Barnard Castle - preserving beautiful and delicate orchids from around the world

PUBLISHED: 17:01 02 May 2012 | UPDATED: 21:21 20 February 2013

Barnard Castle - preserving beautiful and delicate orchids from around the world

Barnard Castle - preserving beautiful and delicate orchids from around the world

Some of the world's most attractive and threatened flowers are finding salvation in Barnard Castle, as Linda Viney reports

Theyre a long way from home but hundreds of orchids are thriving in an outbuilding at a house in Barnard Castle. Originally found in humid jungles of the equatorial regions, the delicate flowers are grown from seed and develop in hundreds of flasks in Dr Richard Warrens orchid nursery.

From tiny specks of seeds he grows thousands of orchids which can have blooms as small as a pinhead or as large as a dinner plate.
Richard has between 500 and 600 species all in different stages of growth and collaborates with like-minded growers and botanic gardens around the world, saving many rare and endangered species.

In its natural habitat the seed has to have a special fungus to able be able to germinate, but to get over this Richard grows them on a sugar jellylike substance containing minerals in a totally sterile environment.

Within two weeks in the flasks a green lawn will appear and then it is a matter of plating (pricking out) in completely germ free conditions. This is carried out using a special clean air cabinet similar to those used a hospitals. Long handled tweezers are needed to reach in the flasks, and once replanted into single rows, the flasks are resealed. Every one is carefully labelled with name and date. Some plants will flower within a year others may take up to seven.

Richards fascination with orchids began more than 30 years ago when a childhood friend, David Miller, went to work as an accountant in Brazil. When he lost his job he was given a golden handshake and he used the windfall to buy a forest.

Richard went to visit and the seed was sown for passion for these beautiful plants which appeared from every crevice, hung down over his head and leaped out at him on forest paths. He and David threw all their energy into the production, study and conservation of orchids.

Richard began to combine his work indexing medical and scientific books with building up the orchid business and in 1991 The Equatorial Plant Company was born.

Most of his seeds come from Brazil and each October Richard takes a small party of orchid enthusiasts out to see where the flowers grow in the wild.

It is their springtime when the weather is benign, Richard said. I fight off snakes and make sure they are safe. It is great fun and together with David and his wife we cook breakfast and dinner.

People are amazed to discover some orchids are as common as dandelions, but their forest habitat is vital and if we lose that the orchids will be lost.

This year Richard visited Thailand on holiday and visited the forests there, where he discovered the forests are very different as it is bone dry in winter and the orchids lose their leaves.

The paths were rock hard as they had been pounded down by elephants, Richard said. My feet were very sore and I lost some toenails. I have brought back a little bit of seed to pollinate and grow.

Preserving orchid species is an important part of Richards work, as many are severely threatened in the wild - the sanders slipper orchid only grows in Borneo where deforestation in its native woodlands is having disastrous consequences.

Richard is now looking to produce seedlings specialising in the miniature
orchids found in Papua New Guinea, which are very colourful and detailed. They are long-lasting but can not be grown on a windowsill and will need a greenhouse. There are hardier species, though, which given the right conditions, will survive outside.

Initially the Victorians believed orchids needed heat to survive but George Gardner went to Brazil in the 1830s and realised the environment was cool and windy in October temperatures there can drop to just 2c.

During the mid-19th century orchids went for huge sums of money at auction tens of thousands of pounds in todays money They are much more readily available now though, and are staples in our supermarkets, florists, garden centres and general stores all year round.

Richard sells his orchids by mail order to customers all over the country and can be seen at many specialist orchid shows, including the Royal Horticultural Society London Show where his stand was awarded a Silver Gilt medal.

I was delighted with that as it is difficult to fill a 12 foot stand with small orchids, he said.

He is now helping to organise the Orchid Show at Raby Castle from May 5th-7th where the Orchid Olympics theme gives scope for the biggest, smallest, fastest and smelliest. And there will be another orchid show at Josephine Butler College in Durham on Sunday September 9th.

The print version of this article appeared in the May 2012 issue of North East Life

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