Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Out soon ...

If you’re an orchid addict, you'll soon be able to download THE LOST ORCHID from Bluewood publishing. It's a Gothic-inspired tale of horticultural skulduggery set during the heady years of ‘Orchidmania’, when Victorians went mad for the latest, rarest and most exotic flowers of the day.

It is the first in a three-part Gothic-inspired series set in the 1880s, featuring Flora McPhairson, a young florist and her roller-coaster relationship with enigmatic journalist William Carter, whom she encounters after seeking refuge from social disgrace with her uncle, a veteran plant-collector and nursery owner.

It deals with deliciously dark, roiling Gothic themes of loss and rejection, the plight of ‘fallen women’ and obsession against the backdrop of Victorian hypocrisy and repression. It is planned as the first in a romantic trilogy:


If you don’t like blurbs, ignore the next three paragraphs. Or, in the modern parlance, spoiler alert!

Early spring 1885 ...

Florist Flora McPhairson elopes, but is jilted and nearly dies of pneumonia. Her reputation in shreds, she is obliged to stay with her bachelor uncle, veteran plant collector John McPhairson. She works at his plant nursery where he hybridises orchids, much prized by high society.

Flora then disturbs some vandals and prevents further damage. After scandal-mongering at a major auction, her uncle confesses that he fears he is the target of a dirty tricks campaign. There are plenty of suspects, including a rival orchid house, a thwarted suitor of Flora’s and even religious zealots who believe her uncle’s unique ability to create hybrids is an abomination.

Disaster also strikes abroad as their own plant collector falls victim to foul sabotage. Flora is obliged to seek the help of enigmatic journalist, William Carter, to avert ruin.

Events take a sinister turn, and her uncle vanishes. Carter is a useful ally, and their mutual distrust turns into respect. Pushed to the edge of their endurance, they find help in the most unlikely of places, but it seems that even Carter is not to be trusted, and things become strained. As they fight unseen forces, she discovers that there is much more at stake than her own livelihood – the reputation of the British Empire is at risk, and they both have to overcome their personal demons and work together to expose the plot.
Botanical crazes
The stories are set against the real-life backdrop of the botanical crazes of the day. Much of Victorian society was a veneer, beneath which lurked darkness and corruption. Horticulture was no exception. Behind the image of the genteel greenhouses, fortunes were lost and won as rival plant dealers plied their trade, many indulging in shady practices to ensure their success. Meanwhile, dealers sent their agents, often using an alias, to scour the most remote – and dangerous – parts of the world where they would go to almost any lengths to collect hunt down new species.

Orchid Wars explores the phenomenon of orchidmania, a documented obsession for ever more exotic blooms. Most prized were so-called ‘lost orchids’, rare plants which had been identified earlier, but subsequently lost. Huge rewards were posted for their rediscovery.

In the story, Flora’s uncle has shunned the ruthless world of orchid hunters and is developing a method to produce viable hybrids to satisfy the market – and save many species from extinction. This is based on John Dominy, pictured, an authentic hybridiser who had a monopoly on the process until 1885.

Flora and Carter are caught up in this cut-throat world, and are soon drawn into a darker political arena, when power-hungry nations were secretly sowing the seeds of espionage as world conflict loomed. 

Tournament of shadows
For almost a hundred years, the British Empire and the Russia of the Tsars, the two most powerful nations on earth, engaged in a secret war in the remote lands of Central Asia. It was known as the ‘The Great Game’. 

The phrase was ascribed to Arthur Conolly (1807-1842), an intelligence officer of the British East India Company's Sixth Bengal Light Cavalry, and brought into common parlance via Rudyard Kipling's book Kim. Both sides used personnel with a plausible reason for being there, such as surveyors, geographers, collectors, army officers. These secret agents often risked their lives to gather information on enemy forces, discover secret routes across difficult terrain and cultivate useful native allies.

At the outset, the two rivals lay nearly 2,000 miles apart. By the end of the Турниры теней, or the Tournament of Shadows, as the Russians called it, some Russian outposts were within 20 miles of India. Some might argue The Great Game has never ceased.


Cattleya Warneri: received by Low and Co. from Binot who collected plants from Espirito Santos and Minas Gerias. A certain Mr R. Warner of Broomfield is reported as having over 600 cattleyas in bloom at one time was the first to flower this species.
John Dominy (1816-1891), head gardener, plant grower at the nurseries of James and James Veitch in Exeter, 1834-1841, and Chelsea, 1846-80. He grew the first known artificially produced orchid hybrid, Calanthe dominii, in 1856
Political cartoon depicting the Afghan Emir Sher Ali with his ‘friends’ the Russian Bear and British Lion (1878), published on 30 November, 1878


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