Q) What can you tell me about Merriweather Post’s orchid collection? Aaron T.
A) The name Merriweather Post is often mentioned in connection with the famed music pavilion near Washington D.C. or for the popular line of breakfast cereals that includes Grape Nuts Flakes. However not many people know that Marjorie Merriweather Post maintained extensive orchid greenhouses which held one of the largest private collections in the United States.
Mrs. Post was married four times, but it was her second husband, financier Edward Hutton, who supported her love of orchids. The story is told that in 1929 he had a local florist deliver $5000 worth of fresh cut orchids to her private railway car as a romantic surprise! (Guys take note).
Throughout her life, she wore Cattleya corsages for special occasions. Her curator would bring ten plants in full bloom so she could pick out the best color to match her dress. She would also incorporate her orchids into floral arrangements. One picture from the 1960s, shows forty Paphiopedilum stems in one table vase. Several of her wedding bouquets held long white Phalaenopsis sprays. Each morning, a freshly cut orchid was placed on her breakfast tray.
In the mid 1970s, an inventory of her splendid epiphytes was taken by the President of the American Orchid Society and owner of Kensington Orchids, Merritt Huntington. “The Hillwood collection is indeed a fine collection of orchid plants. Many are of exceptional size and vigor,” he wrote. There were nearly 2000 specimens representing a wide variety of genera. The compilation was heavy on Cymbidiums and Paphiopedilums and almost half were Cattleyas.
Upon Ms. Post’s death in 1973, her estate was turned over to the public and called Hillwood Museum and Gardens. Today, the orchid collection has grown with new specimens still being added. Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking at the opening of their “Orchid Month – A Life Long Love Affair” which showcases Mrs. Post’s spring blooming greenhouse botanicals. My topic was Cattleyas – her favorite flowers. www.hillwoodmuseum.org