Thursday, November 9, 2017

Fall for Orchids exhibit: an interview with Pei-Fen Liu

Visitors love taking photos of the wide variety of blooms
featured in the Fall for Orchids exhibit.
2016 exhibit photo by Kathy Julian.
By Sheon Wilson
Publications Coordinator

Musicians may know Duke instructor Pei-Fen Liu for her talent as a pianist. But this weekend at Duke Gardens, Liu will share another longtime passion: growing orchids.

Liu's blooms are part of the third annual Fall for Orchids exhibit, a collaboration between Duke Gardens and the Triangle Orchid Society. The exhibit opens Friday at 1 p.m. in the Doris Duke Center, with extended hours through 7:30 p.m. It will continue  through the weekend. Admission is free.

“Growing up in Taiwan, my mother grew all kinds of plants in our garden, orchids being one of them,” Liu, who has taught classical piano at Duke since 1994, wrote in an email interview this week. “She mounted Dendrobiums on tree ferns and hung baskets of Cattleyas behind shade cloths in the summer heat. The natural environment in rural Taiwan was pristine and we often took hiking trips in the mountains in search of wild orchids.”

North Carolina’s climate is also orchid-friendly, Liu says. So she and other orchid society members have ample opportunity to build and share their orchid-growing skills. 
Pei-Fen Liu with one of her orchids.
Photo courtesy of Pei-Fen Liu.

The exhibit will feature hundreds of stunning blooming orchids in lush garden-like settings, with displays by orchid societies from North Carolina and neighboring states. It will also include workshops and lectures about growing, repotting and caring for orchids (see schedule here), and visitors will have a chance to buy orchids and supplies.

Liu shared more about her love for orchids in the following Q&A:

What is the allure of the orchid? Orchids have always fascinated me with their diversity and endless variety. From the delicate blooms of the Phalaenopsis to the splash petals of peloric Cattleyas, orchid-growing is a hobby that never gets old. Each genre has its own appeal, and it has become an addiction to collect every single kind!                                                               

What orchid varieties do you grow?  I grow many varieties and have recently started to collect various species, particularly Dendrobiums. One of my favorites is Cattleya orchids; they can range from large and fragrant to compact and floriferous. Some of my favorites are Cattleya Sea Breeze, Cattlianthe Blue Boy and Rhyncholaeliocattleya Malworth ‘Orchidglade’.

What does it take to grow an orchid and keep it thriving? We are lucky to live in a climate that is both humid and warm enough to grow orchids outdoors in the summer. Finding the best medium, fertilizer and growing spot can take time, and I'm still trying to find better ways for my orchids to bloom bigger and healthier. It’s a giant learning curve but well worth making the effort.

What are some notable attributes of the orchid? What I find most interesting is that many species have different variations, which are typically expressed as a "var" at the end of their botanical names. This variation is usually a difference in color, but it also can be a splash in the petal or a different form in the flower. This variety in the orchid kingdom is passed down to hybrids, which has led to some amazing crosses.

Do orchids inspire your music, or does you music inspire your orchid-growing? Orchids and music represent each other.  I am inspired by both.


DATES: Friday, Nov. 10, 1-7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 11, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 12, noon-4 p.m.

COST: Free drop-in exhibit for all ages. Adult chaperone required. Parking fees apply Friday through 5 p.m. and after 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

LEARN MORE: exhibit information; workshop & orchid society information.

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