Growing exotic beauties
Think orchids can’t grow in non-tropical climates? Think again
Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 9:31 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 9:31 a.m.
Strolling through Judy Carney’s greenhouse is like stepping into a steamy, tropical jungle bursting with the brilliantly green leaves and colorful blooms of exotic plants. For a moment it’s hard to believe that this tropical oasis is an orchid garden located on the not-so tropical east side of Petaluma.
ORCHIDS IN SPRING
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 30; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 31
Where: Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building, 1351 Maple Ave.
SONOMA COUNTY ORCHID SOCIETY
The group meets the second Tuesday of each month. For more information, visit the group’s website at www.sonomaorchids.com.
“If you can provide what a plant wants, you can grow it,” said Carney, who began cultivating orchids more than 30 years ago. “Some things are hard to provide, like humidity, but if you know what type of orchid you have, you can find figure out what it needs and direct your purchase to plants that will be OK with what you can provide it.”
There was a time when owning and growing orchids was a sign of wealth and nobility. During the late 1800s, it was only the rich who could afford to travel, find, purchase and care for orchids. Today, these graceful, elegant blooms can be purchased affordably at the nearest garden center or grocery store.
“Everyone can afford an orchid now, so it’s raising a lot of interest in orchids and more appreciation of them,” said Carney. “I think it’s good that more people are getting into orchids.”
Carney’s collection of specimens are housed in two climate-controlled greenhouses in her back yard. Her passion for these exotic blooms has taken her around the world to places such as Borneo, Singapore, Thailand, Tasmania and Peru, though she adds that she simply enjoys traveling and incorporates orchid hunting into her travel plans.
“If you see something in the wild, you cannot take it,” Carney warns. “You have to get or purchase them through orchid growers, and then go through the paperwork to get it brought or shipped here. In 1997, we had all our plants confiscated at San Francisco International Airport when coming home from Ecuador. We should’ve taken the plants through Florida, because customs there is used to people bringing plants into the country. But we were naive and didn’t know better back then.”
Carney added that not all orchid growers need to globetrot to increase their collections or build greenhouses, and that the hobby can be as heavily involved or as simple as the grower wants it to be. It can be time consuming as with any type of gardening or hobby.
“My friend here in Petaluma grows wonderful orchids in her home,” said Carney. “She never travels, but has a good size collection of mostly hybirds. “Just like any other hobby, orchid growing can be encompassing. You get to be kind of a fanatic.”
Fellow Petalumans Kris and Jim Foster also caught orchid-growing fever about 30 years ago after receiving one as a gift.
“That’s how most people get started,” said Kris Foster. “After that, I started collecting them over the years and eventually began going to orchid shows. I probably have a couple thousand orchids right now.”
Foster, like Carney, is into collecting species orchids, which are “not the kind you find at Trader Joe’s or Costco, which are hybrids” said Foster. “You have to know someone who grows a species to buy them, or you can purchase them through vendors. But, what I tell people if that if you see something in bloom — hybird or not — that you like, can afford and is a healthy plant, buy it!”
When it comes to orchid care, whether you’re a budding hobbyist or someone who acquired a plant as a gift, there are a few things to know. The most important thing according to Foster is to figure out what kind of orchid it is.
“From there you can learn what that particular orchid requires,” said Foster. “Also, find out what part of the world it’s from. Does it like warm days and cold nights? What kind of food, light and water does it need? It’s important to learn about the specific plant you have and make sure you can grow it in your area. For example, I like cool weather orchids, but it’s very expensive to keep my greenhouse cool in the summer. So, I try not to buy those plants.”
Even without a greenhouse, it’s still very possible to grow orchids. According to Foster, many orchids bred by growers have been bred to tolerate intermediate conditions, such as those found in the average home.
“Lots of them, especially Australian varieties can even grow outside in our climate,” said Foster.
Tony Mininno, president of the Sonoma County Orchid Society said that contrary to their tropical climate reputation, orchids are among the most adaptable plants.
“In nature, orchids grow in all environments, from snowy mountain tops to arid deserts and from sand and rocks to wet river banks,” said Mininno. “Orchids occur on every continent except Antartica. They also occupy almost every conceivable habitat, except the oceans. For those of us living in Sonoma County, we do not need to limit our plants to indoor windowsills and bathrooms. Here, there are many varieties of orchid that will grow very well in our yards and on our porches.”
Carnery and the Fosters are longtime members of the Sonoma County Orchid Society, which is hosting its annual Orchids in Spring show March 30-31 at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building. The show provides the opportunity for hobbyists and those who are just curious to learn all about cultivating orchids, as well as view displays from the personal collections of society members.
“I encourage people to learn more about orchids, and coming to the orchid show is a great way to learn about the plants, what kind of care they need and if a certain species can grow in your home or back yard without a greenhouse,” said Foster.
The Orchids in Spring Show and Sale takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 30 and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 31. Admission is $8. For more information on the show or the Sonoma County Orchid Society, visit www.sonomaorchids.com.
(Contact Yovanna Bieberich at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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