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
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
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