by Gary Stevens
I am an orchidholic. There, I admit it. Like so many things in life, it started with just one. Then like potato chips, I couldn’t stop. Now I have about 400 orchids. (It’s best not to be too specific about exactly how many are in my collection, or I may be in danger of being placed on an orchid diet by my loving wife.)
I succumbed to this addiction about 20 years ago when I asked about a beautiful flowering plant in a friend’s house and was told it was an orchid, easy to grow and stayed in bloom sometimes as many as three months. I was hooked. Soon I had a dozen or so, and of course many of these died, which only made me more determined to grow them bigger and better.
I especially remember my early attempts to grow Cymbidiums, orchids indigenous to South East Asia found at relatively high altitudes. Cymbidiums can grow to a large size and sometimes produce multiple flower spikes with multiple blooms in a variety of colors. I kept buying them, and they would flower once and grow healthy green leaves, but not bloom again. After a little research I realized that most Cymbidiums are cool-growing and need a drop of temperature into the 40-45 degree range for 4-6 weeks to trigger the development of flower spikes and buds. So, the next fall I left my Cymbidiums outside until early November. Voila! Blooms galore.
We actually moved to our house at 3100 Chesapeake Street in part to acquire more space for my growing orchid collection. My initial plan was for a greenhouse, but we ultimately decided there wasn’t room in our landscape plans for a greenhouse. There was, however, a spare bedroom at the back of our house with southern and eastern window exposure that I converted into an ersatz greenhouse, my “green room.”
If you drive or walk by our house along 31st Street sometime between 5 and 8 p.m., when it is dark, you will see that green room with its eerie yellow-green lights in the windows and lots of plants (mostly orchids) inside. Shortly after we moved in there was some concern by our neighbors that the DEA might be paying me a visit, but happily that never occurred. Besides, you can’t smoke orchids, or at least I don’t think so. (However, some are edible.)
If any of you are thinking about starting or enlarging an orchid collection, here are my particulars. My room is about 14 by 16 feet; the lights are “industrial orchid lights” on timers; there is an air exhaust system that brings in fresh air and expels old air; an air conditioner/heater just for that room; the floor is made of recycled old tires (water proof); there is a sink and water supply in the room; several small fans to keep the air moving; the walls and ceiling are painted with marine quality paint to stop any mold; and most importantly, the orchids are set on large plastic containers covered with refrigerator shelving.
I water the orchids, with some exceptions, once a week and the excess water drains into the plastic containers. The water in the containers evaporates, providing good humidity where orchids need it most, just under the leaves.
I grow a wide variety of orchids under these conditions including, Phalaenopsis, Paphiopedilum, Oncidium, Phragmipedium, Cattleya, Phaius, Psychopsis, Masdevallia, Cymbidium and Dendrobium orchids, among others.
There is always something in bloom, and when one or more of my orchids do come into bloom I move them to other parts of our house where we enjoy them for weeks or sometimes months. When the orchids are finished blooming they go back to the green room.
If you are interested in visiting a really nice large orchid collection in Forest Hills, I strongly recommend a visit to Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens at 4155 Linnean Ave (HillwoodMuseum.org). Hillwood has four large greenhouses devoted mainly to orchids, all open to the public. I volunteer there most Wednesdays. Drop by, and I will be happy to show you around. No reservations are required. If you don’t know Hillwood, you must visit it for a host of good reasons apart from the orchids.
I love to talk orchids with all orchid lovers, whether they have only one orchid or, like me, too many to handle. You can reach me at email@example.com.
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The original version of this article published in January 2013.