Orchid show brings early spring to Fellows Riverside Gardens

Temperatures have dipped into the teens and lower. Snow melts just long enough to tease with patches of ugly brown grass before a new layer of white stuff covers them.

It’s the kind of weather that makes one dream of a vacation to a tropical locale, even if that bank account balance is a constant reminder that the only affordable destination is the hardware store for a new snow shovel.

The snow still is visible looking out the windows at Fellows Riverside Gardens’ D.D and Velma Davis Education & Visitor Center, but inside it’s filled with tropical sights for the annual Jewels of Winter Orchid Exhibit, which is on display through March 11.

“It’s a glimpse of spring,” said Rob Chismar, garden supervisor for Mill Creek Metroparks. “Even though the orchid is not typically a spring flower, it’s just so nice to come out of the snow and ice outside and see these beautiful and fragrant flowers. It’s a sensory experience at an otherwise snowy time of year.”

While some orchids like the Phaleanopsis Blume (or moth orchid) can be found at floral shops year round, many of the flowers on display at the gardens are more rare, both in this region and at this time of year.

At least 150 different types of orchids will be shown.

“There are so many different varieties, so many different types,” Chismar said. “Most folks are familiar with what they see when they go to the big box stores, but there are just so many different varieties and types. There’s something for everyone with orchids, whether you like color, whether you like fragrance, whether you like more of a foliage-based look to a plant. They’re just a bit more exotic than what you find in our area.

“Many orchids are native to a Costa Rican environment, so you don’t see these unique specimens every day.”

Some of flowers have a bell-like bloom on them that has earned them the nickname lady slipper; other features two of the blooms to create a pair of lady slippers. Some have characteristics that make them resemble animal heads. The unique qualities of each plant make the show particularly popular with photographers.

The center has a geothermal design that helps regulate the temperature inside, but Chismar said they need to take additional care about not leaving the loading dock open too long or doing anything else that could drop the temperature inside.

It’s not just the temperature that can make raising orchids a challenge. Chismar explained that orchids are epiphytes, which means they grow on another type of plant material.

“They don’t like someone to come up with a watering can and just dump water on them,” he said. “They need to have that oxygen around their root base … You have to have the right potting media for every orchid — moss, bark, you have to find what works best for that particular type of orchid.

“You have to understand, if an orchid is struggling, you can’t go, ‘Oh, it needs water,’ and grab a water can and some Miracle Gro and toss it on there. We have to err on the side of caution. We’ll do a finger test on every single plant for the duration of the show. If they’re dry, we may supplement them with some water. Others may not need water for the duration of the show.”

This is the 60th anniversary of Fellows Riverside Gardens, which influenced the design of the show.

“We’ve tried to incorporate into almost every show or thing we do this year some type of diamond theme,” Chismar said. “There are a a lot of geometric shapes, diamond shapes. It’s a little more formal than last year’s orchid show. That was done deliberately to let the orchids shine through, to let the beauty of the blooms be at the forefront.”

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