Installing an Award Winning Exhibit
By Ken Meier
    Installing a beautiful orchid exhibit isn’t difficult and the process can be quite
    rewarding and fun. Knowing what the judges look for and following a few
    simple rules help, but the key to success is allowing your orchids to perform to
    the best of their ability. To do this, think of your exhibit as if it were a
    Broadway performance and you are the Casting Director, Set Designer,
    Lighting Technician and choreographer all rolled into one.

    As Casting Director, you’ll choose the plants you want in your production.
    Good quality plants make a good quality display. Plant grooming is essential.
    Remove all dead plant material such as Cattleya sarongs (You know: the paper-
    like material around the older pseudobulbs), old flower sheaths and stems.
    Damaged or spotted leaves should be trimmed off or hidden when placed into
    the display. Extraneous fauna such as scale, mealy bugs and slugs should be
    eradicated. Remember this is a floral display and should not include wildlife.
    You will want plants that are well flowered and whose inflorescence is in good
    condition. Flower spikes with missing or damaged flowers distract from the
    display and should not be used unless that portion of the inflorescence is hidden
    from the viewing public.

    Choose a wide variety of plant materials. An exhibit with only a few genera
    rarely wins a show trophy. Try to include as many different genera as possible
    without crowding the display or using poor or damaged plant material. Variety
    is as important as quality.

    In a single genus exhibit, the variability should be within the genera. Other
    genera should be left out or donated to other exhibitors for their displays. A
    Cattleya. or Oncidium, for example, would look out of place in a Phalaenopsis
    exhibit. Such an exhibit should include a variety of species, and a wide range of
    hybrids from those species. As with any rule, there is always the exception: A
    Vanda, might find way into a Phal. exhibit providing a hybrid between the two
    is worked into the display. The educational value provided by the hybrid is the
    Vanda’s saving grace.

    With all this said, bring every plant you can get your hands on when you go to
    set up the exhibit. You might need that ‘Extra’ you left behind because you
    didn’t think it was good enough.

    Once you have selected your cast, it’s time to build the stage. In order for your
    orchids to look their best, choose a backdrop that shows them off. A dark
    background like dull black fabric works great. If you would rather use
    something more natural, choose something dark and simple like rough wood or
    a slate backdrop. Remember that you want your plants to get the attention, not
    the stage they are performing on. This rule applies to props as well. Always use
    natural items such as drift wood, moss, rock etc. Man made, fabricated items
    draw your attention away from the orchids which are the true stars of your
    show. Keeping your stage simple is the key.

    After you’ve chosen your staging and props, it’s time to set the stage for the
    dress rehearsal and choreograph your players. Selecting where each plant will
    perform can be a time consuming effort that can be minimized if you follow a
    few simple rules:

    Choose a focal point, or Star, for your exhibit. This will usually be the most
    flamboyant specimen plant you have, preferably white in color. The focal point
    is where your eye will naturally be drawn when you view the exhibit for the first
    time. Your thought may be to place your star front and center of the display,
    but this is often a fatal mistake. Place your focal point high and to the rear of
    your exhibit, preferably in the upper right or left hand corner of the display. No
    other orchid should be higher than your star.

    Keep your focal point inside the confines of your display. If lattice or
    temporary walls define your display area, do not display your plants above or
    beyond these boundaries.

    This focal point will now be the starting point for all the other orchids in your
    exhibit. From here, you will stage your plants according to the flow of color
    throughout your exhibit. If your focal plant is white, use a plant that is white
    with a red lip to begin your flow into the reds. In another direction use a white
    flower with yellow markings to begin your flow of yellow color through your
    exhibit. In the same manner, play off the reds or yellows to begin a flow of
    another color in your display. Your lines of color should flow through the
    exhibit in a curved fashion, never straight across, down or diagonally through
    the exhibit.

    Balance your exhibit with color. Browns, dark greens and other earth tones are
    heavy colors and should be kept lower in the display with their color lines
    reaching up into the display. Lighter colors, like white, yellow and sometimes
    pink, should dominate the upper portion of the display and reach down into the
    exhibit or better yet, wrap around the exhibit as if cradling the exhibit in their
    embrace.

    When placing your plants in the exhibit, position them so they are displayed to
    their best advantage. Phalaenopsis inflorescence, for example, should arch in
    the direction of color flow. If two or more spikes are used they should not
    crisscross each other or fall into another line of color. Use the two sprays to
    outline the width of color as it flows through the exhibit. It is better to remove
    an inflorescence than have it poorly placed.

    Keep each of your flowers in clear view from all directions giving each flower
    or plant it’s own space. This means each plant or flower should be far enough
    from those around it to be viewed as an individual entity. A good test of
    spacing is to stand back and point to each flower and be able to single it out
    without much elaboration. The old adage "Less is more" applies here. Don’t try
    and get every plant you own in the display. Be selective. Choose your colors
    and spacing well.

    Generally speaking, larger plants should be displayed to the back leaving the
    smaller flowers to the front of the exhibit where they can be more easily
    viewed. Try to keep small plants off the floor and bring them up to waist level
    so viewers don’t have to kneel on the floor to see them. Tall plants can be set
    at ground level so their flowers are held high for viewing.

    Allow for a place to rest your eyes. Every good display has an area where
    there are no orchids. This can be a mossy background, a large rock or perhaps
    a small quiet pond. If you have a pond or waterfall, be sure to make it
    unobtrusive, so it doesn’t take away from your orchids. Again, you don’t want
    your props to take over the show.

    After you have placed all your plants and are satisfied with your results,
    conceal your pots with moss, ferns, ivy and other natural items. If your
    backdrop is black cloth, you can use this to wrap some of your pots in as well.
    You’ll be surprised by how much the display comes together at this point.
    Finnish off the display by softening the space between plants using ferns, ivy
    and other plant material. Stay away from dramatically variegated foliage, as this
    will also distract from the orchid flowers. Strategically draping ivy and other
    trailing plants can add to the direction of color flow in the exhibit. Using
    different species of ferns and mosses provides a variety of textures that can add
    tremendously to any display.

    The final addition to your exhibit will be the labeling of each orchid plant. Your
    labels should be easily read from the front of the exhibit and clearly located to
    identify which plant it belongs to. Like your backdrop and props, your labels
    should be unobtrusive and noticeable only when looked for. Black construction
    paper with silver, white or gold printing, supported by dark floral wire can be
    created and used with minimal effort.

    Now that the stage has been set and the players are all in their places, it’s time
    to turn up the lights. Concealing your lights is important while still being able to
    highlight those plants and flowers of special interest. Lights placed down in
    front of your exhibit can be hidden behind large rocks, plants and props.
    Lighting from stage left and stage right should be strategically positioned so not
    to shine into the audience eyes when viewing your exhibit from the side. Try to
    have enough lighting so there are no dark areas where plants are placed and
    always have your Star or specimen plant in the spotlight.

    After considerable tweaking and fidgeting it’s time to raise the curtain and let
    the performance begin. You’ve chosen your performers, set the stage, and lit
    the way to an award winning display you can be proud of – and had a lot of fun
    putting together.