Bounty of beautiful blooms

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Orchid Fair highlights ordinary to extraordinary flowers at annual show

It must be spring when the Orchid Fair descends on The Enjoy Centre, and the 40th anniversary edition (April 7 to 9) promises even more beautiful blooms, vendors, judging, photo and art exhibits and a unique installation for visitors to enjoy.

If you think orchids are too exotic, fragile or expensive to grow and enjoy, think again. This much-loved but sometimes misunderstood plant will have members of the Orchid Society of Alberta (OSA) on-hand to clear up any misconceptions, offer care tips and sell you a plant or two to get you started if you want to take a hobby home with you after the fair.

With 15,000 square feet of exhibit space to display and/or sell thousands of plants, and judge some 500-plus flowers. From the commonplace to the extremely rare – Orchid Fair has become one of the largest of its kind in Canada, according to OSA president Darrell Albert, who grows over 1,000 flowers in his own home greenhouse.

“People ask if it’s hard to grow orchids, and the answer is: it depends. It can be if it’s a tropical, fussy cloud forest variety (which needs a special humidity), but there’s also easy-to-grow, inexpensive varieties that do fine on a cool windowsill too, with no special environment needed,” says Albert. “All orchids need a certain light, temperature and water, but with over 30,000 species, the needs vary greatly from type to type.”

At the Orchid Fair, Albert says several of the OSA’s nearly 200 members will wear an ‘ask me’ badge so visitors can find out more about the plants. As well, various vendors, including growers from California, Taiwan and Ecuador, will sell plants and accessories like LED lights and potting medium, and host hands-on potting demonstrations too.

“We also have a team of judges from the American Orchid Society (AOS) to adjudicate and present awards to worthy flowers. We want visitors to look, learn and buy these amazing plants – it’s a great hobby,” he said.

It has been a 40-year-plus love affair for grower and AOS member Paul Paludet, one of over 25 growers at the fair, who brings up to a 30-foot display of varying orchids to each year’s show.

“Orchids aren’t difficult, they’re just different. Besides, the winter is too long, and there’s nothing to do up here,” laughs Paludet about the pastime that sees him growing thousands of orchids in his year-round home greenhouse. He’s even created an award-winning hybrid Phalaenopsis: a trendy plumrose he named “memoria – Nero Paludet” (after his father).

“I’ve won 16 awards and attended other shows, but Alberta enthusiasts are unique and diverse. We’re not just the oil industry up here. When I see my orchids in bloom in the greenhouse, it’s like a winter getaway – a refuge when it’s minus 30,” he says.

Orchids come in a myriad of colours, shapes, textures and sizes; some paper-thin and fragile, others with sturdy, waxy leaves. Some can be minis, just three inches in size, while others grow to two-feet high.

While one species blooms for just a few hours, another plant has blooms that go for months, and lives for years.

“And the fragrance can be beautiful and intense, that’s what first drew me to orchids, like lemon/citrus, perfume or soap, even chocolatey. There’s even a rare few that stink like rotting meat,” says Paludet, who takes interested fair-goers on a fragrance tour through the exhibit, offering up a whiff of the subtle or strong scent characteristics among the blooms.

“When visitors see the amazing variety at the show, they will be as amazed and star-struck as I was. It takes some time and patience to learn the hobby, but our vibrant society is here to help and encourage new members,” Paludet says.

Albert says the ubiquitous, popular Phalaenopsis is inexpensive ($10 to $30) and easy to find at spots like Home Depot or RONA garden centres. This hardy orchid can usually be grown on a west or east-facing windowsill, and does well when it’s allowed to dry a bit between watering. Avoid too much fertilizer, he says, as it will burn the orchid’s roots: the same goes for southern exposure in the summertime, which can likewise burn the plant’s leaves.

While it’s true that most orchids are tropical, heat and humidity-loving plants, there are nearly 30 varieties of orchids native to Alberta, even one native to Alaska.

“Orchids can grow wild outdoors up to the sub-Arctic,” he says. “There’s even a tour each Father’s Day at the Wagner Bog near Spruce Grove, it’s a great draw for flower enthusiasts, as it features many wild Alberta orchids,” he says.

This year’s Orchid Fair also has a first-time feature: a 12-foot by seven-foot orchid sculpture by Calgary-area artist Dale Cote. The upcycled installation is made from recycled pop cans, wood and leather, and formed into the shape of orchid petals, bugs and butterflies, “perfect for a photo-op,” adds Albert.

Admission to Orchid Fair is $10 (includes parking), and is free for children under 12.

For more show information, see orchidsalberta.com

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About Author

Lucy Haines

Lucy Haines has been a freelancer writer for the St. Albert Gazette since 2012. She writes features on travel, food, seniors, homes and gardens.