Dr. Fred Pon finds orchids enchanting. The retired family physician enjoys a particular type of serenity breathing in their delicate perfumes and cultivating every dazzling bloom.
As a dedicated hobbyist, Pon grows 200 plants in optimal conditions throughout his St. Albert home. Some were purchased from big box stores while others came by way of regional specialty shops. Alternatively, some of the more exotic orchids arrived from across the ocean while two are native to Alberta.
“I’ve been growing them for more than 30 years. They offer a connection to nature. You appreciate the natural beauty. Often as a physician you deal with problems and stress. It is nice to escape into nature with orchids,” said Pon, president of the Orchid Society of Alberta.
He plans to share his passion with a tabletop exhibit of blooms at the 43rd Annual Orchid Fair on March 31 to April 2 at Salisbury at the Enjoy Centre. Due to COVID, the orchid show and sale was on hiatus for the past three years but returns with a fresh vibe.
Bringing a whiff of spring to winter-weary gardeners, the horticultural staple has grown into the largest in western Canada. The three-day event, held under the glass-roofed, 15,000-square foot Moonflower Room, attracts more than 2,500 visitors. It showcases magical orchid displays, stunning photography exhibits, popular competitions, practical hands-on demonstrations and plant sales.
Much of Pon’s fascination stems from their global diversity. This widespread family of floral plants thrive on every continent except Antarctica, and number more than 30,000 species worldwide.
“And another thing. Orchids are quite unique in their bilateral symmetry. If you cut a flower in half, they are a mirror image of itself. There is no other flower like it.”
Pon started his foray collecting orchids shortly after moving to St. Albert three decades ago to open a practice and raise a family.
“I always liked plants and had lots of tropical plants. I wanted to add some colour. I went to a show at the Muttart Conservatory and bought two orchids. Now down the road I have 200 tropical orchids,” Pon said.
While most of his blooms manufacture fragrant floral scents, the Oncidium “Sharry Baby,” is a bit of tease. The reddish-brown orchid from Asia produces a particularly strong chocolate scent.
“When you walk by it satisfies your chocolate cravings,” said Pon with a laugh.
Set up to look like a tropical getaway, the orchid fair begins Friday with judges awarding points based on the American Orchid Society system of judging. The local fair is billed as the largest American Orchid Society judged show in Canada.
In addition to entries from individual orchid growers, organizations are also setting up tables to showcase their jaw-dropping masses of flowers. So far, the Calgary Orchid Society, the Saskatoon Orchid Society and the Orchid Species Preservation Society dedicated to preserving diverse species worldwide will sponsor a table.
“Whenever a society comes, they grow species of orchids that are more difficult to grow, and hobby growers see flowers we wouldn’t normally. And vendors also bring species you wouldn’t normally find here.”
This year, vendors selling orchids have travelled from Taiwan and Ecuador, a country with one of the world’s largest diversity of orchids – about 4,500 native species. However, the exotic plants on sale are not torn from the wild. They are cultivated under strictly controlled conditions to prevent pillaging in forests.
“The seller from Ecuador is bringing native species that are rare in St. Albert. You can’t purchase them at garden centres. Greenhouses prefer selling in bulk. The flowers from Ecuador may not be quite as showy, but they have other qualities. Fragrance and the shape of a flower are something that is appreciated.”
Also returning is a photo exhibition showing many different orchids photographed under various light situations creating different moods. In previous years, members and non-members as well as NAIT students enrolled in the photography program submitted inspirational prints.
In addition to offering orchids of many varieties and types, specialty vendors will also sell growing supplies. And for hobbyists needing advice on what soils or bark chips are best suited to their plants, repotting demonstrations will be held throughout Saturday and Sunday.
In both roles as a retired physician and a hobbyist, Pon sees numerous benefits to attending the orchid show.
“It’s good for your mental health. We’ve had a long cold winter and it’s nice to escape to a semi-tropical region bursting with colour and nice fragrances. And you don’t have to deal with airports. The Enjoy Centre has lots of natural light and we welcome photographers to come and take pictures.”
The Orchid Fair Annual Show & Sale is March 31 to April 2, at Salisbury at Enjoy, 101 Riel Drive. Admission is $10 per person at door. Children 12 and under free.