One of my weird obsessions as a 3D graphics artist always has been the exploration of how to create plants, landscapes and complex organic structures and in a way, this has carried over to my LEGO activities as well. However, there were and are severe limitations in what you can do in terms of availability of suitable elements and their colors, something which really only has improved notably in recent years. That and due to my artsy inclinations I always had some reservations about tacky decoration kitsch.
That’s why I took a dim view on last year’s Bonsai Tree (10281) and Flower Bouquet (10280). They both looked a bit rough around the edges, though I eventually bought the flower bouquet for parts when it was cheap. This year’s second iteration of the theme by ways of the Orchid (10311) and Succulents (10309) looked a bit more interesting and refined, so I decided early on to get them and exploit the opportunity to create a review for your pleasure. Will they hold up to expectations or are they just another parts pack for other projects? Let’s find out!
Contents and Pricing
Both sets have a suggested retail price of 50 Euro for 608 and 776 pieces respectively and while on paper this may sound like a good value, the real world metrics turn out quite differently. There are several factors that contribute to this.
For one, the final size and (perceived) volume of the finished models is notably different. The orchid is large and quite sizable while the orchids even when arranging all of them in a single layout look tiny. This is in part intentional due to what they are supposed to represent, but also a case of many small parts simply not providing the amount of bulk. At the same time, just having nine modules just doesn’t feel enough.
The other thing is that the orchid is widely available from a variety of vendors and retailers whereas the succulent set is not. As a result, you get discounts on one, but not the other and unfortunately my sentiment is that the situation is not ideal and kind of the opposite of what it should be – a cost-efficient small set for the equally diminutive succulents and cacti and a larger set for the orchid. In fact doing so might even have allowed for an even lusher, more decked out version of the orchid or perhaps an alternate color variant. In this case I wouldn’t even have minded paying a few bucks extra.
That said, I of course fully understand why LEGO decided to have things this way. Orchids simply have a much broader, more generic appeal to a lot of people and in line with their adult-centric strategy trying to rope in new customers it makes sense as whatever discounts are given is offset by the sheer number of items sold. Still, it would have been nice if things were more even and both sets would be available through regular channels where you could get them for around 35 Euro, the now established market price for these sets. Still, even then the succulents set would feel costly. The content in there is more like it should have cost that price to begin with and then it could drop to around 25 Euro after discounts.
It may sound pretentious, but I had this idea for an orchid for years myself. When I built the Scout Trooper & Speeder Bike (75532) and later disassembled it, I of course had the shoulder pad elements in my hand and dang, didn’t they look like flower petals? But you know how it is – I always wanted to buy some more of these pieces off Bricklink, but never committed myself and kept pushing the idea further and further into the future.
One of the reasons inevitably was that I never could quite figure out how to fixate the elements because this little beauty only came out much later and other elements that could hold those pins at the time also were not available or at least not available in colors that would be useful to this project. After all, even the Bright Pink 1 x 1 cones were only introduced a while ago. The same goes for various other elements that would be needed for leaves, stalks, roots and buds. So to cut my long story short: Things never gelled in a manner that would have satisfied me and I ultimately abandoned the project.
Alas, someone at LEGO must have had similar thoughts and only waited for the right time to do it, so here we are with the Orchid (10311) set.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the model actually matches the size of a smaller real world specimen of the Phalaenopsis (butterfly orchid) quite well. It even holds up next to my mom’s collection of these plants, but it is important to keep in mind that this is an idealized version, regardless. The actual plants tend to be less compact and often only have a single stem with blossoms as that apparently is how most people prefer it. You could re-create something similar by simply connecting the various sub-sections of the branches differently. In fact there are already a few examples on show on one of the first few pages of the instruction manual. Implementing these changes might require a bit of patience. Even if it’s all just Technic connectors, 2L axles and pins and technically simple to do it may take some time before you arrive at something that looks “nice”.
There are three types of leaves on this model with the larger ones being constructed from large wedge pieces and the smaller ones being recolored helicopter windshields. It’s really as straightforward as it gets, but it comes of the cost of in particular the large elongated leave with the 10 x 3 wedges at the base not being very robust. They’re only connected to the top half with a few studs and that goes doubly for the pin hinge as well. Trying to move them and change the arrangement makes them come off easily. Not the end of the world, just a bit annoying. Also note how the leaves are stacked on top of each other like on the actual plant, which may also require some tugging and pulling so the placement looks organic.
The ends of the branches bring a little surprise in that the grass stem piece has been done in Dark Green for the first time ever, which is one of those weird things where people tend to think that this has been the case for forever, given how long this element has been around. It definitely makes for a welcome addition to any builder’s arsenal.
Looking at the blossom it pretty much becomes immediately clear why it might have been difficult to create it in LEGO in the past. First and most noticeable of course are the various pink elements for the core and lower lip, be that the Bionicle claw elements in Bright Pink, the Dark Pink “cross” gear and of course the Magenta frog. Once you actually have them available, everything seems quite simple and almost naturally falls into place. Having the central gear element allows to plug in all sorts of bar elements, including the integrally molded short stubs on the petals and this opens up all sorts of possibilities. Again, trying to not sound too pompous, but perhaps one might argue that if the gear had existed in this color I may have invested more energy in coming up with something orchid-like myself.
The smaller intermediary petals are a whole different story and while the result looks excellent and works, I don’t necessarily think that this is the best solution, though I would back this up with a disclaimer that coming up with something different would require quite some experimentation and might in fact be just as clunky. That ultimately is my point here: the thing seems overly involved and is reliant on – shall we say – a rather creative use of an element only recently introduced. I do get the logic in abstract engineering terms, but I firmly believe there could have been another way. The way it’s done does make for a very repetitive assembly and since the small fork was never really intended to be used in this fashion there is a lot of variability across the board. Some petals fit very tightly and make for a stable connections, others more loosely, making them wobble around. this state of affairs is somewhat unsatisfactory. At the very least there should be more spares of the fork so the user can pick the best ones for his build.
The “halfway there” versions of the blossoms are a neat little touch and put the Demogorgon head from the Stranger Things the Upside Down (75810) companion set to good use in a different color and with an alternate print. In fact way back then I already quipped in a comment on some blog that the head would make for a wonderful flesh-eating plant. Sometimes things work in mysterious ways! A minor complaint here would be that the actual center could have an underprint in a darker color like Dark Tan or Yellowish Green to give it more depth and also give credence to the fact that in those stages the blossom doesn’t appear perfectly white yet.
These orchids are potted in a variety of substrates ranging from white pebbles to sandy soil to the “mulch” (shredded tree bark, sometimes also partially composted) LEGO went with for this set. It doesn’t really matter much to the plant as it extracts a good chunk of moisture from the air, so this is mostly a matter of personal preference and aesthetics. In this set it is also simply a way to cover up the underlying Technic construction with a few random bits. The Dark Brown “claw” slopes are a new addition to my collection since they’ve only recently been introduced, but the rest is just standard stuff.
The outer shell of the pot is assembled from a number of slopes and plates in Sand Blue, which by itself is already a nice and soothing color. This is further helped by those roof slopes having a textured, matte surface, giving the whole surface a classy silky sheen and making it look high value. A few other colors like plain old Tan would work just as well here if you’re looking for alternatives. For my taste there could be more aerial roots and perhaps in a different color as well. The two Olive Green ones used here look a bit too much as if they’re freshly grown and for an older specimen there would be many more, but looking in brownish or greyish colors.
The internal construction is pretty clever and elegantly bypasses some of the issues you would have by using four round plates with pin hole bricks attached and rotating them in pairs of two so they mutually cover the gaps of the other in order to allow attaching the liftarms, effectively doubling the number of available slots to which the ridges then are plugged on seamlessly.
The Succulents (10309) set clearly is LEGO‘s attempt to capitalize on the trend of simulating “micro gardening”, i.e. breeding small plants in a limited space and keeping them that way with meticulous trimming and managing their growth conditions. It’s apparently a hobby that is popular in many of the overcrowded big cities of the world where living space is at a premium and you can’t dedicate a lot of it to your greenery. As a “late to the party” set this one almost instantaneously struck me as the lesser of the two packages discussed here. It’s just a bit too obvious and not very original. Even so, they could have made this something special by employing fancy building techniques or using exclusive parts, but that didn’t pan out, either. That is to say: If you have seen competitors’ versions or MOCs you already know what’s coming next.
Before we proceed to the individual plants, a word on the pots/ trays: Regrettably LEGO did not bother to genuinely design a nice presentation arrangement of e.g. columns with different heights, so everything is flat. Since every module is identical, in theory you should be able to arrange them in whatever shape you want – in theory. That’s where things pretty much fall apart as effectively there’s only so many layouts you can create without the plants overlapping and pushing each other to the side. That alone should have been incentive for a stacked presentation where overhanging plants could simply occupy the higher levels without disturbing anything. What further compounds this issue is that even on a working layout you may have to leave large gaps and you cannot create a compact, uniform “block”. This defeats the idea of being able to freely place the modules.
The other thing that is very irksome is the uniformity of the modules and their ever same build. While this facilitates the assembly (you simply always repeat the first few steps), it makes for dull building. That and the many axle holes you end up with because there is no provision to substitute the modified bricks with solid ones. Would have throwing in an extra 40 or 50 1 x 2 bricks killed LEGO? It seems so unnecessarily petty and measly. And again, at the risk of beating this to death, having extra layers of bricks to vary the height of each box would have been very welcome.
Though most other plants are simply variations on the five gigazillion Echeveria types, the first one is an Aloe put together from various claw elements as you regularly find them on dragon models e.g. in Ninjago. At a fleeting glance it looks okay, but if you look closer the shortcomings become apparent. The spikes are really too short and don’t touch the bottom, their hollow undersides can look weird and – disappointing, but predictable – LEGO did once more not put in the effort to recolor all elements.
The first in the Echeveria department is a yellow one whose only special feature is the use of a new slightly curved ridge slope. Otherwise it hasn’t much to offer and if you’re serious about the matter, even the color is kind of wrong as this probably should be a mix of Bright Light Yellow, Regular Yellow and Yellowish Green to better reflect the pale yellow with a green tinge appearance of the original.
The Chicken & Hen Echeveria is a prime example why competing products beat this set flat hand. Most of the examples I’ve seen have more leaves to begin with and often a fourth or fifth row/ ring. They’re much more massive. Also, as the name implies, this species spreads easily and appears in clusters, so there could have been two or three side by side in a larger container.
The violet versions is certainly different stylistically, but does not spell Echeveria, either. It’s just not dense enough and looks too much like the blossom of a conventional flower. That in itself could be of course a sneaky way of using the elements here. Four of them plugged into the pink gear from the orchid (or the longer existing yellow version of that piece) combined with some decorations could make for an interesting fictitious flower.
Next on the list is a Sedum, a relative of the Echeverias but apparently it’s so young it only has grown one ring segment yet. It doesn’t really do the plant justice, at it grows very quickly and forms large clusters and it should really have at least one or two more levels. A few people got totally worked up about the classic Forestmen hats, so there’s that at least.
Back to Echeverias, we have the biggest one in this set, the red variant. The intense coloration is a sign of the plant’s age and exposure to strong sun light, so it’s not technically correct that the young leaves in the middle are already completely red. This is also detrimental in that they barely stand out. A different color certainly would have helped. On that note: One thing I completely miss is a blossoming stalk on one of the Echeverias. This is not uncommon and in particular on this Dark Red one a pale green stem with some yellow or orange blossoms would have provided a nice contrast and added interest.
The Burro Tail (Donkey Tail) is perhaps the most original plant in this whole set due to using the eggs in Yellowish Green. The scale and density are not realistic, but it still looks pretty cool.
The small ball cactus is one of those “My kid could have done it!” models that are so simple it literally doesn’t contribute much to the overall value
The moon cactus, a strawberry cactus grafted on another, more robust species like an Euphorbia is perhaps the most “LEGO like” model in the whole set, meaning that it actually has some bulk and does not just rely on a few shapes creating the illusion of something being there.
In summary, the models in this set are serviceable, but also somewhat tedious and frustrating. My biggest peeve is that they never feel “real”. By that I don’t mean “realistic” but rather that I felt like a fraud and cheat already when putting them together because I knew it was all utter illusion painting with very little substance. It’s also clear that LEGO opted for the bare minimum in this package and while I’m sure the designers have many more pretty awesome prototype models in their vault, none of them appear to have made it into the final release.
The final verdict is a matter of two completely opposite judgments. The Orchid (10311) is a nice little set and illustrates what you can do with LEGO elements when you choose your subject thoughtfully. It’s about right in size and proportions and from a distance really almost looks like a natural plant. Combined with the fact that overall it feels like you’re getting a good volume of stuff and it is available in broad retail where you can expect some discounts, it’s really worth a consideration.
The same cannot be said for the Succulents (10309) whose illusion quickly falls apart except when you really, really are far away or e.g. a window frame obstructs the view and hides the “ugly” parts. In addition the value to price proposition is disastrous once you consider that half of the pieces go toward building the little black boxes and auxiliary stuff that does not necessarily contribute to the appearance. Worse yet, since it’s exclusive to LEGO and some premium partners at this point you end up paying way too much for some flimsy, tiny plants that don’t even look particularly realistic.
This problem is further compounded by another fact of life: LEGO is late to the “plants & flowers” game and there are literally tons of alternatives from some Chinese manufacturers based on licensed or ripped of MOCs or their own creations. I will not say that you should support bad business practices, but not only are some of them much more dense and offer more parts and details, but ultimately it’s also worth considering whether you are ready to let an expensive 50 Euro set catch dust on your window sill or a 15 Euro one. Even if LEGO tried to evade exactly this scenario by introducing a few unique ways of creating plants it’s just not worth the price of admission.
So in summary I would definitely recommend the orchid in a heartbeat, but I would caution against the succulents. Maybe it gets better if and when it comes into free distribution via regular retail channels, but for the time being it pretty much only makes sense as a complementary set if you already have exhausted other options or if you want the specialized parts.