Orchids show a pop of color at Fellows Riverside Gardens

YOUNGSTOWN — Steel and flowers are an unlikely combination, but they pair nicely at Fellows Riverside Gardens for the annual Jewels of Winter Orchid Show.

“We brainstorm with the staff every year to come up with something slightly different,” said Andrew C. Pratt, gardens director for Mill Creek MetroParks. “Every year it has a theme, so it’s not just pretty plants out on display. This year is an homage to the Valley’s industrial past and present.

“It’s a fun theme, showing our roots — pun intended.”

Artifacts from the steel industry, on loan from the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor, are juxtaposed with the vibrant colors of hundreds of orchids inside the D.D. and Velma Davis Education & Visitor Center.

Hard hats and tools share space with phalaenopsis and dendrobium. Photographs of steel mills become the backdrops for garden beds filled with brightly hued blooms.

Steel also is showcased in a different way as the metal sculptures by Youngstown artist Tony Armeni are used as a backdrop for some of the plants.

“It’s nice to collaborate with artists and different organizations in the community,” Pratt said.

This year’s exhibition features between 200 and 300 plants, Pratt said, and he estimated there are 70 to 80 different varieties on display.

“Orchids are highly hybrid-ized,” Pratt said. “They’re cross-bred.”

Some of the flowers have a bell-like bloom on them that has earned them the nickname lady slipper. Others have characteristics that make them resemble animal heads. The unique qualities of each plant make the show particularly popular with photographers.

Orchids aren’t popular solely for their good looks. Some have a scent as enticing as their appearance. Oncidium orchids, referred to as Sharry Baby, have a sweet smell that Pratt compared to chocolate.

“It’s always fun to see the reaction of the kids,” he said.

The show ranges from orchids that are native to Ohio, to rare, exotic blooms from warmer climates that are seldom seen in this part of the country outside of a special exhibition.

With temperatures struggling to reach zero degrees this week and wind chills well below zero, the flowers should be a welcome site.

“For this time of year, it’s a badly needed splash of color,” Pratt said.