- Denver Orchid Society show and sale, March 14, 2016, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., and March 15, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., at Tagawa Garden Center, 7711 S. Parker Rd., Centennial, Colo., http://denverorchidsociety.org
- Fantasy Orchids, www.fantasyorchids.com, 830 W. Cherry St., Louisville, Colo.
Published Jan. 17, 2016, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “The wide world of orchids.”
By Barb Gorges
There is nothing in the middle of winter quite like the feel of Hawaiian humidity–that gentle touch on the cheek. And there’s a bit of it close by, in Louisville, Colorado, at Fantasy Orchids.
A look at the outside of the greenhouse, set between a residential neighborhood and a shopping mall, doesn’t prepare you for the view inside from the doorway. Beyond the doors is a vast expanse–10,000 square feet–of nothing but 30,000 to 50,000 orchids, accompanied by Hawaiian music.
Upon entry, I was lucky to find gardener Hannah Leigh Myers working, and willing to be my guide, teaching me about growing orchids at home.
Orchids can be an obsession. Myers brought home her first one five years ago and now has 50. Seeing all the new varieties coming in the greenhouse must make them hard to resist. She still has that first plant though. It won a blue ribbon at a recent Denver Orchid Society show.
No one is going to be able to collect all the orchids—there are 27,000 species. That doesn’t include the brisk orchid hybridization industry has produced 100,000 varieties.
Some people run out of room and build additions to their houses. Other people board their non-blooming orchids at Fantasy Orchids, waiting for a call to pick them up when they are in bloom again. They can also board them while away on vacation.
Orchid collectors can be another breed altogether. Susan Orlean’s book, “The Orchid Thief,” touches on the stories of murder and mayhem committed in the historical pursuit of rare orchids. Collecting them in the wild has since been banned by the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
Cheyenne’s most notable orchid grower was the late Judge Clarence Brimmer. You can see some of his orchids at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens greenhouse.
The orchids Myers showed me are propagated by cloning in flasks. Once out of the flask, an orchid can take 3 to 5 years to bloom. Fantasy Orchids general manager Kent Gordon visits Hawaii and selects varieties that will appeal to his customers, and provide a succession of blooms throughout the year.
The day I visited, the center isle was overhung with gorgeous colors, but the majority of the plants were green, just busy growing. The bigger they get, the more valuable they are. You won’t find any tossed out because they are finished blooming.
It was tough choosing just one orchid. I liked the Cattleyas, the classic corsage orchids that can fill the house with perfume. They can bloom several times a year. There was Sharry Baby, an Oncidium with a scent of chocolate. Whole tables were filled with Dendrobium species and hybrids.
Myers brought out a slipper orchid, with its big pouch, related to some of the 27 native, terrestrial (grows in soil) orchids in Wyoming. Some slippers bloom once every seven years.
The butterfly orchids were intriguing as well, but only one fantastical flower opens at a time.
I decided on Phalaenopsis, one of the moth orchids. They are most forgiving, most likely to find my not so bright house favorable. They can be expected to bloom for months at a time.
Dendrobium orchids have different “faces.” Photos above by Barb Gorges.
Most orchids in the trade are tropical epiphytes. They need no soil, usually growing on trees in their native habitat. Several fine specimens were growing on a tree in the middle of the greenhouse including a 20-year-old Vanda that has bloomed five times this year with giant flowers, a Volcano Trick with a large spray of small orange and red flowers blooming seasonally and a particular Dendrobium that has been blooming continuously for nine years. Myers assured me they are all fine in our homes, even in our dry climate.
“Volcano Trick” grows on a tree in the Fantasy Orchids greenhouse, just the way epiphytic orchids would in the tropics. Photo by Barb Gorges.
How to take care of an orchid
My new orchid came, as many at Fantasy Orchids do, in a clear plastic pot, with the merest hint of a bottom, filled with a mix of fir bark, horticultural charcoal and sponge rock, mainly meant to support the plant and retain a little moisture, rather than nourish it. The thick aerial roots often climb outside pots and are even photosynthetic.
But when watering it, I need to imitate a tropical rain shower. I’ll know when to water, maybe in 5 to 7 days or 2 weeks, when the roots turn whitish or the pot feels much lighter.
One expert suggests watering in the morning so water accidentally sitting in a leaf axil has more time to evaporate in warmer daytime temperatures, than at night, when it might cause rotting.
Myers said to set the orchid in the sink and let lukewarm water run over the roots for 1 to 2 minutes. When the roots turn green it means they have opened their pores. Once the roots are open, I can treat them with the recommended general fertilizer solution as directed.
Fantasy Orchids sells its own fertilizer concoctions and since they are what they use, I picked up some. They’ll also be suitable for some of my other flowering plants.
I also picked out a ceramic orchid pot. The special design is full of holes, so roots can breathe, but Myers said to just put the clear pot inside it. At least the ceramic pot is heavy enough to keep the plant from toppling over. It will be awhile before it needs repotting as orchids need to be somewhat root-bound.
Alternately, you can mount your orchid on a slab of wood, though that seems messy—especially for watering.
The flowering stems of orchids mainly want to hang down, as they would from trees. But if my orchid is in a pot, I want to see the little flower faces. Orchids have bilateral symmetry, just like human faces. So to lift them, orchid flower stems are staked. Little clips hold them to simple wooden bamboo sticks dyed green to blend in.
Different kinds of orchids have different light needs at different times in their growing cycle. Phalaenopsis flowers have been known to last 6 to 9 months if night temperatures are 50-60 degrees and they are kept away from heat vents, cold drafts and rapid temperature changes. They need only indirect light.
When flowering is finished, I will move my plant to a brighter spot. For Phalaenopsis, the preferred exposure is within 2 feet of an east-facing or southeast facing window, or shaded in a south or west window. If the plant won’t re-flower, it probably needs more light, or fertilizer. I might have to augment natural with fluorescent light. Also, a 10-20 degree temperature difference between day and night is necessary next fall to encourage re-blooming.
Fantasy Orchids offers repotting services and, surprisingly, a trade-in promotion that includes plants bought at the grocery store. It’s a way to introduce you to the wider world of orchids. And give you the confidence you need to grow your own.
“There’s something really wonderful about tropical flowers when there’s snow outside,” said Myers. “And orchids can out-live us. They get better and better.”
Cattleyas are the orchids for classic corsages, and they smell nice, but they also make good house plants. Fantasy Orchids carries a number of varieties. Photos below by Barb Gorges.