Do you have a windowsill in need of some decoration? Are you interested in growing orchids successfully? Artist Matt Westbrook and well-known orchid authority Philip Seaton invite you to join a community of growers, take part in creative activities and learn more about the history and culture of these beguiling plants.
Originally intended as a campus-wide display of orchids on windowsills, desks and bookshelves at the University of Birmingham, the Silent Orchid Festival has been reimagined in response to COVID-19 restrictions. Join the Silent Orchid Summer School and learn about the history and cultural significance of orchid collecting whilst nurturing and growing your own!
Participants will receive online tutorials in orchid growing, art, photography and Victorian literature whilst being set weekly tasks. The Silent Orchid Festival will run between May and July 2020 and will culminate (we hope!) in a walking trail of orchid themed window displays for people to discover as they walk around.
Places for Silent Orchid Summer School are limited to 20 participants. Please register by June 12th to guarantee your place.
Variations of membership are available but the full grow kits cost £40 and includes:
After consideration of the updated Government advice the previously applied postcode restrictions have been lifted and the project is now accessible nationally. Please see new ticket options below and here:
Please note: Hanging baskets and orchids can only be delivered to West Midlands addresses
Available only for people who live in the West Midland area – The ‘Odontoglossum crispum’ member £40 – as previously advertised – price includes hand-made orchid basket, in flower orchid, book, art materials and access to all talks and workshops.
Available for all – The ‘Cattleya member’ £20 – Price includes book, art materials and access to all talks and workshops, but does not include orchid or basket.
Pay per talk ticket – The ‘Restrepia ticket’ – £3 – This is for the contextual talks only. Orchid workshops are reserved for Silent Orchid School members only. Ticket holders will receive an online illustrated text written by the contributors prior to the online talk and discussion.
Schedule of online discussions and workshops –
Please note: The times of online talks and workshops are to be confirmed.
Philip Seaton will lead 3 online orchid tutorials, following practical projects that are described in his Kew Growing book, in addition to his talk on Odontoglossum crispum.
Thursday 18th June – Contextual Talk 1- Mr Chamberlain’s Orchids – Matt Westbrook
‘Mr. Chamberlain’s Orchids’ is a participatory project that uses the life and work of Joseph Chamberlain to engage people in broader discussions on science, culture and heritage.
Through workshops, talks and exhibitions the project has connected heritage and cultural organisations related to Chamberlain whilst bringing contemporary art and scientific research to new audiences.
Join Matt to discuss the ideas behind the project and how he has responded to the many overlapping themes he has discovered during his research on Chamberlain.
Matt will also launch the sun photography, sketchbook and artwork tasks that will culminate in an orchid window display at the end of the school.
Friday 19th June – Philip Seaton – Orchid Workshop 1
Philip will discuss the history of orchid growing from a national and international perspective and introduce how to pot your orchid into a basket, following the guidance given in his Kew growing book.
He will also be happy to any questions Silent Orchid School members have as you start to care for one of these fascinating plants.
Thursday 25th June – Philip Seaton – Orchid Workshop 2
Philip will discuss companion planting on windowsills and check on the progress of your hanging baskets! As always, he will be delighted to answer any orchid care questions that Silent Orchid School members may have.
Friday 26th June – Contextual Talk 2 – Hunting for Orchids in South America (1850 – 1910) – Rodrigo Orrantia
Through the eyes of photography this talk will trace connections between the Imperial Orchid-mania and the hidden stories of the orchid trade at the turn of the twentieth century.
In the context of the current global climate emergency, with the continued threat to South American ecosystems and indigenous tribes, the resonance of orchid hunters’ stories makes them ever more relevant.
In the dawn of this new century, the need to defend the orchid’s natural habitat and ensure its sustainability for future generations is clear, but was it ever considered by those who first travelled across the world searching for the ultimate prize?
Thursday 2nd July – Philip Seaton Orchid Workshop 3 – Making a corsage
In advance of Victoria Mill’s talk Silent Orchid School members are invited to make an orchid corsage. Philip will be joined by his wife Joyce who will guide you through the advice given in the Philip’s Kew Growing book.
Friday 3rd July – Contextual Talk 3 – Collecting, masculinity and late-Victorian orchid mania – Victoria Mills
From decadent poetry and prose to science fiction and the imperial romance, orchid collecting inspired a range of Victorian writers and commentators. This talk focuses on how such writing explores a relationship between orchid collecting and models of masculinity in the late nineteenth century.
Friday 10th July – Contextual Talk 4 – The Odontoglossum crispum – Philip Seaton and Matt Westbrook
The story of Joseph Chamberlain’s most favoured orchid, the Odontoglossum crispum, widely considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful orchids, is a fascinating one.
Now termed Oncidium alexandrae, the orchid has changed considerably, having been cross-bred and hybridised with other species. With numbers growing in the wild remaining unclear, Philip will discuss the significance of this plant in its native Colombia and worldwide efforts to conserve and restore biodiverse habitats.
This fromat of this event will be a Q&A with Philip and Matt,who will discuss their research in to the Odontoglossum crispum. Ticket holders will be sent a link to watch Philip delivering his ‘Odontoglossum crispum (Oncidium alexandrae): a tale of love, loss and scientific discovery’ talk first delivered at The VI Conferencia Cientifica de Orquideas Andina, Medellin Colombia prior to the Q&A.
Friday 17th July – End of School celebration – Whole group Q&A
Silent Orchid School members share their orchid window displays, sketchbooks and artworks. Depending on the postcodes of West Midland based members a walking trail of displays may be established.
The Silent Orchid Summer School runs alongside Matt and Philip’s ongoing project, ‘Mr Chamberlain’s Orchids,’ which stems from an artist residency at the University of Birmingham and aims to highlight the interconnected narratives between heritage, science and cultural histories. It is presented as part of the University of Birmingham Arts and Science Festival www.artsandsciencefestival.co.uk
For more information visit mattwestbrook.co.uk.
This project has been kindly funded by:
The University of Birmingham
Arts Council England
Chamberlain Highbury Trust
The John Feeney Trust
New Art West Midlands