except Antarctica). This thought-provoking display features recognizable orchid genera, as well as new and unusual species of orchids, with rotating additional genera from our collection.

several pots of orchids on a green table

The orchid meadow display in the North Passage is a beautiful combination of varied colors and textures. Photo by Carol Gross.

After leaving the feast for the eyes that is our varied meadow display, head to the Fern Passage for a more linear take on orchids. Here you’ll find a double band of white and purple cascading Phalaenopsis accented with a line of staghorn ferns, with tall containers of purple and white ruffled Cattleya lining the opposite side of the passage.

purple and white orchids in a pot

The Fern Passage is a vision of purple, white, and green. Photo by Casey Orlosky.

From there, golden Phalaenopsis beckon from their perch in the adjacent Cascade Garden waterfall. As you wind through the Cascade Garden, you’ll find yourself following a golden path of tall yellow × Oncidesa Gower Ramsey lining both sides of the walkway, leading you toward the Rose House and then the Tropical Terrace.

a paved path with yellow orchids on each side

A vibrant pathway of × Oncidesa Gower Ramsey leads you through the Cascade Garden. Photo by Casey Orlosky.

You’ll want to linger in front of the Tropical Terrace’s new double-sided orchid curtain, woven with Vanda and Spanish-moss. We’ve arranged the Vanda in a variety of colors in a random pattern, leaving their roots visible and acting as a design element for the curtain. The end result is a myriad colors and textures that evoke the feel of brocade fabric.

a close up of a purple wall of vanda orchids

A close look at the Vanda curtain in the Tropical Terrace showcases its woven look. Photo by Casey Orlosky.

I could keep going with all there is to see during this year’s Orchid Extravaganza (and there is much more to see), but the best way to experience it is here, in person, from your very own viewpoint. Come see Orchid Extravaganza through March 24, 2019, and experience a world of vibrant beauty.

Related Articles

  • Phantasm of the Forest
    a clump of Cyrtosia septentrionalis located in Longwood's naturally forested area

    Phantasm of the Forest

    Many guests visit Longwood Gardens to appreciate, enjoy, and study our carefully curated, world-class collection of more than 11,000 kinds of plants. Occasionally, plants find their way to the Gardens without the assistance of horticulturists ... Very rarely, a plant is found that defies logic and provides insight into the horticultural history and ecological health and capacity of the interface between Longwood’s gardens and natural lands.

    By Peter Zale, Ph.D., on January 7, 2019
  • Our Award-Winning Orchid Collection
    orchid with many red flowers in bloom on black background

    Our Award-Winning Orchid Collection

    Recently, we were able to bring some orchids from the Longwood collection to the Mid-Atlantic American Orchid Society (AOS) Judging Center. We were thrilled to receive 10 awards on eight plants, and among them are some rather important awards!

    By Greg Griffis, on August 31, 2018