After possible the worst summer in the United Kingdom since records began, the West Country Devon and Cornwall has suffered more than most. Many of its attractions are outside the romantic coast and moorland; whilst wind and rain blown leads to atmosphere, relaxation is another matter.
Just a mile or two from the main trunk road of the A38 in Devon a short distance from the market town of Newton Abbot can be found The Orchid Paradise. On arrival the word ‘Paradise’ may be slightly dodgy by trading standards regulations, a small car park to one side with three or four old fashioned glass houses, there is nothing smart or slick about entering Orchid Paradise no inactive screens, electronic gizmos a smiling face to guide you through the exhibits.
That is the good news, this is an old fashioned attraction, it demands the ability to read, concentrate and make an effort. In the centre is a small café come restaurant serving teas and coffee simple but well prepared meals and many gifts, all at a reasonable price.
The upper greenhouses are divided between tropical and sub-tropical/temperate orchids and those for sale. The ‘exhibition’ or lower house is the place to begin kept warm and humid by small pools filled with greedy koi carp keep children amused. Staged on benches and in baskets hundreds of species cultivars and varieties of tropical orchids show of their abundance of colourful flowers many strangely scented the exhibits are constantly changed throughout the year more than a thousand types will put in an appearance. Many of the specimens are unique to Burnham Nursery and some are now extinct in the wild.
The collection is very much a family business now run by Sara Rittershausen and her enthusiastic knowledgeable staff. It is this clear love and enthusiasm for orchids that comes across and makes the whole experience worthwhile. They are constantly putting on events and features talks and help days to try and improve people’s knowledge of such complex plant group.
The tender tropical orchids contain over one million different forms species, hybrids and cultivars etc; In a life time of study it would be hard have a knowledge of 5% of such vast subject; this I think puts a lot of students of plants of the group too big an under taking. Having been to orchid Paradise on many occasions throughout the year I have come not only to respect the set up but also to respect the plants. The sheer diversity of colour shape and form, the complexity of attraction whether by color, scent or shape all to achieve one aim, pollination, has to be the broadest of any plant family.
After leaving the exhibition house I return to the upper houses at the easy end of the scale are the Phalaenopsis Moth Orchids possible the most common cultivated form alongside these the Cymbidiums large showy plants are probably the best starting point. Air plants and those growing on bark are also available, I am particularly struck by the large flowered and brilliants colours of the Vanda Orchids. At around £20 or 25 euros these may seem to be expensive, but, having bought one back in March it has just stopped flowering in October giving great value for money and with a little work I may be able to get to flower again next year.
I find the best way to keep them is in a warm bathroom or kitchen the humidity will be a bit higher in good indirect light and I always water them with tepid rain rather than tap water, keeping then very moist during the flowering time and reducing when dormant.
For an entry fee of £2.50 open throughout the year from 10am to 4pm it is an old fashioned attraction and a perfect place to spend a couple of hours on a rain socked day at any time of the year. Take a break and enjoy an old fashioned tea cake and just relax.
For more information about Orchid Paradise and Burnham Nursery forth coming events and tips go to http://www.orchids.uk.com/