(often over many years)

Like any other living thing, orchid plants have to be well treated to grow well. If they are neglected they may survive but they will never thrive. The basic requirements can be summarized under the headings of temperature, humidity, light, water and feeding - for optimum growth each of these factors must be within a range suitable for the particular plant, usually similar to those conditions in the location where the original plant grew as a native. In addition to these basic factors plants have other more subtle needs - air movement, rate of temperature change, purity of water, colour of the light and so on which all affect the plant's quality and rate of growth. And of course it is essential to minimize any effects from insects or diseases and treat them promptly and effectively.

To grow an orchid into a specimen plant such as you see on many of the displays takes many years, and to get the best out of a plant the proper growing conditions must be maintained continuously over the whole time. Good growers have a natural rapport with their plants (sometimes called a "green thumb") and know almost instinctively when they need water or fertilizer, when they have the right amount of light or when they are a little sickly so they can take action quickly before the plant suffers.


Not all plants are equal - in many cases their genetic makeup is such that they would never win any prizes no matter how well they were grown. An important part of growing prize-winning plants is learning to recognize those qualities which separate a good plant from a less good one. In a poorer plant the shape or the colouring of the flowers may not be outstanding, and even the most expert culture cannot change these factors.


Only plants in flower can be judged, and the flowers should be fully open but not yet starting to fade, so the timing of flowering can be quite critical. Orchid plants flower in response to environmental stimuli (usually changes in water, light or temperature), but the flower spike may take many weeks or months to develop and open fully. It is sometimes possible to encourage the plant to flower at the exact time of an upcoming show, but this obviously requires an in-depth knowledge of the particular plant's habits and wants, as well as a degree of luck. Some orchid plants have flowers which remain open for many weeks or months, but for those plants which only open for a few days, luck plays a big part in the success or otherwise of the timing.


A successful exhibit requires more than just excellent plants with high quality flowers. An overall theme is needed to allow the creation of an integrated appearance. This may represent a natural setting such as a portion of forest floor with perhaps a waterfall or pond, a more formal arrangement such as a table with place setting, or an artistic concept such as a "menu" based on orchids. The arrangement of the plants within the display, the choice of supporting materials, and even the selection of plants with coordinating colours all play an important part in producing an eye-catching and pleasing overall effect.


Most plants have some natural "defects" such as possibly dead leaves, discoloured foliage or old flower spikes, and there may also be other cosmetic defects such as weeds growing in the medium or a cracked pot. Successful exhibitors clean up this kind of defect before the show, and ensure their plants are looking their best. They also make sure the flower spikes are properly supported if necessary using a suitable stake, one which blends artistically with the plant and the rest of the display. Even the labels used to identify the plant are important - a well-written discreet label improves the appearance of the display, and all labels in a display should match in style.


Depending on the theme of the display, different types of supporting materials can be used but in general the objective is to display the flowers to their best advantage while covering the less desirable parts of the plant such as the roots, medium or pot. For a natural setting, moss is normally added around the plants after they have been arranged, possibly combined with some other natural materials such as driftwood, ferns or ivy. For a more formal setting, a sheet of cloth is often used to hide the pots while giving a "finished" look to the display. However there is no "formula for success" and some displays are very creative - it is up to the imagination of the exhibitor.


After the display is set up, the successful exhibitors will take a final check to see that all the details are right. No stray piece of moss on the clean black cloth background, no leaf out of place, no flowers accidentally hidden by foliage. All labels are correctly in place, right way up and facing the front. No pots are accidentally showing through the moss. The lights are shining in the best place, and are not so close that the plants could be burned. After setting up and from time to time during the show, mist the plants lightly with water to stop the flowers from fading and keep them fresh looking.


As in most endeavours, luck is always a factor in a successful exhibit. Perhaps a mouse gets into your growing area and treats your flowers as a salad bar, or a plant falls over while you are setting up the display and breaks off the spike. Or on the positive side, perhaps a plant whose flowers only open for a day or two just happens to bloom at the exact time of the show. But good growers use their skills to minimize the effects of luck, and it is not by chance that the same experts win awards year after year!

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