Orchid growers showing off
Big, beaming, blatant
There is nothing subtle about an orchid exhibition. It is meant to be spectacular and exuberant, and that is what you get. Growers show their largest samples with the most extravagant shapes and colors to make collectors and spectators gasp in admiration.
At the famous Chanthaburi Orchid Festival, a yearly event in February, the spectacle almost goes over the top. The actual orchid competition in the weekend turns into a week-long carnival of flowers and fruits, girded with food, music and vendors selling anything from traditional fabrics to cleaning products. School kids press together for photos with a flamboyant background. Porters speed through the crowd with carts full of plants. Ladies jostle one another, posing their trained selfie-smile for a picture with their favorite orchid. Facebook posts are skyrocketing.
The orchid festival might look like a fair, but among the shuffling masses of spectators are Thailand’s most renowned experts. Not only growers of orchids, but also of roses, bromeliads, cycads, bananas or durian. They come to exchange technical information, discuss new growing materials, explore varieties and advise amateurs on soil or fertilizer.
To the general public the exhibition is not only a photo opportunity, but also a chance to lay one’s hand on that one desired kind of orchid. Those who might not want to spend too much money, but do have a lot of patience, can find young shoots for sale at a reasonable price (say less than a dollar).
Showpiece of the Chanthaburi orchid competition, held on the grounds of the Ratchamongkol Institute of Technology in Krathing, is the Dendrobium lindleyi. This species originates from the surrounding forests and bursts into loud yellow splashes between January and March. By no means a subtle orchid, this Luang Chanthabul, as it is locally called. But it is the pride of the province, and popular in the area because it is easy to grow; tie it to any tree and it feels at home .
February 2016, text and image Karolien Bais, video Mijnd Huijser
Horticulture deals as much with vegetation as with culture. As a foreigner in Thailand, I am often more struck by the cultural aspects of growing flowers, trees and crops than by the actual appearance of certain species.
Likewise it is fascinating to discover how plants, flowers and landscaping are applied for cultural events.