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Kew apprentice gives Royal Botanic Gardens Kew Orchid Festival 2020

Sight for sore eyes: Kew Gardens Orchid Festival delights again

By Samuel Draper
February 7 2020, 13.25

The return of Kew Gardens’ Orchid Festival this weekend invites visitors on a sensuous botanical journey to Indonesia.

Now in its 25th year, the festival showcases over 5,000 orchids in a month-long exhibit opening on Saturday (February 8).

The display celebrates the rich natural environment of the country’s 17,500 islands which are home to some 300 million people.

Kew has been collecting orchids since the 1770s, and Scott Taylor, display glasshouses manager, emphasised the conservation work the royal gardens also undertake.

GREEN FINGERS: Kew student Alberto Trinco perfects the display

He said: “It’s a beautiful place to come and see flowers and enjoy, but there’s a lot of important scientific work going on in the background.

“We try to wow the visitors and give them reasons to come back. Hopefully they take away a little bit about what Kew does.

“Their senses have been wowed but they also get a bit of info about the work Kew does and how important that is.”

The festival took 30 days to assemble, with almost 100 volunteers and staff working hard to create the colourful displays, including the dyed blue orchid, which make a stark contrast from foggy February mornings.

Kew apprentice Alice McKeever, who helped set up the festival as part of her two-year training, said: “It’s been enjoyable. It is speedy. There’s deadlines for features that are covered with orchids or other plants.

On the festival’s eye catching flora, she said: “I like the ones with tiny flowers, like the Pleurothallis truncata.”

ARC DE TRIOMPHE: Kew apprentice Alice McKeever tending to orchids

The Princess of Wales Conservatory, which hosts the festival, was opened by Princess Diana in the 1980s, although it is actually named after Princess Augusta, George III’s elder sister, who had previously held the title.

With ten zones, ranging from orchids to ferns, the conservatory stands above a time-capsule of seeds buried in 1985 by Sir David Attenborough, which is due to be opened in 2085.  

Visitors can feast their eyes on more than the flowers as 13 pretend animals that can be spotted around the site, including a rhinoceros made from birch bark, are a ‘big part of the display’, according to Mr Taylor.

The animals help show Indonesia’s biodiversity, with marsupials like a bandicoot and a cuscus on the Australasian side and a tiger on the Asian side.

One of the star attractions is a realistic Komodo dragon statue which came from Indonesia via the country’s London embassy to Kew.

Kew reached out to the embassy early last year for their help in providing props to fit the theme.  

Juliartha Pardede, first secretary of the cultural affairs of the Indonesian Embassy in London, said: “We are glad we can collaborate with Kew Gardens so people can know more about the diversity we have in Indonesia, and the flora and fauna that we have.

“Some people may find something interesting for them, like the Komodo which only lives in Indonesia.”

In a country with 147 volcanoes, it is only fitting that the centrepiece is a volcano made from over 1,000 flowers above the conservatory’s pond, which has taken two months to build.

Mr Taylor said: “I like the volcano display. I’m always nervous when we do something different. I also love the orangutan trees, and seeing people’s reactions.”

LAVA LOVE: The festival’s volcanic centre piece before its completion

Children will be able to take part in a plant hunt during half-term, while adults can enjoy one of the six ‘Orchids: After Hours’ evenings in February and March which will feature Indonesian dancers and musicians.

In 2021, the focus is on the orchids of Costa Rica, and the Costa Rican consulate and embassy have already visited Kew to find out more about the process, while China and Mexico are possibilities for future years.

Mr Taylor said: “Costa Rica’s another rich biodiverse place. There’s a number of plants I’d love to see in the wild there.”

Entry is included in a standard Kew Gardens ticket. Visitors are advised to pre-book a time slot in advance, although a limited number will be available from the Princess of Wales Conservatory during the festival, which runs until Sunday March 8.

Photos courtesy of Jeff Eden and Alice McKeever.

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