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In 2013 Native Bee Orchids (Ophrys apifera) were spotted growing in the College for the first time and they have flowered annually ever since.
Dr Frank Maine (G60) (1937–2018) was visiting the College when the Bee Orchids were first spotted and due to his life-long passion for orchids set up an orchid fund to grow orchids under glass. The College currently has approximately 250 different orchids growing in its glasshouse and the collection is still expanding.
The greenhouse is split into two halves - the first section is a bench display which includes cultivars of Paphiopedilum, Pleione, Dendrochilum, Prosthecea, Restrepia and Cymbidium. The second half isn a more naturalistic setting with a water feature, which includes Vanda, Stanhopea, Coelogyne, Bulbophyllum and some epiphytes handing from wooden branches.
This Orchid has been a pivotal hybrid that has influenced the breeding for generations. The two plants used to create ‘Winston Churchill’ were Paphiopedilum ‘Eridge ‘and Paphiopedilum ‘Hampton’. This hybrid was registered by Stuart Low Co England in 1951, but it is often thought to be a American. This confusion is caused because lots of Orchids were shipped over to America during World War II to protect them from the bombing also because there was a restriction on fuel for heating other than for providing food.
Two of the best early hybrids created were ‘Indomitable’ and ‘Redoubtable’ (1950s) and a latter one called ‘British Bulldog’ (1979)
A poem written about the orchids of Churchill College by poet and Churchill Fellow, John Kinsella.
for John Moore, Head of Grounds and Gardens, Churchill College, Cambridge:
He and I connect in passing maybe once or twice a year.
We walk through his garden realm and he tells me what’s new, what he and the other gardeners have been working with, coaxing.
Today, he took me into the orchid house which over all the many
years I’ve never visited, had no concrete vision of. And into the hot zone we went, humidity and twenty-five degrees centigrade playing
with the vestiges of snow fibrillating outside. Orchids in their glorious
but uncomfortable being, stunning but disturbing flowering, withholding time. This one in the hanging garden flowers below the plimsoll line,
a world on its head equilibrium in this contradictory system. It’s
not hard to see why the obsession — the steady as it goes, the denying of all that goes on outside, the waiting. Temperature, water, atmosphere
controlled. And the sweet odour — the lure and the fall, cataclysm
of enticement, those precise flowers wanting you or something of use.
But the one that grabbed my attention was a small specimen with emphatic
bloom in a small pot — ‘Glacier Peak’ with its brash white trumpet, its throaty declaring of vortex and immanence. John — nurturer, sensor of plants — knows its manifest ironies. And I, just appearing
as if from nowhere, tune in fast searching for its frequency. Almost too eager?
— John Kinsella