Visit to the Eric Young Orchid Foundation – Jersey – September 2007

by Christopher Squire

A tropical paradise, the  orchid enthusiast’s Mecca, a renowned hub of orchid study and archival artefacts,  a lead centre for pioneering hybridization, call it what you will, but the Eric  Young Orchid Foundation can certainly justify all of the above plaudits and is  well worth a visit by seasoned orchidists and newcomers alike. Eric Young moved  to Jersey from Derbyshire in the 1950’s and  enjoyed considerable success as a local entrepreneur and philanthropist,  amassing a considerable fortune before his death in 1992. An initial interest  as an orchid hobbyist gradually evolved through stages of collector and nursery  owner to a commitment to create a permanent tribute to the world of orchids and  their cultivation. Eric spent liberally on his orchid collection and took pains  to acquire some of the choicest clones available, thus bequeathing to the  Foundation what we see today: some of the finest breeding stock in the world and a vibrant  programme of continuous improvement through hybridization. Alas, with his death  in 1992, Eric did not survive long enough to see the shape of his final  project.

Phragmipedium Quetivel Mill

Phragmipedium ‘Quetivel Mill’
(Photo kindly supplied by D. Barthelemy)

It was a warm and sunny Thursday early last September when I  finally achieved a long cherished objective to visit the Jersey Orchid Centre.  Following a chance conversation in 2006, Colette and Dominique Barthelemy of la  Canopée had suggested a joint visit and, after some initial misgivings, the  logistics worked out perfectly. I took the fast ferry from Weymouth and the Barthelemys travelled over  on the sister service from St. Malo. Rendezvous 09.00 hours St.   Helier harbour! An appointment was pre-arranged with the  Foundation curator, Chris Purver for 13.00 hours. Time for some very light  refreshments in St. Helier (only very limited  choice at the Foundation itself) and a slow bus ride out to Victoria Village.  Jersey has a well appointed, cheap and  friendly bus network and though you can hire a car, bus travel is recommended.  Even if the timing of the ideal route is not exactly right, there is sure to be  another adjacent service which does the trick with just an extra 500m of legwork.  As the bus trundles slowly through the St. Helier suburbs, names and  destination plates loom right and left, evoking a cast list from many an orchid  catalogue, such as Fort Regent, Gorey Castle, Bouley Bay, Longueville, Tour de  Rozel, les Augrès, Trinité, etc each conjuring up in the mind’s eye a notable  BOC prize-winner.

Phragmipedium

Phragmipedium Don Wimber

Upon arrival, we took some time to visit the exhibition  conservatory at our leisure, feasting on the sumptuous displays of species and  hybrids for a memorable photographic record. The main exhibition area underwent  significant enlargement in 2002 and now soars skyward like a veritable  cathedral with boughs of cork encased scaffolding festooned with species of Oncidium, Dendrobium, Coelogyne, Encyclia and  Laelia. Unlike many other notable  glasshouse collections, you really do feel here that the plants have staked  their claim, and are truly colonizing their particular micro-climates. Beds  and alcoves below are richly planted with hybrids of almost every genus – odontoglossums,  phragmipediums, cattleyas, lycastes, pleurothallids, cymbidiums and of course phalaenopsis.  These displays are regularly changed according to season, ensuring that there  is always something to see. (And here in September, we were supposed to be  visiting during the low season for flowers) A minimum temperature of 16-17 Degrees  C is maintained by conventional oil fired system using large diameter concealed  pipes and floors are sprayed each morning to achieve required humidity levels.  Ventilation fans are roof-based and primarily used to push the heat back  downwards in winter. As Chris Purver later so correctly commented, here lie the  advantages of being able to house your orchids in a large growing area. Plenty  of natural air movement and climatic conditions which change relatively slowly.  The roof shading is computer-controlled with   varying combinations of Aluminium strips. The major problem for the Jersey centre is being able to control excessive heat and  light during some unpredictable summers, especially for the odontoglossums, pleurothallids  and phragmipediums.

Phragmipedium

Phragmipedium Jason Fischer

As your gaze wanders from the exhibition conservatory across  the walkway to the eight adjoining growing houses, it becomes increasingly  difficult to believe that the entire establishment is managed by just 8-10  people, of which only 4-5 are regularly working with the plants themselves. The  sap rises, the appetite whetted and you are instinctively enticed towards the growing  houses, a veritable Aladdin’s cave.  This  area is not routinely open to the general public, so prior appointment is  essential should you wish to look behind the scenes. The eight houses comprise  2 warm houses                    (phalaenopsis, cattleyas, calanthes plus warmer growing paphiopedilums), 2 specific Cymbidium Houses, 1 cool house (for odontoglossums, lycastes etc)  and 3 further houses spanning the various subtleties of the Intermediate  family, amongst these a magnificent showing of phragmipediums. In the cool  house, there is a superb range of odontoglossum hybrids, one of the early  specialities of Eric Young but waning in popularity in recent years in favour  of the warm-tolerant intergenerics.   Banks of ventilation fans and an under bench fogging system are a  pre-requisite for maintaining cool humid conditions and avoidance of some local  water quality issues. Tastes change and the orchid world is no exception. The  Foundation must to an extent inevitably mirror the mood of the market with a  transition from species to hybrids in the 60s to 80s and reverting back to  species and intergenerics in more recent times. The Foundation is equipped with  its own compact laboratory and here all the new crosses, the life-blood of the  future, are raised in banks of flasks under sodium lamps. The emphasis here is  on propagation from seed with minimal meristem activity except for the  occasional rescue of a virus infected stock plant. A good tip from Chris Purver  for those embarking on raising plants from flasks is to always de-flask in the  spring when there is optimum natural light to encourage rapid growth.

Calanthe masuca

Calanthe masuca

Certainly one of the most important areas of current  research for the Foundation is in the area of paphiopedilums and more recently phragmipediums.  The growing area is particularly striking with a wide range of these diverse  genera, spanning cool to warm growing conditions. The recent hybridization  programme is, even now, showing truly impressive results in terms of flower  shape, number and colour. On view already were some outstanding specimens of Phragmipedium Jason Fischer, P.Don Wimber x P.andreetiae, P.kovachii  x P.Dick Clements and P.kovachii x P.lindleyanum var. sargentianum. Chris Purver and  team have some particularly high hopes for  the quality of more recent P.kovachii  crosses and the first flowering plants are showing immense promise. Watch this  space !! Paphiopedilums are not my particular forte but, en passant, I could  not help admiring a huge specimen plant of Phragmipedium  fletcherianum. Then there was that London-awarded specimen of Eulophiella roempleriana and a very rare  plant of Ida dyeriana, standing out  as veteran campaigners, standard bearers amongst the legions of quality plants  on view.

Lycaste Hybrid

Lycaste Hybrid

As we stroll around, somewhat awestruck by the feast of  fantasy before our eyes there is photo-snapping at every opportunity and the periodic  break to exchange some interesting cultural tips with Chris. Following the  disappearance of good quality bark, rockwool has become the potting medium of  preference at the Foundation. There are some exceptions of course. The Cattleya  alliance has been returned to bark, calanthes and phalaenopsis are potted in  coarse peat, though this is not an ideal solution as the peat degrades fairly  rapidly and often necessitates twice-yearly re-potting. Rockwool  provides a good balance between water  retention and drainability and enables plenty of air to percolate between the  roots. One cardinal rule is that the rockwool mix should never be compacted.  Given the right cultural conditions, the plants grow away strongly and a  vigorous root system prevents them from falling out of the pot. It is usually  helpful to provide a good layer of crock at the bottom of each pot and, for the  larger specimens, some further surface counter-weighting may be appropriate.  Plants in the rockwool mix may be watered up to three times per week, depending  on the season and prevailing weather conditions. A foliar feed of magnesium nitrate  is applied once per week together with a small amount of household washing-up  detergent to assist the wetting  process.  One useful tip for those people contemplating   changing the potting material or indeed re-potting in general, is to  withhold water completely after initially watering the re-potted plant for a  period of two to six weeks. This should   encourage plants to generate new roots more rapidly as they search for moisture.  An occasional misting of the foliage and surface of the compost will prevent  dehydration.

Phragmipedium

Phragmipedium St Ouen

Not only did Eric Young put together an extensive collection  of plants, he also amassed significant quantities of orchid memorabilia, and  the archives at Victoria Village today boast one of the finest and most  important collections of orchid books,                   catalogues and botanical art. This includes a full  collection of  Curtis’s Botanical Magazine,  the Bateman illustrated library and all the Sander’s lists. Protective gloves  donned, Chris Purver leafed carefully through volumes of exquisitely detailed  orchid illustrations dating back to the eighteenth century. At an average value  of £5000 per illustration for some of the oldest material you can appreciate  the overall importance and value of this collection. We felt suitably in awe on  seeing this veritable treasure trove which sealed a truly memorable visit to  the Jersey Orchid Foundation. A scheduled two hour visit turned into a  four hour spectacular.

Odontioda

Odontioda Victoria Village