With the countdown under way to the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens 40th anniversary Orchid Show on Feb. 14 (with a sneak preview for Orchid Ball-goers the evening before), assistant horticulture director Angel Lara is just days away from realizing his vision for the “larger than life” experience he’s been planning for a year.
Lara and his team of 12, including several volunteers, will transform the 2,000-square-foot tropical conservatory with nearly 2,000 orchids. His excitement is visible as he discusses the show in a near-breathless rush of words. “In years past, we’ve done shows with maybe 300 [orchids],” he says. They are busy constructing “living walls” 15 to 17 feet tall, filled with orchids, aeroids, ferns and bromeliads; orchid “tunnels” and orchid “trees” in a rainbow of colors; and rock walls aglow with yellow and gold oncidiums.
“We want to overwhelm [visitors] with sensory overload,” says Lara, who came to Selby Gardens 10 years ago from the New York Botanical Gardens, where, as a collections grower, he grew orchids for their big annual show. “It’s going to leave a mark in their memories.”
Corporate sponsor and orchid collector Better-Gro is loaning the gardens hybrid orchids of every description and color—phalaenopsis, vandas, dendrobiums, oncidiums, cattleya. Placed throughout the conservatory will be some extraordinary showstoppers: rare species from the gardens’ research collection, collected by gardens scientists in the wild over 40 years.
Lara says he can’t wait to see the designs he’s been mulling over for a year come to life. “We’re talented enough to do it, but never on this magnitude before,” he says.
Several special events are set through the show’s run, which ends March 27.
Selby orchidologist Dr. Antonio Toscano deBrito will give a talk, “For the Love of Orchids,” Feb. 17; Marc Hachadourian, curator of the orchid collection at the New York Botanical Gardens, will give a keynote lecture March 11; there will be early morning Tripod Tuesdays for photography enthusiasts Feb. 16 and March 1 and 15; and botanical illustrator Olivia Braida will teach a drawing class, “Orchids: Up Close & Personal,” Feb. 20.
And every Wednesday evening from Feb. 17 to March 24, a limited number of guests can attend cocktail receptions in the conservatory.