The Aesthetics of Orchid Growing – Tina Stagg

Tina is a long established member of CANWOS, and has talked on orchids for a while as well. This particular talk has an interesting title, and is definitely well away from the „norm‟. Although aesthetics is a complex word, the subject itself is fairly straightforward once the basics are understood. It is very much a subject to be taught rather than try to self learn. „Why we like what we like‟ is the alternate title, and applies to many things other than orchids, but it fits orchids best!

Aesthetics is this case is a visual thing – about beauty, and how this is shared. It is based on many things that nature throws at us. The first is maths based. Spirals are found throughout nature from fir cones to pineapples, and such orchids as Anacampsis pyramidalis. In the case of the pineapple, there is a perfect spiral both ways, whereas in the fir cone it can be misbalanced, often in the ratio of 1:1.6. This ratio is part of a natural sequence that creates golden rectangles and triangles, as well as circles, ovals and squares. This ratio fits in with the Fibonacci sequence – 1,2,3,5,8,13,21 (never expected to hear that associated with orchids – ed,).

The next is proportion and balance, with the ratio having a role here. Leonardo‟s Vitruvian Man fits into a circle as well as a golden rectangle. Symmetry is important with balance, and all orchids fit nicely into this bracket. L. anceps is both circular and rectangular. Tina grows a lot of clones – often unseen as they flower in December and January when generally there are no shows. These are grown in a mixture of large bark, moss and oak leaves, except var. veitchiana which grows in a basket of moss. L. jongheana is similar & rubescens displays a diamond shaped lip. Dendrochilums in flower such as filiforme have a circular shape (from above), and half spherical shape (from the side).

Colour is the third aspect, although of lesser importance. Some colours are seen as good, some bad, and this can be more of preference.

Nature gives us some „factory settings‟ at birth (natural instincts etc.). We have to like round things such as babies faces and eyes (rejection would see the end to the human race), so we like round flowers such V. rothschildiana or Miltonias. We have dislikes as well – green is often disliked as a flower colour for many of the same reasons that kids don‟t want to eat green vegetables as it isn‟t a natural ripe food colour for apes. Our complex lives means that we often forget our likes, and we will be given reminders such as a perfect sunset after a sunny day, and those warm colours of red and yellow eg. Pot. Little Toshie. Brown Cymbidiums are reminiscent of autumn tints.

Scent and flavour are important and provided by many orchids – vanilla being the main one, but also cinnamon (yellow Lycastes), and cedar (Polystachia). (The opposite end of the scale is the rotting flesh smell that attracts carrion flies).

We enjoy anticipation – whether it is for a holiday, or waiting for a bud to fatten and open eg. the massed flowers of Lycaste cruenta. We are also heartened by new growths, or lots of new roots. Anticipation can be seasonal of course. Christmas is associated with red, so we like red things at that time – poinsettias and Cochlioda noezliana, and also pink such as Burr. Nelly Isler. Spring is a positive time of year. We‟ve had enough of reds and browns, and want to see the yellows of daffodils, Lycaste luminosa and Den. Stardust ‟Chiomi‟.

We all have personal tastes that can vary enormously. Harlequin Phals are a good example. Although they may be florally symmetrical, odd blotches here and there aren‟t normal to nature. Consequently you tend to either like or loath them. Huge plants can be natural and appear overbearing.

The perfectly random mixed colour display can be very appealing – it doesn‟t have to adhere to the „colour wheel‟ of adjacent and opposite colours.

When planning to stage plants, there is a need to often train plants to get the correct shape, especially with multi spikes Phals. Staking them young to avoid each other should result in a fan shaped display (or a wall) once the canes are removed. Displays that are sloped create a good effect, creating natural depth. Plants can then be arranged either in genera, or by colour. Sometimes though in this case symmetry can appear tedious, so use of diagonals can be effective; especially in rectangles (don‟t forget the ratio).

At the end of the day though, what really hits us is the WOW factor, and to achieve this, many of the above factors come into play – not forgetting the correct culture for the plant.

All in all, a very good lecture that gets you thinking, and a heartily deserved round of applause was given. JG