Orchid show blooms away winter chill

Madison Hopkins/Medill

By Madison Hopkins

About 28,000 people will step out Chicago’s freezing winter and into a tropical paradise of 10,000 flowers at the third annual Orchid Show at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe.

That’s the expectation if this year’s show compares with the previous popularity of the crowd-drawing event. And program organizers are presenting special events such as concerts and classes along with the creative floral layouts.

“Each year we try to do something a little different,” said Jodi Zombolo, senior director of visitor events and programs at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Orchids belong to one of the largest plant families and account for approximately 30,000 different varieties, making it an optimal selection for a large-scale show.

“Orchids are some of the most highly advance group of plants on the planet,” said Tom Etheridge, chair of the American Orchid Society Research and Conservation Committee. “They are still essentially evolving and they are dispersed across the world. So they have developed a huge range of characteristics to attract pollinators that are site specific.”

The event showcases “A Study in Contrasts,” displaying up to 10,000 orchids in many varieties of size, color and geographical contexts.

“I really enjoy all the effort they put into it,” said Frank Turk, a visitor to the show. “It’s a beautiful display and especially in the middle of winter it’s nice to be able to come out and see all this.”

One arrangement, the “Vanda Chandelier” drew immediate attention from many visitors. It showcases flowers usually native to India and Burma in vibrant pink and red hues that cascade from the ceiling.

Nancy Chadwick, a regular at the garden, said she uses the Orchid Show as a chance to buy plants from the sale held following the close of the exhibit, and learn some tips on arranging her own garden.

“Seeing the colors and the textures help to learn how to mix things and just to step out of the box a little bit,” she said.

Photographers positioned themselves for dramatic views during the opening weekend, some equipped with impressive gear, others just with smartphones. Photographers can enter shots from the show in the garden’s Orchid Show Photo Contest.

Tod Davison of Chicago  took many pictures of the floral beauties, but said he doesn’t plan on entering the competition with his work.

“They just go on Facebook for friends to see,” he said. “I’m just trying to learn a little more about taking pictures indoors with something with this.”

In addition to the ongoing exhibit, the garden is unveiling several special events to bring in new types of visitors.

This Thursday’s “Concert with the Orchids,” is already sold out, with about 55 percent of tickets purchased by non-members, according to Zombolo. The concert will feature The Accidentals, an indie-trio band which Billboard Magazine named one of the top seven breakout artists at SXSW 2015.

But there are more concerts to come as part of the show.

“That’s probably a whole new demographic for us,” Zombolo said. “It’s an indie band so it’s young, it’s hip, it’s drawing a completely different crowd.”

The garden will also host two different evening events involving cocktail tasting, and various orchid-themed classes, among other events.

The Orchid Show is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through March 13. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for seniors 62 and older, or children between the ages of 3 and 12 for all non-members of the garden. Members get a $2 discount on all ticket prices.

Photo at top: A visitor to the Chicago Botanic Garden at the ‘Vanda Chandelier.’ The garden’s third-annual Orchid Show kicked off last weekend and continues through March 13. (Madison Hopkins/MEDILL)