Bloom or bust: Kew's queen of the tropics on the secret to giving orchids a second life

Dazzled by Kew Gardens' 250th anniversary orchid spectacular, Emma Townshend has just one question on her mind: why don't mine ever reflower like that?

In the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew, a neat Korean intern climbs right inside the orchid display and meticulously adjusts each plant by a matter of mere millimetres. Two brawnier helpers are up ladders attaching tropical plants to a dramatic fallen tree. And in the pool, among the Kew piranhas, brave gardeners in waders are arranging 6ft-high birthday presents covered in clown-coloured bromeliads. Whose birthday, you ask? Well, preparations for Kew's Tropical Extravaganza are well under way, with this year's, a celebration of the Royal Botanic Gardens' 250th anniversary, promising to be more outrageously colourful than ever.

Kew holds the most comprehensive and oldest collection of orchids in the world. For Lara Jewitt, head of the orchid section, though, there seems to be just one recurring question that preoccupies the visitors: "How can I get my orchid to reflower?" Orchids grow beautifully for most purchasers in the couple of weeks after they bring them home, but many of us are disappointed at the point where we'd like to see them live a long life.

The problem is that orchids are a family of 28,000 different species, originating in habitats as diverse as seaside scrub and high rainforest. So giving generalised advice, says Jewitt, is tricky to say the least. However, she also points out, most orchids purchased in the UK are large-flowered hybrids of a few species, and she does have some pointers to offer (see box, right).

Jewitt loves her whole collection, picking up one tiny, rare jewel and proclaiming: "This is one of my favourites," before laughingly admitting, "but then I do say that about all of them." Jewitt is the first to suggest that some unfortunate souls will never succeed in reflowering orchids: "Sometimes I think people can either do it or they can't; they've either got the right sort of house, or they haven't."

So for those who are happier seeing orchids in full bloom without having to worry about looking after them, head for Kew, where the Tropical Extravaganza runs from now until 8 March. Jewitt is looking forward to having everything looking absolutely perfect. She even lets me into the secret of the enormous fallen tree I saw being decorated earlier on: it was made by the set designers who created Tracy Island for the 2004 Thunderbirds film, out of a combination of polystyrene and steel-reinforced concrete. "So it won't rot and fall apart in our high humidity," she explains, slightly laughing at herself: "It's my dream come true."

Second thoughts: How to reflower orchids

For cymbidiums

"When they have stopped flowering, put them in the garden in dappled shade," says Jewitt. "Leave them till the first light frost. The cold should initiate flowering."

For phalaenopsis

"They don't need draughts, radiators or sun," says Jewitt, who adds that you can encourage a second lot of flowers if you cut the spent spike back to the third node on the stem, rather than all the way.

For all orchids

"Don't use hard water; use rainwater, filtered water or cooled boiled water from the kettle. Fill the sink, and put the pot in. Let it drain out, then don't water again till the pot is really light. They'll benefit from misting with a sprayer, too."

Kew is running an all-day introductory orchid-growing course on 19 February (to book, call 020 8332 5626), as well as behind-the-scenes tours of the orchid nurseries throughout the festival. For further details, see

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn