Preparing and Showing Orchid Plants

by Alan Hope

I’m sometimes asked “How many plants will I need to set up a display?” Many Spring Show schedules provides for mini-stands (maximum of ten plants) as well as the more traditional larger displays. Obviously each will require a different number of plants but half a dozen plants would probably be adequate for a mini-stand. You need to check the area allocated for mini-stands and then practise your set-up at home. You’ll be amazed at how attractive a small group of orchids can look and the satisfaction that building a display will provide! I can clearly remember my first stand as a novice. It comprised a mere nine cymbidiums plus the beautiful Australian native species Dendrobium falcorostrum. My stand didn’t win but I gained experience and a desire to do better next time.

Preparing Your Plants. A well groomed and presented plant is an excellent start to winning the hearts of the judges. Cleaning and tidying-up is rather time-consuming but it is absolutely necessary. It is probably best to start with the raceme (flower spike), which should have all brown sheaths removed. In most cases the stake and ties will already be in place and you will have only to trim the ends of any ties that protrude. If the raceme requires a stake, remember to allow the raceme to follow its natural inclination. Pulling an arching or pendulous raceme upright when the flowers are partially or fully open will look unnatural, and may also cause damage.

Use a solution of detergent or Cleansel® and a small sponge or cloth to clean the leaves and the pot. But take care not to pull out the central leaves of any new growths or to damage the flowers. Any scale found on the leaves can be removed by wiping them with cotton wool soaked in methylated spirits. Remove dry husks and dead leaves by splitting them apart and then pulling each section away from the bulb separately. If any leaves have black tips or unsightly damage, you can trip them to a natural leaf-tip shape. Ensure that you sterilise any scissors or secateurs used, especially if you intend to use them on more than one plant. It’s a good idea to have several pairs soaking in a sterilising solution, such as a strong solution of Tricleanium®, so as to avoid cross-infection as you move from one plant to the next. At this stage your plant should be looking great. Note its best position for viewing and insert a removable label to help you place the pot in the best orientation at set-up time.

Labels. You will need to label your plants according to the instructions in the show schedule. Use stiff card of the required size. White card is often used but if there are many labels, the mass of white cards is distracting. A neutral colour, such as leaf-green, results in a better overall appearance. Correct spelling and the use of large print is important, as the card should be legible when viewed from a distance of 2 m. Blu-Tac® can be used to fasten the label either to the foliage or to a stake, or you can use a piece of thin, straight wire which has a double loop at its top to hold the card.

The Stand. You are usually required to build your own stand, so you may need to obtain some foam boxes or to devise other structural materials. You will also need some black or green covering to hide the boxes and perhaps to disguise the pots. If the Society provides a pre-fabricated stand your job will be made a lot easier. Put your best orchid in a position where it can be clearly seen – probably in the centre at eye level. If you have a plant with pendulous spikes that extend below the base of the pot, it can be better displayed by placing the pot in a stack of pots of the same size. Alternatively, you can place the pot on top of another up-turned pot. However, in this case you will need to tape the pots together to avoid the possibility of the plant falling if its pot is bumped or moved during judging.

Transporting Plants. The aim is to arrive at the show venue with the flowers undamaged. Place the pots in a foam box or in a protected position in your car and ensure they can’t move or topple over if you have to brake suddenly. Be careful that the racemes don’t become entangled, because many a plant has been ruined when a flower is caught up as the plant is being removed from the car. Last, but not least, don’t forget to check in your plants with the show marshal on arrival and receive registration numbers.