Back during the Victorian era, orchids were a sign of wealth and adventure. Since they were only found in tropical climates, the presence of one of these exotic plants in your home indicated a life of luxury. Orchid collecting was a popular pastime for the moneyed upper class and rare varieties, which could inspire in envy in family and friends, were especially sought after. Orchid hunting even became a profession for men daring enough to travel all over the world, risking life and limb, in search of these elusive specimens to bring back to their wealthy clientele. If the orchids were hearty enough to survive the journey from jungle to auction house, they could fetch thousands of dollars, depending on their rarity.
Luckily, orchids are no longer part of the cut-throat business as they were in the 1800s, but they remain beloved horticultural treasures. Orchids were one of the first plant collections at Longwood Gardens, dating way back to 1922. This rich history is celebrated every year during Longwood’s annual Orchid Extravaganza. Arriving at just the right time, when we ache to escape those icky, grey mid-winter days, the grand exhibition transports you out of the cold weather doldrums and into a sultry, tropical vacation where you forget what’s going on in the real world. The show is housed in the sprawling greenhouse-like Conservatory, where over 4,500 orchids explode in splashy color as you wind your way through the paths and hallways. This year’s party includes a towering entrance arch covered in bright purple moth orchids, giant floating spheres and hanging plants dripping with botanicals, and an ‘orchid curtain’ in the Exhibition Hall. The seemingly endless variety of Vanda, Oncidium, and Phalaenopsis plants mix and mingle with Longwood’s permanent gardens, reminding you with every step that spring is not so far away after all.
Longwood Gardens Orchid Extravaganza runs now through March 31.