2019-20 Talks Events Workshops Demos

Silent Orchid Festival and Summer School

'Image taken from The Amateur Orchid Cultivator’s Guide Book, H.A.Burberry 1895


Monday, 18 May to Friday, 31 July 2020


Online, from the comfort of your own home


£3 tickets for individual discussions still available. Booking for full summer school membership has now closed.

Do you have a windowsill in need of some decoration? Are you interested in growing orchids successfully?

Artist Matt Westbrook and world 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 culminate in a walking trail of orchid themed window displays for people to discover as they walk around South Birmingham.

Grow kits cost £40 and include*:

  • An in flower orchid.
  • A hand crafted wooden hanging basket.
  • A copy of Philip Seaton’s The Kew Gardeners Guide to growing Orchids.
  • Art supplies and equipment.

*Booking for the summer school has now closed, however you can still book to attend individual discussions listed below.


Online discussions:

Silent Orchid School members will receive a PDF text written by the following contributors prior to an online talk and discussion.

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.


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.


The Odontoglossum crispum – Philip Seaton

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.


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?


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.


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 2019-20. 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 , Bruntwood, and New Art West Midlands.