Friday, 13 June 2014

Orchid revival

After more than a century, orchids are blooming at an historic East Dorset estate.

The National-Trust restored Victorian orchid house, which used to be an important part of the kitchen garden at Kingston Lacy, has reopened after fallen into ruin. The orchid house was part of a large complex of glass houses which had become disused.

Courtesy of a grant of £40,000 from Local Action Group Sowing Seeds, two buildings have now been repaired.

An exotic variety of orchids is on display, replicating those cultivated by the original owners.

According to the local press, staff dug deep into archives from the Bankes family to find out more about the orchid collection at Kingston Lacy.

As any orchidmaniac will know, fashionable Victorians coined the term ‘orchidelirium’ to describe their obsession with orchids.

The passion for the exotic and fragile flowers was particularly seen at Kingston Lacy, where Walter Ralph Bankes, and later Henrietta Bankes, developed their collection.

Modern-day researchers consulted specific references to the orchids in the garden diary of Walter Bankes dating from 1896. The Amateur Orchid Cultivators' Guide Book, published in 1894, is inscribed with handwritten notes by Henrietta Bankes.

The award of the grant has enabled two of the glasshouses – one of them a ‘sunken’ glass house – to be restored along with the small boiler house and cold frames, creating a new public area in the Kitchen Garden. Find out more on the Kingston Lacy website.

I wonder how many Victorian orchid houses there are out there, just waiting to be renovated?

Here’s a fascinating photo of remains of one near St Lawrence on the southern tip of the Isle of Wight. Underneath the complex are rooms housing the boiler. In the underground rooms there’s apparently a freshwater stream which the gardeners no doubt appreciated.

By Pamela Kelt

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