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The flamboyant flower displays on offer at McBean's Orchids in Cooksbridge

PUBLISHED: 15:20 10 March 2014 | UPDATED: 15:20 10 March 2014

Jim Durrant in the display garden. Photo by Leigh Clapp

Jim Durrant in the display garden. Photo by Leigh Clapp

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Orchids stir a passion in many people, but whether you are a real enthusiast or would just like to have their exotic beauty close by as a house plant while it’s still wintry outside, there is a dazzling array of plants to choose from.

Variegated showy Oncostele 'Margarete Holm'. Photo by Leigh ClappVariegated showy Oncostele 'Margarete Holm'. Photo by Leigh Clapp

Long associated with love and beauty, they may be the perfect Valentine’s or Mothering Sunday gift.

Award-winning McBean’s Orchids in Cooksbridge always has orchids for sale and February is a great time to visit. You can browse the shop or display show house. On special open weekends in February, March and April you can even take a tour of this working nursery and learn more from the experts about growing these exotic plants. Established in 1879 by James Ure McBean, and only one of three nurseries to have shown at every RHS Chelsea Show, you are in good hands.

Originally the nursery grew a variety of imported plants and by chance an orchid was discovered amongst the ferns. Albert, James’ son, developed a great passion for orchids, which led to the nursery’s recognition as a leader in growing orchids. From the inception hybridisation was the focus, with early experiments of growing from seed having a mortality rate of around 99 per cent. By the 1930s it was decided that cymbidiums would be popular as cut flowers, which led to a concentration on these hardy orchids. As the nursery grew and breeding techniques improved with sterile agar, the stock greatly increased. “Over the years McBean’s has bred thousands of different varieties of orchids, registered hundreds and has received hundreds of awards for its plants and for its exhibits. Interestingly we now send some to their origin countries to stop people collecting in the wild,” comments nursery manager, Jim Durrant who has been with the nursery since 1971 and whose interest is in the scientific end of horticulture.

The nursery attracts a total cross section of visitors, from enthusiasts and hobbyists to someone just wanting a single pot plant. There are benches brimming with snowy white Phalaenopsis, massed blooming Cymbidiums, frilly-edged Onicidium and delicate stems of Dendrobiums; just to mention a few of the options available. Colours sing out with astringent limes and golds, rich crimsons, candy pinks and the purest whites. “There is a trend to make the plants smaller but with larger flowers,” adds Jim. After admiring the array for sale take a wander through the Growing House garden where hundreds of orchids are displayed amongst tropical foliage, rocks, waterfalls and pools, to gain an insight into how orchids grow in the wild.

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To know

McBean’s Orchids, Cooksbridge, Lewes, BN8 4PR;

Orchid shop open Tuesday to Sunday (10-4). Exotic Show House open Wed to Sun and Bank Holiday Monday (10-4) Adm. £2.50. Open Weekend dates (10-4) 22 and 23 February, 15 and 16 March, 26 and 27 April

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Plant of the month - Crocus tommasinianus

Early or snow crocus

Naturalises to form carpets of mauve and white blooms alive with bumble bees

Dwarf perennial, grows from corms

Narrow grassy leaves

Easy to grow, hardy

Full sun to part shade

Well-drained light soil

Gritty, poor to moderately fertile soil

Grows in drifts, borders, rockeries or in grass

Divide April to May

Seeds freely and multiplies quickly below ground

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