Bouquet fit for a princess

November 20 marks the 70th wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip – and to mark the occasion we’re going to look back at the 1947 wedding bouquet of the then Princess Elizabeth.

Martin Longman, a London florist, submitted five designs to Buckingham Palace. The bouquet chosen was all white, was described as “a modern type”, made up of three kinds of British-grown orchids – Cattleya, Odontoglossum and Cypripedium – and was a gift to the bride from the Worshipful Company of Gardeners.

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Unfortunately, detail of the bouquet is hard to see against the dress.

Among the orchids was a sprig of myrtle from a bush at Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s house on the Isle of Wight. The bush had been grown from a piece of myrtle given to Queen Victoria by her husband’s grandmother. A sprig was used in the wedding bouquet of Princess Victoria, Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, thus beginning a tradition that is still followed.

In 2007 Martin Longman’s son David recalled that his father regarded the wedding bouquet as the pinnacle of his career, despite also making the Coronation bouquet and  wedding bouquets for Princess Margaret and the Duchess of Kent.

martin longman

Florist Martin Longman with the bouquet he created for Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, also featuring orchids.

Martin made the bouquet overnight in his shop in Ludgate Hill and delivered it personally to Elizabeth’s apartment at Buckingham Palace on the morning of November 20, 1947. (Bouquets for the eight bridesmaids were made by Moyses Stevens florists using white orchids, lily of the valley, gardenias, white bouvardia, white roses and white nerine. They also wore wreaths in their hair made by Jac Ltd of London using miniature white sheaves, lilies and London Pride, modelled in white satin and silver lame.)

royal wedding

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary on November 20, 2017 – setting a new record for British royals.

In stories about the wedding there has always been an acknowledged hiccup when Princess Elizabeth’s wedding bouquet was misplaced before the Westminster Abbey ceremony – a footman had put it in a cold cupboard and forgotten it before, fortunately, remembering!

Besides that, a frantic dash had to be made for the bride’s pearls which had been left elsewhere and her tiara snapped and needed urgent repairs just before the ceremony so it was an eventful day … and it wasn’t over yet.

Princess Elizabeth and Phillip Mountbatten are photographed leaving the church with the bouquet and it’s in official bride-and-groom photos at Buckingham Palace. However, the bride doesn’t hold a bouquet in the wedding group shots – as apparently it had been lost again, this time for good. And there’s a possibility the portrait photos showing her with the bouquet were taken a week later!

In a 2007 story David said that a week after the wedding his father was asked to make an identical bouquet so the bride and groom could be rephotographed as they passed through London after the first part of their honeymoon. No way of knowing if this is what happened, but it’s a curious story – and apparently since the 1947 wedding Buckingham Palace has always ordered two identical bridal bouquets, which adds some credence.

royal wedding4

The silk replica bouquet made for the 2007 60th wedding anniversary exhibition at Buckingham Palace.

For a display at Buckingham Palace to mark the couple’s 60th wedding anniversary, and just as Longman’s was closing its doors for the last time, the mannequin wearing the wedding dress held a silk bouquet made by Martin Longman’s granddaughter Lottie.

According to Terry Simmons who runs the Flowers for Royal Weddings blog , the 1947 bouquet was made by wiring and taping each individual blossom, and sometimes each leaf, separately so the flowers could be manipulated into the desired placement.  ‘This is a very daunting task considering how many individual blooms may be contained in a royal bouquet … [and] it does present some challenges. For instance, since each flower is cut from its stem before wiring/taping, water supply is cut off to the flower, starting the inevitable “death of the flower” process.  Therefore, these bouquets have to be made as “last minute” as possible to ensure they will last through the wedding day schedule.’

Who supplied the orchids for this late autumn/early winter wedding? I haven’t been able to find a definitive answer, but have come across some likely candidates.

McBean’s, established in 1879 and claiming the title of Britain’s oldest orchid nursery, says on its website that it ‘has served the British Royal family with orchids for their homes and weddings for many years’.

Another intriguing reference was to American businessman Clinton McDade. Included in the opening paragraph of a 2012 magazine article about the donation of McDade’s orchid collection, some 5,000 plants, to the College of the Ozarks is: ‘McDade was a successful businessman … [who] became an orchid grower, and his collection grew into two orchid houses, one in England. A selection of his orchids in England were used for the wedding of Queen Elizabeth II.’

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Cattleya Bow Bells. Image: Chadwick Orchids

Mr McDade brought the white-flowered Cattleya Bow Bells to the attention of the American Orchid Society in 1945 – he had purchased a number of unflowered seedlings from Black & Flory nursery in Slough, England and when they began to flower the AOS went mad, scattering awards like confetti. (Black & Flory was the result of the famed Veitch nursery selling off its orchid section. It operated until the 1960s.)

Why does C. Bow Bells get a mention? Because it is an autumn/winter-flowering plant and so there’s the possibility, perhaps remote but still, it might have been the Cattleya used in the royal wedding bouquet.

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Orchid Fancier: Nero Wolfe

American crime writer Rex Stout (1886-1975) penned a series of books featuring the overweight and eccentric New York private detective Nero Wolfe, a dedicated orchid grower with 10,000 plants in growing rooms on the rooftop of his brownstone building. He visits the plants twice a day, 2 hours at a time, and employs a gardener.

By Rex Stout*

Wolfe’s flowers go all the way from the showiest to the shyest. He has a Cattleya hybrid, bred by him, which threw its first flower last year, that is twice as gaudy as anything you ever saw in a florist shop, and he has a Cymbidium hybrid, ensifolium x Sanderae, bred by him in 1953, so coy that it makes one little flower each year: off-white, the size of a dime, hidden down in the foliage. Once I saw him scowling at it and muttering, “Confound you, are you too timid or too proud?”

If he ever talks to himself he keeps it strictly private, but I have often heard him talk to orchids. He’ll cock his head at a bench of Miltonias in full bloom and say distinctly, “Much too loud. Why don’t you learn to whisper?” Not that he ever whispers.

Wolfe started on orchids many years ago with a specimen plant of Vanda suavis, given to him by the wife of a man he had cleared on a murder rap. He kept it in the office and it petered out. He got mad, built a little shed on the roof and bought 20 plants. Now the plant rooms are 34 feet x 86 feet, the size of the house. He hasn’t bought a plant from a commercial grower for 10 years, but he sells some – 100 or more a year.


Not much can get Wolfe to leave his home, but a rare black orchid lures him to a flower show (Black Orchids, 1942). Unfortunately, the event is overshadowed by a murder.

Of the four hours a day he spends up in the plant rooms – 9 to 11 in the morning and 4 to 6 in the afternoon – not more than 20 minutes is spent looking at flowers. First he makes a tour through the aisles, which are 30 inches wide instead of the usual two feet – the tropical room, the intermediate, and the cool – and then on to the potting room. He nods to Theodore, the gardener, and says, “Well?”. Theodore says either, “Well enough”, or something like, “A pod of Coelogyne will be ready in two days”.

Then work. It may be real work, like bringing a dozen old plants from one of the rooms for dividing and repotting, or opening a bale of osmunda fibre and inspecting it; or it may be merely getting a tape and going to the cool room to measure the panicles of Odontoglossums. It can be any of the thousand chores that orchids take –  mixing fertiliser, labelling, presoaking new pots, checking ventilation and humidity, adjusting shade screens, stripping bulb sheaths, chipping charcoal, and so forth, forever and ever with no amen. Except spraying. Wolfe hates it, and Theodore does it when he’s not there.

Of course, most of the chores are for breeding, not growing. Buying a dozen or so orchid plants and keeping them going and blooming in a house or apartment is no trick at all, but hybridising is a career. Usually an orchid flower is both male and female, so deciding on father and mother is up to Nero Wolfe. Having cross-pollinated, he waits seven months to a year for the seed pod to mature and ripen. A large pod will have a million or more seeds. They are among the smallest of all plant seeds.


Despite the cover, the first Nero Wolfe mystery published in 1934 is centred on golf.

The preparations in a hospital operating room for an appendectomy are nothing compared to the fuss of planting a batch of orchid seed. What Wolfe has to keep out is fungus. If one microscopic fungus cell gets in a bottle with the seed, it goes to work on the nutrient jelly in which the infant flower is planted, and goodbye seed. If he does it right and is lucky, in nine or 10 months he scoops the tiny half-inch seedlings out of the bottle and plants them in community pots. A year later he transplants them to individual three-inch pots and in another two years to 4½-inch pots, and crosses his fingers. Then five or six or seven years since the day he put pollen to stigma, he sees an orchid no one ever saw before. It is different from any orchid that has ever bloomed, including those in the Garden of Eden. The differences may be very slight, or there may be flaws, but about once in every five times his orchid will be worthy of dad and mom, and there is one chance in 10,000 that it will be a absolute stunner. Since he has seen only a fraction of the many thousands of named and listed hybrids, he can’t be sure until the day some grower takes a long hard look at his baby and says casually, “Interesting little plant. I’ll give you $400 for it”. Then he’ll know that in a few years orchid catalogues will list one more named for him, or at least by him.

In the past 20 years Nero Wolfe has had that happen 14 times, and he has on his benches a total of 112 unnamed varieties bred by him and good enough to keep. Okay, that’s very satisfactory, and it’s one of the reasons he grow orchids; but it’s not the main one. He grows orchids chiefly for the same reason that he wears bright yellow shirts: for the colour.


The novella published in 1941 that the next year was extended and renamed Black Orchids.

I said he spends only 20 minutes of the 4 hours looking at flowers, but that’s a lot. Anyway he gets some special kind of kick from colour. He says you don’t look at colour, you feel it, and apparently he thinks that really means something.

It doesn’t to me, but maybe it does to you and you know exactly how he feels as he opens the door to the plant rooms and walks in on the big show. I have never known a day when less than a hundred plants were in bloom, and sometimes there are a thousand, from the pure white of dainty little Dendrobium nobile virginalis to the yellow-tan-bronze-mahogany-purple of big and gaudy Laelia tenebrosa. It is unquestionably worth a look – or, if you react the same way Wolfe does, a feel.

One question I don’t know the answer to and can only guess at is why he cuts the ones he brings down to the office every morning for the vase on his desk. Why not bring the plant, since then the flowers would be good for another week or more? Because he would have to take it back up again? No; he could just add that to my daily chores. Because he thinks that particular spike or raceme has been around long enough? No; sometimes it will be a very special item, like the dwarf Vanda with green dots that a commercial grower offered him $1,200 for. Because he hates to carry things? That could be, but he carries plenty of them from the growing rooms to the potting rooms and back again. The best guess is that he doesn’t want to give a plant a shadow of an excuse not to go on blossoming at peak efficiency. If a Zygopetalum has a cluster of eight flowers this year, and next year only six, he could blame it on the day in the office – not enough light and the temperature and humidity wrong; and although you can say pfui to an orchid plant, and Wolfe often does, there’s no real satisfaction in it.

How does he decide each morning which one he will cut for his desk vase that day? I have had various theories, but none of them has stood up. One was that it depended on the bank balance. If the balance was high, say 50 grand, he would pick something extra flashy; if it was low, down to four figures, it would be something subdued like a brown speckled Dendrobium. That theory lasted three days. When I told him about it he grunted and said, “The flower a woman chooses depends on the woman. The flower a man chooses depends on the flower.”

*This article was originally published in Life magazine on April 19, 1963 and is available online.


Published in 1949, The Second Confession sees a gangster try to intimidate Wolfe by shooting out the windows of his orchid rooms.

Wolfe had once remarked to me that the orchids were his concubines: insipid, expensive, parasitic and temperamental. He brought them, in their diverse forms and colours, to the limits of their perfection, and then gave them away; he had never sold one.

— Archie Goodwin in The League of Frightened Men (1935).

Entering from the stairs via a vestibule, there were three main rooms in the orchid house — one for cattleyas, laelias, and hybrids; one for odontoglossums, oncidiums, miltonias, and their hybrids; and a tropical room (according to Fer-de-Lance). It must have been quite a sight with the angle-iron staging gleaming in its silver paint and on the concrete benches and shelves 10,000 pots of orchids in glorious, exultant bloom.

— Dr John H Vandermeulen writing in the American Orchid Society Bulletin, February 1985, ‘Nero Wolfe — Orchidist Extraordinaire’.

stout cover

The Father Hunt was published in 1968.

“If Wolfe had a favourite orchid, it would be the genus Phalaenopsis,” Robert M. Hamilton wrote in his article, ‘The Orchidology of Nero Wolfe’, first printed in The Gazette: Journal of the Wolfe Pack (Volume 1, Spring 1979). Phalaenopsis is mentioned in 11 Wolfe stories, and Phalaenopsis Aphrodite in seven — more than any other species. Wolfe personally cuts his most treasured Phalaenopsis Aphrodite for a dinner table centerpiece in Poison à la Carte (contained in a 1960 collection). In The Father Hunt (1968), after Dorothy Sebor provides information that solves the case, Wolfe tells Archie, “We’ll send her some sprays of Phalaenopsis Aphrodite. They have never been finer.”

Wolfe rarely sells his orchids — but he does give them away. Four or five dozen are used to advance the investigation in Murder by the Book (1951), and Wolfe refuses to let Archie bill the client for them. In The Final Deduction (1961), Laelia purpurata and Dendrobium chrysotoxum are sent to Dr Vollmer and his assistant, who shelter Wolfe and Archie when they have to flee the brownstone to avoid police.

This website details 7 orchids that have been named for Rex Stout’s fictional characters and registered with the RHS.

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Photos from the show: Layout

A day’s hard work on site – and several offsite – by many Tauranga Orchid Society members paid off with a show that has received a great many compliments and created  smiles for visitors. Here are some photos of what we achieved in 2017 (all images by Sandra Simpson).

Welcome to the woodland glade. Trees by Barry Curtis.

The woodland glade, complete with real sawn logs, fake grass and plenty of fake toadstools. Next stop, the rabbit hole!

Alice, made by Barry Curtis, ‘holds open’ the entry to the rabbit hole – a gazebo lined with black weedmat and hung with fairy lights.

Popping out the other side we come to the tea party. The rabbit was hired from The Incubator, while our clever Barry made the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat.

Looking back towards the rabbit hole.

The Mad Hatter in full song atop his empty beer crates.

Barry carved the Cheshire Cat from polystyrene and used bristles from an outdoor broom for his whiskers.

Someone always has to play the fool! Conrad and Keith get silly with wrapping paper.

Craig figures out the length of a piece of string! In the background the bromeliad boys plot their outstanding display.

At the end of a long day what could be better than a nice cuppa? Conrad plays mother.

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Photos from the show: Flowers

Better late than never – first, I was recovering from the show and feeling like I’d seen quite enough orchids for the time being, thank you; second, the day job has been a bit busy …

Still, here we are and here are some of the beautiful plants on display at Alice in Orchidland. All photos by Sandra Simpson.

Calanthe discolour is a terrestrial orchid (ie, grows in soil) native to Korea, Japan and China.

Phaius tankervilleae (Lady Tankerville’s Swamp Orchid) is another terrestrial with a wide distribution, including PNG and Australia, and grows in swampy grassland.

The striking colour combination of Cattleya Luminosa enchanted some and had others shaking their heads. The plant was registered with the RHS in 1917.

The flowers of Dendrobium petiolatum may be small but what they lack in size thay make up for with colour. Native to New Guinea.

Oncidium rossii ‘Beenak’ x self (the label seemed to indicate that this plant was formerly a Lemboglossum).

Odontocidium Colombian Gold ‘Lochaven’.

Dendrochilum wenzelli is native to a small area of The Philippines.

Guaricyclia (syn. Epicattleya) Kyoguchi ‘Happy Field’.


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Tauranga champions 2017

The Tauranga Orchid Show is proving a great success – so many people have said they’re smiling all the way round the Alice in Orchidland display, which is beautifully supported by displays from the BOP Orchid Society, Whangarei Orchid Society, Leroy Orchids and the BOP Bromeliad Group.

Last day tomorrow at Tauranga Racecourse from 10am-4pm, $3 entry.

The judges did their thing this morning and the results are …

Grand Champion: Cattleya jongheana grown by Helen McDonald. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Reserve Champion: Cattleya Tricky Michelle x Cattleya Aussie Sunset, grown by Lee and Roy Neale of Auckland (Leroy Orchids). Photo: Sandra Simpson

Best Specimen Plant: Coelogyne cristata grown by Conrad Coenen of Apata. Conrad wins the new Natalie Simmonds Trophy, seen with the plant. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Pre-show publicity: Conrad Coenen

Tauranga Orchid Show
September 22-24 (Friday-Sunday), 10am-4pm daily
Tauranga Racecourse, Greerton
$3 entry (under-12 free)

Although orchid growers ‘invariably’ kill a few plants they should chalk it up as part of the learning process, according to Tauranga Orchid Society president Conrad Coenen.

He won’t let on how many plants he’s sent to the great compost heap in the sky – or what their total value might be – but says he keeps the name labels to remind him of his mistakes. “It’s like gardening in general. You grow with your plants.”

Hundreds of years of orchid-growing experience will be available at this year’s Tauranga Orchid Show and Conrad invites people to take advantage of it. “Come and ask questions, look at the plants on display, watch our repotting demonstrations and buy some plants to take home and try.”

Conrad Coenen with his Zygolum Louisendorf ‘Conrad’s Star’, which in 2013 won an Orchid Council of New Zealand award. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A qualified nurseryman who works as a landscape gardener, Conrad is a ‘born-again’ enthusiast after letting his membership lapse as a young family and work took up his time.

“I remember buying an Anguloa clowesii, or tulip orchid, for $40, a huge sum for me back then. It flowered once in 5 years – but for me getting something a little bit difficult to flower is the whole excitement of orchids. We try things out, we look things up, we talk to people more knowledgeable than ourselves.

“What I love about belonging to an orchid society is the camaraderie, the people you meet and the plant collections you get to see.”

His favourites are Lycaste orchids, a close cousin to the Anguloa type. “They’re big, they’re bold and I can’t get them to flower,” he laughs. “I get one flower on a plant and think it’s amazing but I know they can throw 40 to 60 flowers at once.”

The theme for this year’s show is ‘Alice in Orchidland’ which is allowing society members to show off plants in a fun setting.

“The show is a chance to let people see some stunning flowers as well as letting them know that orchids aren’t always ‘hot-house flowers’ that need special equipment and demand lots of attention. There are plenty of people in Tauranga growing orchids outside and there are many cool-growing varieties that will do well here.”

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Knowing your roots!

Fourteen members and 2 visitors (with close club connections) gathered at Conrad’s on Sunday, August 6 for a new-grower workshop. What did we learn? The main message, no matter what type of orchid, is: If there’s a problem, tip the plant out and look at the roots. The difference between healthy roots (white) and degrading roots (brown) is obvious. Many plants are able to remake their root system when they’re happy.

BEFORE: A mass of tired Cymbidium roots. Photo: Sandra Simpson

AFTER: Conrad’s haircut didn’t leave much but he was confident it would regenerate new roots. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Roots are for drinking/feeding and breathing so what’s going on under the plant is essential to the health of the top of the plant.

Keep working tools clean and sterile and treat wounds/damage with Flowers of Sulphur or Conrad was using Physan in a squirt bottle.

Worms, centipedes, cockroaches or slaters in a pot means the bark is breaking down and it’s  time to change the medium. Some caterpillars live in the bark and come out to eat leaves. If cockroaches are a problem put the pot in a sealable plastic bag, spray the bark with fly spray, seal and leave until the cockroaches are dead.

Sphagnum moss is likely to keep the roots too wet and cold, or too dry – it’s better to use a chunky bark mix to let air round the roots, and water more frequently.

Roots go where the air and water flow so if a plant’s roots are growing along the inside wall of a pot it means the medium at the centre of the pot needs replacing.

Conrad puts coarser bark at the bottom of the pot and finer on top. If you use all fine bark it will start to clog the pot’s drainage holes as it breaks down, causing problems. Good-quality orchid bark is essential (the club makes an annual order, keep your eyes peeled for the notice).

Use a knitting needle or similar to work bark in around the plant roots, tapping and shaking the pot to settle the mix as you go.

The building block of plant cells is calcium so feed this to the plants for good health (calcium nitrate is available from Barry).

Conrad spreads dolomite lime over his pots when the weather starts to warm (September / October) and waters it in. The lime sweetens the bark. (Move any that don’t like lime!) Blood and bone is another good topdressing for watering in.

Tiny, but healthy roots. This little plant is grown only in a coir wrap. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A recycled computer part makes a nifty orchid mount. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Some plants, eg Oncidiums and Phalaenopsis, can grow with their roots exposed to the air so are better suited to slab culture (grown on a mount). When you split a plant, Conrad advises trying some in pots and some on mounts to see what happens.

Use warm water on cold days. If you have larger, clumpy plants soak them for half a day in a bucket of water mixed with the appropriate amount of fertiliser.

Orchid pseudobulbs and canes store carbohydrates (= sugars) so can rot easily. If you see it happening, cut out the affected bulbs/canes and sterilise the wound(s).

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