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The World of Orchids exhibit at the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas runs through April 9. Courtesy photo/San Diego Botanic Garden
The World of Orchids exhibit at the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas runs through April 9. Courtesy photo/San Diego Botanic Garden
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Botanic Garden’s World of Orchids a treat for the senses

René van Rems should be a lot less relaxed than he sounds.

The San Diego Botanic Garden’s creative director and floral artist is actually enjoying a lunch break just hours before the Encinitas garden’s annual World of Orchids show opens.

He and a team of dozens of volunteers have been working nonstop for the last five days to create this year’s exhibit. The job includes turning 120 species of orchids — 260 plants — into a grand, artistic display pleasing to the senses, even for those who aren’t plant and flower lovers.

“I’ve seen guys that have no sensitivity to plants at all walk in (to the show) and they go, ‘Oh, wow!’” van Rems said. “It’s the biggest gift to me to see their response. When you walk in here, your eyeballs are in overdrive. That’s why we have an ambassador at the entrance to ask people to keep moving.”

And the work is not done when the show opens.

“Each Tuesday, we replace at least 50 more plants, depending on the cosmetics,” van Rems said.  “Some are so delicate that they open up and fold up and go to seed in four or five days and that’s it. Usually, orchid shows are only a weekend. We are one of the longest running exhibits for orchids.”

Artistic director René van Rems, second from right, and his garden crew at the San Diego Botanic Garden. Courtesy photo/René van Rems
Artistic director René van Rems, second from right, and his garden crew at tan Diego Botanic Garden. Courtesy photo/René van Rems

Van Rems is not new to this exercise or creating this magic. This is the garden’s third orchid show, but each year brings new challenges and designs.

“It’s more open than last year,” he said. “When you walk into the Conservatory, you’ll see these huge slabs of eucalyptus that are vertical — like room dividers on steroids.”

These slabs act as palates for exhibiting a dense collection of orchids and greenery.

“We wanted to make it grandiose. All the plants come in plastic pots but I can’t put them out that way, so we created organic pots. We went through 15 cases of moss from Washington and a lot of ferns. When the misters are on it’s like being in the jungle.”

Or as van Rems calls it, “Avatar-ish.”

While the exhibit is strong on visual appeal, it also caters heavily to the sense of smell. The scent of orchids is the heaviest in the morning, “but light and temperature also make orchids give off scent,” van Rems said.

And there could be no better exhibit space than the garden’s 8,000-square-foot, glass-enclosed Dickinson Family Education Conservatory, because it provides ample light, and temperature and moisture can be controlled.

The World of Orchids exhibit features scenes with 120 orchid species (260 plants) from local growers and hobbyists. Courtesy photo/San Diego Botanic Garden
The World of Orchids exhibit features scenes with 120 orchid species (260 plants) from local growers and hobbyists. Courtesy photo/San Diego Botanic Garden

This assures all those in the San Diego County Orchid Society and the Palomar Orchid Society who have loaned their orchids to the exhibit that the plants are in good hands.

“People live and breathe for these plants,” van Rems said. “Many of these orchids are difficult to find and some you can’t even buy. These are not your supermarket orchids.”

Van Rems also credits the garden’s many volunteers who contribute heavily to making the annual exhibit possible.

“We sometimes forget how much can be done because of the passion of these volunteers,” he said. “They all participate and believe in giving to the community.”

World of Orchids runs through April 9. Reservations required.

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