5:45 PM EST, February 12, 2014
It's not the Fakahatchee swamp, exactly, inside the Chicago Botanic Garden public greenhouse building known as the Regenstein Center.
The Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park (officially), in southwest Florida, borrows an Indian name for a body of water for hunting. The Regenstein, on the garden's north suburban Glencoe premises, was named for a family that made money in chemicals and paper-making and gave some of it to the nature preserve.
But inside the Regenstein's south and east greenhouses these days, it is dank enough that you might call it swamplike, but without all the standing water, the insects or the alligators.
It is especially like the Fakahatchee for the flowers it will be featuring for the next month: orchids.
If people know about the Fakahatchee, it is as an orchid habitat, and they know this from Susan Orlean's New Yorker article Orchid Fever, or from her book expanding on the article, "The Orchid Thief," or from the movie expanding on the book, "Adaptation." The Friends of Fakahatchee group even has as its web address orchidswamp.org.
For the botanic garden's first big, annual orchid show, the Regenstein is being stuffed artfully with some 10,000 members of the Orchidaceae family even as I write this: orchids wedged into nooks in real-looking artificial trees, orchids formed into a botanical chandelier that will be raised toward the glass roof, orchids in black dirt, on architectural columns, in photographs on the banners all around the place.
In advance of the show's public opening Saturday, about 20 people were in the greenhouses — digging, placing and arranging all those pistils, petals and stamen, and using ideas drawn from visits to other orchid shows around the country and from the staff's own, yes, fertile imagination.
The botanic garden hopes to lure Chicagoans to its premises in wintertime with this flower show, designed to be, as one executive put it, "a signature event during the shoulder season."
It will also be the kick-starter, the institution hopes, for its own orchid collection.
It is trying to raise the money to build growing capacity for the superstar flowers, revered for their unending variety, arresting shapes and colors and extraordinary ability to grow in trees. But for the first show, the garden spent about $180,000 to bring in the flowers from Hawaii, California, Florida and, yes, Illinois.
Nobody at the botanic garden wants to celebrate this cold, snowy winter, exactly, but the weather, let us say, has not diminished the prospects for an event that luxuriates in growth and warmth and color, all while you look out at the park's snow-covered Evening Island.
Should you go, by the way, there is little point in even contemplating orchid thievery.
One, that book's been written. And, two, the garden and outside vendors will be selling some of the species at various points during the show.
And then, when it is all over, after March 16 it will be selling off the stars of the show themselves — reminders, in your own home, that winter does not last forever and swamp can be a state of mind.
'The Orchid Show'
When: Saturday through March 16
Where: Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe
Tickets: Adult members/nonmembers: $8/$10; Senior members/nonmembers: $6/$8; Children (ages 3 to 12) members/nonmembers: $6/$8; 847-835-5440 or chicagobotanic.org
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