If it’s spring color you’re craving, a visit to the Denver Botanic Gardens is in order.
The annual Orchid Showcase, on exhibit Thursday through Feb. 17, will fill the Gardens’ Orangery and Marnie’s Pavilion with an explosion of colors and delicately patterned lush blooms.
“Most people aren’t thinking about plants and gardening in January and February. The Orchid Showcase is a nice way to remind them that the Botanic Gardens are a year-round destination,” said Nick Snakenberg, associate director of horticulture and curator of tropical plant collections.
The showcase will appeal to “the beginner and the curious more than the advanced orchid grower,” he said.
“We try to change up the theme of the exhibit each year. This year the theme is just slow down, relax, take it in. I’d say ‘stop and smell the roses,’ but there aren’t any roses. We’re encouraging visitors to take time to look around and appreciate the surroundings,” Shakenberg said. “With that, we’re including some quotations, contemplative floral and literary quotations.”
One such quote is by Confucius: “An orchid in a deep forest sends out its fragrance even if no one is around to appreciate it.”
Snakenberg has overseen the exhibit each year since its inception about eight years ago.
“The display space within the Orangery experienced on a cold, snowy day is wonderful because you’re surrounded by flowers, and the fragrance is amazing. Being inside the warm, colorful, fragrant space on a snowy day is kind of magical. It makes any day an oasis,” he said.
The Orangery is a walkable greenhouse dotted with benches, and Marnie’s Pavilion features floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on the Gardens, a two-story waterfall and lots of orchids, ferns and other tropical plants.
Orchids timed to bloom for the exhibit are shipped in from brokers in Florida and Hawaii to “beef up” plants in the Gardens’ collection.
“We order so many in because they’re grown in nurseries that grow tens of hundreds of plants. They can trick them into blooming just as you would a poinsettia or Easter lily. Since we need everything at once, that’s another reason we order some in,” he said. “My biggest worry every year is that the weather’s not going to cooperate for shipping. If we ever have a sub-zero cold blast, I’ll be losing sleep. These plants can’t ship early because of the holiday, and many won’t arrive until the day we install. So it’s always a nail biter.”
More readily available varieties of orchids also will be in the display, with “the more unusual things behind glass,” Snakenberg said.
The Mexican species Laelia anceps is one of those unusual orchids.
“It’s a winter-blooming species that’s part of our collections. We happen to have a lot of different varieties of these that create a wall of color just inside of the glass. We’ll also have Cattelya and Cattelya hybrids, which will be rotated so they’re easy to view from the windows. And we’re experimenting more with non-orchids.”
Some of the blooms last only for a day or two, so visitors might experience a different exhibit on repeat trips.
The showcase is included in regular admission to the Gardens, and it tends to be a popular destination.
“There’s just something about even the word ‘orchid’ that sounds exotic and delicate or rare. For a long time, they were this mystery plant that was hard to grow and an expensive hobby. But a lot of that has changed, with many orchids becoming more readily available and less expensive,” Snakenberg said. “I think it’s the mystery and romance of the word ‘orchid’ that draws people in.”
If you’re looking to buy orchids, Louisville’s Fantasy Orchids will be on hand to sell plants from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 12, 19 and 26 and Feb. 2, 9 and 16.Orchid Showcase at Denver Botanic Gardens offers mid-winter taste of the tropics