A blooming wonderful exhibit

The Blue Iguana Recovery Fund is to benefit from the auction of endemic orchids from the Cayman Islands at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Two of the floral exhibits, the Wild Banana Orchid and the Cayman Ghost Orchid are being auctioned for charity after the show.

And, with less than two weeks to go until the Cayman Islands exhibits at the Chelsea Flower Show, preparations are in full bloom. Probably the most well known garden show in the world, it takes place in London from 20 to 24 May.

As excitement mounts, the team putting together the exhibit is even hoping that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will officially open the Cayman sand garden exhibit during her visit to the show, as she did with the Botanic Park here in 1994. But they still await a decision from Buckingham Palace.

A Cayman Islands Department of Tourism initiative, being organised through its UK office, the exhibit is a way of influencing the Cayman Islands target market in the UK by offering a unique showcase of the Cayman Islands.

Staff from the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park is sourcing plants and came up with the design for the garden exhibit, a loose replica of the heritage garden at the Botanic Park.

The Cayman Islands exhibit will showcase plant species never before exhibited there, such as native flowers the Banana Orchid and the Ghost Orchid along with a Silver Thatch Palm tree.

‘The buzz around the Royal Horticultural Society and the Chelsea Flower Show itself will be because we are bringing plant species to the Chelsea Flower Show for the first time,’ explained Regional Manager Europe with the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, Don McDougall.

Indeed, a press release from the Department of Tourism says it is believed the Ghost Orchid has never been seen on British soil before.

Proceeds from the orchid auction are to be split between the CI Blue Iguana Recovery Fund and Make-A-Wish Foundation UK, a wish granting charity for youngsters fighting life threatening illnesses.

General Manager of the Queen Elizabeth Botanic Park Andrew Guthrie said predictions from professionals in the British horticultural industry predict that together, to a collector, the orchids could be worth up to $80,000.

‘We see this [the auction] as generating a huge amount of publicity for the Cayman Islands,’ said Mr. McDougall.

Plants on display will include bulrush (zamia); rosemary and a traditional Cayman rosemary broom; bougainvillea, four 18 foot coconut trees; old fashioned roses; oleander and crotons.

The five by five metre exhibit’s theme will merge cultural and horticultural aspects of the islands.

Conch shells will line the pathway of the Cayman sand garden and on display will be Cayman thatch baskets, a pair of whompers (old time shoes), a half size Cayman catboat and the front and back façade of a traditional cottage.

There will be a traditional limestone wall in front and picket fence to the back and sides of the exhibit.

Cordoning off the exhibit will be 80 metres of Cayman thatch rope made in East End from Silver Thatch palm.

‘We’re very excited,’ said Mr. Guthrie. ‘To be allowed to exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show is really quite an honour.’ He explained that most applicants wishing to exhibit have to wait three years from applying for approval, but the Cayman Islands exhibit was accepted shortly after its application went in, in October, offering, as it does, something new and unique.

And in a show of support for the project, in the last couple of months two private sector companies in the Cayman Islands have come on board as part sponsors – Maples and Calder and IRG Knight Frank.

‘Coming in as part sponsors, they are helping us offset some of the costs in return for their participation at the event and in the publicity surrounding it,’ explained Mr. McDougall.

Other private sector organisations are also lending a hand.

The Dart Nursery donated the Silver Thatch Palm and British Airways is helping offset some of the freight costs for taking authentic pieces to London.

Helping with quarantine and care of the plants will be a UK nursery.

A Cayman Islands delegation will visit the show with representatives from the Tourism Attractions Board and the Ministry of Tourism along with staff from the Botanic Park that can tell attendees about the park and individual species being exhibited.

And already there is talk of the exhibit from across the ocean. ‘We ran a press trip to Cayman in January and we brought down some leading horticultural media and that whole publicity has kicked in and it’s generating so much interest about the exhibit ahead of time,’ said Mr. McDougall.

And the DoT’s UK office has received significant interest from the media to cover the garden – the BBC in particular.

A handout is being produced on the exhibit to serve as a keepsake for visitors to the show, with weblinks to related Cayman participants such as the Botanic Park and the Catboat Club.

Sensitivity is being exercised in regards to the exhibit and the natural environment.

‘We didn’t want to bring five tonnes of sand from Seven Mile Beach,’ explained Mr. McDougall. ‘We’ve actually had samples sent across so we’re getting sand manufactured as close as possible to the original.’

Care will be taken to try and find the plants and other elements used in the exhibit a second home, so they are not wasted or dumped afterwards.

‘For example we’re trying to see if the Kew Gardens would like to have the Silver Thatch palm afterwards and there are also other gardens that might be interested.

‘We’ve found a way of passing a lot of these things on to good causes once we’ve had our use out of them,’ said Mr. McDougall.