An Orchid Obsession

The sales table is fraught with tension and wild eyes, grasping hands and bared teeth. Looking around at the cardigans and aged population it can seem little confusing, but of course, its an orchid show – a scary and wondrous place to be.

I am often the youngest person at orchid shows and as such receive a lot of helpful nana hints and growing tips from delighted patrons. I’m always happy to soak up this invaluable information whilst I plan my next purchase.

I love orchids. To me, they are by far the most fascinating of plants, conquering every single continent on earth bar Antarctica. I began collecting orchids in my early 20’s, and at 21 I had invested in my own walk-in green house in my back garden in Surry Hills, Sydney.

I collect orchids wherever I go – orchid shows, garage sales, op shops, markets, but hardly ever nurseries. This is mainly because I love unusual orchids, and the only place to find them is where the growers are. Others have been rescued gifts, or donated by frustrated friends who don’t know how to look after them. My home in the Blue Mountains boasts over 40 species of ground, aerial and lithic orchids, all of which have done remarkably well in the cool climate.

My dad is the holder of the majority of my collection – when we moved up here I decided to emancipate my orchids, sending them to the warmer weather of Coffs Harbour, where they have thrived. Most years I go up to Dad’s place and repot them, or move them onto new logs or rocks. I get regular reports on their progress, which is not surprising as my dad is a horticulturalist like me, and also somewhat obsessed with orchids.

My passion for orchids crosses the line as an expensive but rather fabulous passion to have. Recently I was discussing my love of Stanhopea orchids with a client, who rushed home and brought me a huge piece back, because she knew how much I would appreciate it. Orchid people, eh?

I’m often asked why my orchids flower and others don’t. To be honest, once an orchid has had a cooling off period inside, its pretty much live or die in my garden. Orchids, brilliant survivors that they are, may take a year or so, but then, bam! A million flowers and a happy gardener.

My favorite species by far are our Australian native orchids. They’re unbelievably beautiful and fragile. How can you not love something as non-descript as a swamp orchid, non-descript only until a 30cm flower spike full of perfumed white, purple and brown flowers suddenly emerges?

As I write this, I can see my Cymbidium orchids both on the balcony and outside in full flower, looking as elegant as can be. The fantastic thing about orchids is that if you invest time and love, you will be rewarded tenfold by these diverse plants. Orchid show, anyone?

From the editor: If you want to read more about orchids (and sex!), check out this story on the sexual prowess of orchids by David Whitworth. It’s a very entertaining read!