Orchids at the wedding

For orchid lovers there wasn’t much of interest in the recent Royal wedding … or was there?

I’m sure you have your own opinion of the event at Windsor Castle, but I think we’ll probably all agree that the bride’s veil was stupendous, all 5 metres of it!

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Clare Waight Keller, artistic director at Givenchy and designer of Meghan Markle’s wedding dress, with a sample of the hand-embroidered lace that made up the veil.

According to a press release from Kensington Palace, Ms Markle – now the Duchess of Sussex – expressed the wish of having all 53 countries of the Commonwealth with her on her journey through the ceremony. Clare Waight Keller designed a veil that represented the distinctive flora of each Commonwealth country united in one spectacular composition – and including many orchids.

The veil was made from silk tulle with a trim of hand-embroidered flowers in silk threads and organza. Each flower was worked flat, in three dimensions with the embroiderers spending hundreds of hours meticulously sewing – and washing their hands every 30 minutes – to keep the tulle and threads pristine.

In addition to the flora of the Commonwealth, Ms Markle also selected two personal favourites: Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox), which grows in the grounds of Kensington Palace in front of Nottingham Cottage (where she lives with Prince Harry); and the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), representing the US state where Ms Markle was born.

Symmetrically placed at the very front of the veil, embroidered crops of wheat symbolised love and charity (and from what I understand are also a motif for fertility!).

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The embroidery can be seen in this photo of the bride entering St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle and, below, as she leaves.

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The press release says: “Significant time was spent researching the flora of each Commonwealth country and much care was taken by Ms Waight Keller to ensure that every flower is unique”. But when the first two orchids in the list from Africa are so generic, they might be the first Google hits her staff got – in 2012 the people of Kenya were canvassed as to what their national flower might be. One suggestion, among many, was the “tropical orchid” (Phalaenopsis as far as I can make out) as the country grows so many for export.

The orchids on the veil were: “White variety orchid” from Gambia; “tropical orchid” from Kenya; Tropicbird orchid (Angraecum eburnum) from the Seychelles; Vanda Miss Joaquim from Singapore; the Black Orchid (Prosthechea cochleata, syn. Encyclia cochleata) from Belize; and Sepik Blue Orchid (Dendrobium lasianthera) from Papua New Guinea.

New Zealand was represented by the kowhai flower. Read the full list of flowers here.

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Despite the extravagant use of flowers at the entry to St George’s Chapel, as can be seen above, the bride carried only a small posy bouquet. which apparently did not include orchids.

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The bridal bouquet carried by the Duchess of Sussex at her wedding was then laid on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in the west nave of Westminster Abbey in London. 

The Palace press release notes that Prince Harry handpicked several flowers from the couple’s private garden to add to the bouquet designed by florist Philippa Craddock. The spring blooms include forget-me-nots which were the favourite flower of Diana, Princess of Wales. The bouquet also including scented sweet peas, lily of the valley, astilbe, jasmine and astrantia, and sprigs of myrtle, bound with a naturally dyed, raw silk ribbon.

The myrtle sprigs are from stems planted at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, by Queen Victoria in 1845, and from a plant grown from the myrtle used in The Queen’s wedding bouquet of 1947. The myrtle was first carried by Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Princess Victoria, when she married in 1858.

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Queen Elizabeth’s orchid brooch

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To mark Queen’s Birthday weekend, let’s look at one of the jewels of Queen Elizabeth II, pictured above wearing the Mappin & Webb Orchid Brooch for the 2015 Maundy Thursday service at Sheffield Cathedral.

She was presented with the brooch in 2013 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of her coronation. A gift from Mappin & Webb (jewellers, Royal Warrant-holding silversmiths  and home of current Crown Jeweller Martin Swift) in collaboration with Waterford Crystal, the brooch includes orchid flowers of hand-cut Waterford Crystal with 66 diamonds and rose-gold stamens.

The Queen debuted the brooch on an historic occasion in 2014 – welcoming the first president of Ireland to make a state visit to Britain. The jewel has been included in her annual brooch rotation ever since.

Thanks to Ella Kay at The Court Jeweller for her help in preparing this post.

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Language of flowers

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Orchid arrangements with designs painted on their petals photographed at a warehouse used by ArtGreen Co. in Tokyo, Japan.

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An ArtGreen employee paints the petals of an orchid. The orchids are named Keshoran (orchids wearing make-up). Petals are painted using stencils, a paint brush and special  powder.

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Giving moth orchids as business gifts, a practice that took off during the high-growth era of the 1980s, is so ingrained in Japan that the country now has its own listed orchid seller, ArtGreen. Its shares surged 111% between 2015, when it started trading on the Nagoya Stock Exchange, and 2017.

A 2017 Japan Times article says ArtGreen president Yutaka Tanaka, 52, founded the company at the age of 25 as a way to hit back after being bullied at school – he wanted to be a successful company director.

ArtGreen’s bestselling arrangement, which has at least 30 individual flowers in a pot with chiffon paper coverings, retails for ¥20,000 ($253). Pricier versions can feature company logos or designs spray-painted onto the white petals using specially developed powder. They can cost as much as ¥60,000 ($760).

The number of potted orchid arrangements sold annually in auctions tracked by the Japanese Flower Auction Association stood at 1.92 million in 2015 – broadly similar to the 1.89 million in 1995. However, the wholesale price of a potted arrangement of orchids has risen more than 40% over two decades, with increases accelerating 14% in the three years to 2015.

And did you know that Phalaenopsis orchid flowers can be dyed – while still on the plant? According to a US website, one method is to make a small hole in the stem of the plant and inject a coloured dye. Once the dyeing process is complete, cover the hole with wax. The blooms will start to change colour within 24 hours. Apparently the most common colour change is from white to blue.

Wayne Turville of the Australian Orchid Nursery (don’t mind the lack of punctuation) is one person who isn’t afraid to say what he thinks about it. Kevin Yanik, on the Greenhouse Grower website, ponders the implications on the nursery industry of dyeing potted orchids (and other plants).

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Ex situ orchid survey

Botanic Gardens Conservation International-US, in partnership with the United States Botanic Garden, last month published a global survey of ex situ orchids (those held outside their natural habitat; ex situ literally means off site).

One of the largest plant families in the world, orchids occur naturally in nearly every ecosystem on Earth. Orchids are also economically important and often over-collected in the wild. Ex situ collections are a vital conservation measure offering protection to species away from their native habitat and any in situ threats. Ex situ collections can also form the basis of reintroduction and restoration programmes.

The report highlights the 35% (272) orchid genera that are not known in ex situ collections, a vital conservation measure that could prevent extinction. Only 36% of orchid species known to be threatened are reported by gardens, and a majority of those collections lack provenance information and adequate duplication across institutions.

This means that very few orchid taxa have back-up protection if in situ populations are lost. “We call for orchid ex situ collections to be expanded to contain a greater diversity of species and sufficient genetic diversity to prevent species extinction and allow their use in recovery and restoration programmes, especially in biodiverse regions,” the report says.

One orchid species, Oeceoclades seychellarum, has been assessed by the IUCN as Extinct due to habitat degradation caused by human settlement and invasive plants. Although only 3% (890 of 27,800) of orchids have been assessed by the IUCN, 59% (529 taxa) are considered threatened and need ex situ protection to prevent extinction.

Read the full report here (opens as a pdf, 13MB). It includes a list of 272 orchid genera not yet known by BGCI in an ex situ collection – if you know of a specimen, please report it.

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BOP Orchid Show 2018

Congratulations to Barry Curtis (Tauranga) and Bob Parsons (BOP) who respectively won the Grand Champion and Reserve Champion titles at this week’s Bay of Plenty Orchid Society Show. Despite a somewhat difficult growing season – although not for everyone, clearly – there was a nice range of orchids to look at in the Te Puke War Memorial Hall on Friday and Saturday. Hope you enjoy the photos (by Sandra Simpson).

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Grand Champion plant: Bulbophyllum Elizabeth Ann ‘Buckleberry’ grown by Barry Curtis of the Tauranga Orchid Society.

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A closer look at one of the many dozens of flowers on the plant – and more buds were still forming!

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Reserve Champion plant: Psychopsis papilio, grown by Bob Parsons of the Bay of Plenty Orchid Society. This plant, sometimes called the butterfly orchid, had about five blooms.

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A basket of Dendrobium cuthbertsonii was a winner for Pat Hutchins, owner of Sunvale Orchids in Gisborne and a member of the Tauranga Society. These little orchids grow epiphytically at up to 3000m above sea level in New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago.

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A delightful mini-Paphiopedilum displayed on the BOP society’s stand.

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Paph Ruby Leopard x Marie Joyes, grown by Selwyn Hatrick of Rotorua. The photographer notes that to the eye, the pouch appeared almost black, much darker than the camera recorded.

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The striking Cattleya Gila Wilderness ‘Nippon Treasure’ belongs to by Bob Parsons. He was given the plant by Andy Easton as the orchid grower and breeder made the move from Rotorua to live in Colombia. The label may also have a bit more name on the end, but it’s become very hard to read.

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Rhyncholaeliocattleya (Rlc) Village Chief North ‘Green Genius’ was shown by Leroy Orchids of Auckland.

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Warczewiczella Amazon Beauty was shown on the Whangarei Orchid Society stand. As part of the name suggests, the plant is native to the Amazon basin.

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Masdevallia herradurae, or the horse-shoe Masdevallia, was shown by Diane Hintz on the BOP stand. Found in Colombia and Ecuador, this orchid grows at elevations of 500 to 2100m on mossy trees.

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Habenaria rhodocheila is a southeast Asian orchid that grows in deciduous forests. This plant was shown on the Whangarei stand.

Read more about the care of Harbenaria orchids, which have tubers and so are terrestrial growing. The Pacific Bulb Society website includes a page on these orchids.

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The striking Habenaria myriotricha was shown by Carl Christensen of Napier.

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2013 Orchid of the Year

A flower grown by Erica Cowdell of the Tauranga Orchid Society was chosen by the New Zealand Orchid Council as its 2013 Orchid of the Year and Species of the Year.

The same plant – Paphiopedilum hirsutissimum var esquirolei ‘Skye’ – was the Pahiopedilum/Phragmepedium section champion at the 2013 national Orchid Expo in New Plymouth (our local results also included Grand Champion of the show).


New Zealand’s 2013 Orchid of the Year, grown by Erica Cowdell. Photo: Dennis Chuah

Erica, who received her first orchid as a gift in 1959, grows thousands of Paphiopedilum (slipper), orchids as a commercial cut-flower crop at her property on the Omokoroa peninsula, near Tauranga, and has been exporting blooms to the United States since 2011.

“I’d had some Paphs since 1970 but in 2007 I got more focused and swapped my crop from Cymbidiums. The one that was honoured is a flower I sell locally as it doesn’t quite have the lasting qualities for export,” she says.

At the time of the national expo Erica had few orchids in flower as it was late in the season for Paphiopedilums.

“I put in virtually everything I had that was freshly in flower and this plant happened to peak at the right time.

“You can have the perfect flower but no show for it and some people spend their entire lives hoping to get a winner.”

In the 2014 OCNZ Yearbook, Erica notes that she bought the plant from Keith Goodwin of Tarawera in December 2007, repotting it annually. It has been grown in temperatures ranging between about 13 and 34 degrees Celsius. She feeds  it with a top dressing of about a quarter of a teaspoon of blood and bone in late spring (avoiding the foliage) and liquid seaweed throughout the year.

“I give all my plants very dilute application of calcium nitrate, one application in January, one in February and a final one in March. My plants are grown in what I call bright shade.”

The plant received an Award of Merit (AM/OCNZ) and 86.36 points.

In 2018 Erica’s property and business is for sale.

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Easter egg hunt

Time to go on an Easter egg hunt … for a Fabergé egg!


Gustav Fabergé founded the jewellery firm that bears his name in 1842 in the old Russian capital of St Petersburg after the Huguenot family (then named Favri) had fled France, first to eastern Germany and then (what is now) Estonia.

The influence of Peter the Great (1672-1725) on Russia can hardly be overstated – when he ascended the throne in 1682 Russia was backward and primitive but he was determined his country should become and remain a great European power. As part of his drive to modernise in 1703 he founded St Petersburg as his new capital.

Catherine the Great (1729-96) – the wife of Peter’s grandson – continued the reformations, including religious tolerance, and her reign is also seen as a golden era. The creation of her Winter Palace in St Petersburg absorbed artists from the entire civilised world, including Peter Fabry, a goldsmith, whose son Gustav was born in 1814 in St Petersburg. The family name then changed for the last time, to Fabergé.

Gustav was apprenticed to a goldsmith before joining the firm of Keibel, celebrated for reworking the Imperial Russian Crown Jewels in 1826. In 1841 Gustav is recorded as a  Master Goldsmith and the next year he opened the first Fabergé shop in St Petersburg and also married Charlotte Jungstedt, daughter of a Danish artist. In 1846 the couple’s first child, (Peter) Carl Fabergé, is born.

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The egg reveals a miniature, and meticulous, replica of the Gatchina Palace, the Dowager Empress’s principal residence outside St. Petersburg. Gifted in 1901. Image: Wikipedia

The young Carl Fabergé attended business school in Dresden and was apprenticed to a jeweller in Frankfurt. He also travelled to Italy, France and England before returning to St Petersburg and taking over the House of Fabergé in 1882.

In 1885, after being impressed by Fabergé’s skills, Tsar Alexander III commissioned an Easter egg as a gift for his wife, Tsarina Maria Fedorovna. Its “shell” was enamelled on gold to represent a normal hen’s egg. This pulled apart to reveal a gold yolk, which in turn opened to produce a gold chicken that also opened to reveal a replica of the Imperial Crown from which a miniature ruby egg was suspended. Although the Crown and the miniature egg have been lost, the rest of the Hen Egg is in the collection of Russian businessman Victor Vekselberg, who since 2004 has become owner of most of the world’s Fabergé eggs – and who has put them on show in the Fabergé Museum in St Petersburg.

The tradition of the Tsar giving his wife a surprise Easter egg by Carl Fabergé continued and from 1887 it appears Fabergé was given complete freedom as to the design. According to the family, not even the Tsar knew what form the egg would take: the only stipulation was that each one should contain a surprise. The House of Fabergé completed 50 Imperial eggs for Alexander III and his son Nicholas II (who continued to present one to his mother, as well as his wife, Tsarina Alexandra Fedorovna). Of these, 43 are known to have survived.

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Not a chocolate surprise! The Imperial Coronation Egg, gifted in 1897. Image: Faberge Museum

The revolution of 1917 saw the firm nationalised the next year and Carl Fabergé left Petrograd (St Petersburg) on the last diplomatic train for Latvia. However, a revolution started in Latvia soon after and Carl fled to Germany. The Bolsheviks imprisoned his sons Agathon and Alexander, although for a time Agathon was released to value seized jewels and valuables.

Madame Fabergé and her oldest son Eugène escaped through snow-covered woods by sleigh and on foot. Towards the end of December 1918, they crossed into the safety of Finland.

Eugène reached his father in June 1920, taking him to Switzerland where various members of the family were living. Carl Fabergé died in Lausanne 3 months later and his wife in January 1925. Although Alexander managed to escape from prison when a friend bribed guards, Agathon did not make his escape until November 1927 when he, his wife and son, together with four helpers, travelled at night by sledge across the frozen Gulf of Finland. Agathon and his family spent the rest of their lives in Finland.

In 1924 Alexander and Eugéne opened Fabergé et Cie in Paris, where they had modest success making the types of items their father retailed years before. Fabergé et Cie continued to operate in Paris until 2001.


The Pink Orchid Egg and its surprise, made by Theo Fabergé. Image: St Petersburg Collection

Nicholas Fabergé, Carl’s youngest son, moved to London in 1903 to help run the only branch of the business outside Russia, later becoming one of the country’s first fashion photographers. His only child Theo (1922-2007) was born in London but for many years didn’t know he was part of the famed family (his mother had been Nicholas’ mistress and the boy was raised by an aunt).

In the 1950s – it was 1969 before he became aware of his father’s family – Theo Fabergé began to design and make elegant objets d’art from rare wood and ivory and soon began to receive commissions. In 1984, he was persuaded to produce a collection incorporating precious metals, crystal, enamelling, stone-carving, precious gems and porcelain, known as the St Petersburg Collection (the trademark ‘Fabergé’ had passed out of family ownership). Theo and his daughter Sarah then worked on a variety of commissions, including creating new Fabergé eggs.

Read more of the family history here.

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