BRITAIN’S number one selling house plant – a tropical orchid – is likely to have grown in unexotic surroundings and surprisingly close to home: at a nursery in Pinchbeck.
The Phalaenopsis Orchid, more commonly known as the Moth Orchid, can be found on bathroom windowsills across the country, but there is every chance it was grown by V-Flora UK Ltd, which is one of just three UK firms specialising in this plant.
We take it for granted now that we can buy these delicate-looking flowers at the supermarket along with our weekly shop, but it is only in the last couple of decades that they have been widely available.
So it is slightly ironic that the company’s Bronze Flora award at its first entry in the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show was on the show’s theme of the Swinging ’60s.
“To be honest, orchids in the ’60s were scarce, they were more of a collectors’ item,” explained sales representative David Bowers. “There were lots of expeditions going on to find new orchids and they cost a substantial amount of money so in the ’60s a lot of people wouldn’t have known about orchids.”
At any one time V-Flora, the largest Phalaenopsis grower in the UK, has about 750,000 orchids under 15,000 square metres of glass in its six greenhouses. These are sold mainly to the wholesale market and then on to nurseries and supermarkets. The nursery, part of Glorchid which is based in Taiwan, was set up about four years ago and specialises in 9cm Phalaenopsis Orchids, although a few other varieties and sizes are grown.
The young plants are grown in Taiwan and the roots and leaves are then flown to England and staff at Pinchbeck put them through a cooling phase to induce the spike that will eventually flower. The young plants are watered and fertilised by the automated watering system from the nursery’s two reservoirs, but once they have flowered they are staked and moved to a warmer environment, at around 18-20oC, and watered by hand at the base to avoid damaging the flowers.
The greenhouses contain plants at different stages of growth, and it can take anything from three to five-and-a-half months to get to the flowering step, when they are sent to wholesalers. A sunny weekend will turn a greenhouse full of buds into what outgoing sales manager Ricky Hammond calls “a burst of flower” on Monday morning.
This all sounds like a lot of care and attention, but David concedes that the real work is done in Taiwan, where the scientific process of cloning the plants takes place over a period of three years and propagation over 18 months.
However, the plants are far hardier than they look, and David says: “The reason it’s become the most popular house plant is its versatility. It will thrive in warmth and light and must not have direct sunlight, and the flower will last anywhere between 10 to 16 weeks, which is part of its appeal.
“There was always this myth that orchids were difficult to keep because they were a tropical plant. They have been difficult in the past, but with current varieties what you see here are hybrids and like a lot of commercially grown plants they have adapted to our conditions.”
Incidentally, the UK has its own orchids – about 50 varieties according to David – but they are fairly small and they are all protected, so carry on buying your favourite house plant at the supermarket or nursery!