Categories: Lifestyle

Obsessed about orchids

Lindsay Zimmer

If you think gardeners are fanatics, that’s only half the story when it comes to people who grow one particular plant. They can go from casual botanist to hardcore devotee in no time at all.

Before you get ahead of yourself, the orchid isn’t a plant that produces aphrodisiacs or induces hallucinations. But it’s so beautiful it’s intoxicating.

A line from Adaptation, the 2002 Nicolas Cage movie based on a book by Susan Orlean, sums it all up. One character tells his brother about a childhood embarrassment when puppy love spurned his affections. The brother, not bothered at all by the revelation, states, “You are what you love, not what loves you.”

If that’s the case then there are many such plant people walking among us. They look like regular folk, the type you could bump into at the store or invite over for a casual coffee between neighbours. Under the surface, however, they are obsessed with the flower of many faces.

The orchid. There are more than 30,000 species and more are discovered each year. Advanced breeding techniques have resulted in the registration of more than 100,000 hybrids. They can grow everywhere (except Antarctica) and in many environments and climates. They are a miracle of nature.

Starting at the end of winter

This recent cold snap has more than a few people in the horticultural world itching to get their hands in dirt.

Bob Stadnyk of Hole’s Greenhouses & Gardens is one of the lucky ones who gets to be around flowers all year round. Right now, though, all they have in stock are phalaenopsis or moth orchids. That’s what he has at home during the winter.

“I do grow the wild lady slippers. I like the outdoor orchids versus the indoor. They come up, they perform, they do their thing, and then they’re dormant during the wintertime.”

This led to speculation on whether these plants have the right attitude toward winter.

“I can’t wait to see this [snow]go already!”

Naturally, he’s not alone.

Flower power

Darrell Albert, president of the Orchid Society of Alberta, is another guy with spring on the brain. The Leduc man isn’t new to the world of orchids, with about 10 ‘serious’ years under his belt.

He has more reason than Stadnyk to stay indoors, though, what with the greenhouse he built and attached to his home specifically for the purpose of housing his collection.

“I started with a few orchids, now I have 1,200 plants. All orchids.”

Albert added this entails several hundred species, a collection so plentiful he doesn’t shy away from the word ‘obsessive.’

I hesitate to use the word ‘obsessive’ when asking him about his hobby. Albert feels differently.

“It can become quite the addiction,” he jokes. “It’s taken over my life but I won’t get out soon.”

Albert has participated in the society’s annual orchid show and sale since 2004 because he loves to share his passion with other likeminded individuals, experts and newbies alike. Thousands of visitors have travelled from distant countries like Taiwan and Ecuador just to take in the show.

The sale isn’t just a trade fair since there are numerous speakers and demonstrations scheduled throughout today and tomorrow to help home growers add some mettle to their petals.

“Lots of them are quite easy as houseplants; some of them are impossible,” Alberts says. “The key thing is to get something you know will be suitable for a household environment.”

Because of his experience, he’s able to tackle even rarer species with even rarer names.

“I have so many things. I’m into dendrobiums more now.” Using the Latin names only adds to the pleasure, he notes.

“Half the fun of orchids is trying to pronounce the names.”

Back to the beginning

If you asked St. Albert couple Mike and Joyce Anhorn about discovering the joy of orchids, they would describe it as a thunderbolt hitting them.

“It’s just fantastic!” Mike exclaimed, discussing some of the characteristics like how some species keep their blooms for months on end.

They’re still relatively new to the broad world of orchid addiction, only obtaining their first plant a few years ago. They have always loved plants so one more would only add variety to their collection at home. One plant led to another … and another.

“We said we were going to stop at 10. And then we said we were going to stop at about 20, 25 maybe. I think we’re at 39 now so we’re going to stop at 40 or so.”

Minutes later he suggested to his wife that they raise the limit.

The Anhorns might be relative orchid newbies but it sure seems like they’ll be in it for a long time. Mike enthused about one type of orchid that can grow on a piece of bark that can even hang on a wall.

“We haven’t talked much about going into anything like that,” he said, pausing as if the word ‘yet’ was implied, “but we’re sure looking at it!”

Everything stems from something

There’s another character from Adaptation who is an orchid thief, a man so deeply possessed by the flower’s beauty he waxes philosophical about how much he has learned about life from the plants.

He describes how each individual orchid species has a special relationship with the insect that pollinates it: each flower has some cosmic design so it looks just like a certain insect in order to draw it in.

“In this sense they show us how to live,” he says, “How the only barometer you have is your heart. How, when you spot your flower, you can’t let anything get in your way.”

That’s just the same way that these orchid people feel: that nothing else matters when you’re in love, and flowers are meant to arouse and inspire the soul.

Albert makes this point in a different way. His dedication to his love is unending.

“[Growing] orchids from seed is not an easy prospect. You need laboratory equipment. I have a few seedpods on the go that I will try. It’s an exercise in patience that can take seven or eight years from sowing the seed till you see a flower come.”


Orchid Fair
34th Annual Orchid Show and Sale
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
Grant MacEwan South Campus, 7319 – 29 Ave. Admission: $10; children under 12 get in free.

Scott Hayes: Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.