Gardening Rx > A Passion for Orchids

In his best-selling book Orchid Fever, Eric Hansen says, “You can get off alcohol, drugs, women, food and cars but once you’re hooked on orchids, you’re finished. You never get off orchids … never.

” Les Regenbogen says his love affair with orchids began quite innocently, often buying cut sprays of cymbidium at the florist for his wife Peg. When she saw orchid plants for sale at the local grocery store, she brought one home for him as a gift. What started with one dendrobium in 1991 has grown to a collection of more than ninety orchids. And now Regenbogen is the president of the New Hampshire Orchid Society.

“Many orchid growers are men,” Regenbogen says. “We are drawn to the challenge of the diversity and vastness of it. There are more than thirty thousand species of orchids and innumerable hybrids, and their cultivation goes beyond growing a regular houseplant or annual. Once you watch an orchid you’ve grown develop a flower spike and come into bloom, you’ll be hooked. There’s a thrill you can’t fnd n any other plant.” Indeed orchids are the second most popular potted plant n the world, right behind poinsettas but gaining fast. Regenbogen is especially drawn to fragrant orchids and lists his favorites as including Encyclia cordigera with its raspberry powder scent, a night fragrant Brassavola nodosa, and the unusual and overwhelmingly fragrant cycnoches species.

Getting started with orchids

Regenbogen advises beginners to not be afraid to try. “It doesn’t take much homework to figure out the conditions your orchid needs,” he says. “Part of the fun is learning about your plants and the technical aspects of growing them. Don’t think you have a black thumb if you kill a few.”

No longer a hobby for the wealthy, orchids have become affordable in recent years and the plants are available in most garden centers, big-box department stores, grocery stores and home improvement centers. “Don’t be afraid to buy an orchid from a big-box store,” Regenbogen says. “Some of the best plants exhibited on the show table at our monthly meetings are from these stores.”

Regenbogen encourages anyone with an interest in orchids to join the New Hampshire Orchid Society. “We meet the second Saturday of every month at 11 A.M. at the Town Hall in Bedford. We have a very welcoming group of people from all walks of life who share the passion of growing orchids,” he says. Most meetings have a show table where members can bring blossoming orchids for judging. There are plant auctions twice a year, and most meetings have a speaker or slide show.

The society’s premier event is the annual show in February (see sidebar on page 25), a time when the gardens are covered with snow and Granite Staters are most in need of flowers. There is always something new to see and lots to learn at the orchid show. This year, orchid society members will take small groups on tours around the show, pointing out interesting features about the plants and answering questions. Another new feature is a potting clinic where you can bring a plant from home (or one you’ve purchased at the show) and have it repotted for only $5.

This year, this writer will have to pass those non-blooming phalaenopsis along to someone who’ll have better luck and free up some windowsill space for a new plant or two. I’m convinced that orchids should come with a warning label: “Caution! May become habit-forming!”

Orchid Shows Worth Seeing

The New Hampshire Orchid Society’s Seventeenth Annual Show and Sale: A Symphony of Orchids

February 8-10
The Radisson Hotel (formerly the Sheraton)
11 Tara Boulevard, off Exit 1

The Friday, February 8, preview party is from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Tickets are $15 up to one week in advance or $25 at the door. Dessert and a cash bar are available. The show is open Saturday, February 9, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, February 10, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The weekend includes floral displays; speakers; guided tours; potting clinics; video and slide presentations; exhibits; and vendors selling plants, supplies, jewelry and other orchidrelated items. This is an American Orchid Society-judged event and seventeen trophies will be awarded—don’t miss this chance to see prize-winning orchids from around the world.

Admission is $7 for adults, $4 for seniors and children 12 and younger are admitted free of charge.

Cape and Islands Orchid Society Nineteenth Annual Show and Sale: Victoriana
January 12-13
The Seacrest Resort and Conference Center
350 Quaker Road North
Falmouth, Massachusetts

Show hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For tickets—which cost $7—and information, call (508) 758-2888.

Les Regenbogen’s Tips for Growing Orchids

New Hampshire Orchid Society president Les Regenbogen maintains that there is an orchid for every situation, saying: “the key to success is matching the right orchid to your home growing conditions. Once you have success with one orchid you’ll want more.”

He offers the following tips:

1. To bloom well, most orchids need a ten-degree temperature drop at night.
2. East or west windows have a good half-day of sunlight, which is adequate for most orchids.
3. A southern exposure is fine for high-light plants, but place them about a foot back from the window to keep them from burning.
4. Don’t use a north window because there won’t be enough light. a light meter on a camera is an easy way to check how strong the light is on your windowsill.
5. Water your orchids fully, about twice a week, but don’t use hard water or water that has been run through a softener. Use spring water or sometimes distilled.
6. Fertilizing depends on the species of plant. Many experts agree that the old adage of fertilizing “weakly weekly” doesn’t work because different orchids have different needs. resources for finding what works best for your orchid include orchid societies, which off er fact sheets with growing info for diff erent types of orchids (see resources on the next page), and other orchid lovers who may be successfully growing the same orchid.