Orchids Festival – Kew Gardens, London March 2018

by Emma Bumpus on March 19, 2018

As winter sheds it cold and crispy layers Careertraveller takes a speedy 30-minute journey from Central London to Kew’s famous UNESCO World Heritage Site to celebrate their 23rd annual Orchids Festival.

Located in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, is a stunning glasshouse of 10 climatic zones that celebrate Thailand, which home to over 1,100 orchids brings a carnival of colour to this world leader in the study of orchids.

Greeted by a giant floral water dragon and golden Thai cart we step into South East Asia and uncover an exotic paradise of enlightened plant science and Thai culture that smiles with friendly and fun-loving hospitality. Multi-coloured handcrafted Thai umbrellas and pendulous lanterns weave an invigorating trail of wondrous beauty through a botanical forest of flamboyant colour and texture all under canopy.

From the distinctively ‘hot and steamy’ to ‘cool and temperate’ zones awaits a journey of sensory lowland and mountainous orchid species whose blooms spray harmoniously amongst the symbiotic bromeliads, ferns and lichens. Spectacular!

From dry tropic desert cacti to wet tropic jungle, succulent foliage presents a stunning backdrop for bountiful orchids that symbolise Thailand’s’ royal natural beauty.

Careertraveller favourite Paphiopedilum slipper orchid is a captivating genus with it’s unusual looking pouch-like labellum of a flower that cunningly traps insects seeking nectar. Red burning eye candy comes in the form of Anthurium or commonly known Flamingo Flower, whose dazzling show of long, dark green leathery leaves and waxy architectural heart – shaped flowers glisten with bright light loving pride!

Caught in a celestial space of fields and forest we admire the delicate swarms of Dendrobium and Phalaenopsis moth orchids, whose butterfly-like petals gracefully adorn the festival’s centrepiece Bang Pa-In-inspired Orchid Palace. Fit for royalty, this floral display replicates the prominent Thai Summer Palace of the Kings of Thailand and sits elegantly in an ornamental rectangular pond as if on the banks of the Chaopraya River near Bangkok!

Happily lost in this “forest by the sea” we discover Red Mangroves from Phuket Island and unearth their swamp-like protective tidal qualities and buoyant seeds that propagate in far away places. Experiencing Mother Nature, we admire the Elephantine Gardener, a wonderful bamboo creation of Thailand’s Asian elephants who aid deforestation by eating her plants and spreading seeds in dung, producing more plantations. It is no wonder the national emblem of Thailand is the Siamese elephant!

Lunch brings more Thai creativeness outside the conservatory with a pop up tent serving fresh aromatic street food that starts with a winter warmer Orchid Cocktail overlooking Kew’s inspirational gardens. A shaken vodka with ginger liqueur and lemongrass cordial is a winner with fresh chilli and cold pressed citrus, giving just enough spicy edge to indulge a Thai red chicken curry with coriander and jasmine rice. No surprise we discover the plants behind Thai gastronomy and identify their medicinal properties.

Melted by the seasonal and golden butternut squash and fuelled with the flavours of SE Asia we continue our journey inside the conservatory to the tunes of Thai Music Circle who gracefully perform classical Thai music. Amidst the rural rice paddy and cloud forest we soak up Thai life with its diverse geography and strong national identity where local food, celebration and music are prevalent.

Seedbanks are the topic of conversation in the film room, which transports us to the forests and National Parks of Thailand where we consider the effects of deforestation, plant extinction and their impact on the environment. We learn about conservation and Kew’s research of plant species, including their Millenium Seed Bank Partnership, which focussing on endangered plant species introduces us to Kew’s wild botanical garden Wakehurst, home to this seed bank and the largest wild seed conservation project in the world!

In the ‘land of a thousand smiles’ we applaud Kew and this year’s Orchids Festival, hosted in partnership with the Royal Thai Embassy, London and partners, for a wonderful insight to Thailand and the beauty of plant diversity and science.

Further information:

Kew Gardens
Kew Garden Events

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