Pay it With Flowers

by Judy Adamson

When it comes to glamour in the garden there’s no doubt orchids are high on the list.   Growing and cultivating one of the thousands of species of orchid  is no longer confined to the wealthy – or the wealthy with time on their hands – but it can be an expensive for those  who become really passionate about the flowers.

“Once you’re hooked, you’re hooked,” says Debbie Wares, who has been growing orchids for years with her husband, Garry.”They’re not cheap to buy and there’s the time spent fertilising and caring for themas well.  “But the problem is once you get hooked you keep buying them – you keep seeing new ones….it’s just limitless, the  varieties of colour you can get.  You could never get one of everything.

The author of books on orchids and editor of  The Australian Orchid Review, David Banks, says that bwhile young plants can be bought for as little as $5 or $10, the cost can soar into the hundreds and thousands.  “There’s a bit of mystique about them”, he says.   “A hundred years ago orchids were only for the very, very  wealthy – and that’s obviously changed now, because superior propagation techniques have made the plants more readily available”.

“I still believe there’s a status sort of thing with them …to me orchids are the pinnacle of the flowering plants.  But I think the main thing thing that gets people in is that there’s so much variety in orchids.There are more than 30,000 species – and a lot, obviously, that people have never seen.”    “They cater to everybody: they’re in every single colour you can think of – even blues and black – and you get flowers from a couple of millimetres across  [to more than 60cm].”

Living in Australia makes growing and caring for orchids much easier nthan in many countries overseas. Our climate means plenty of orchid varieties can be grown in the garden instead of a speciual greenhouse with heating of air-conditioning.  However, Banks warns thos new to the art to research a plant’s origin carefully before they decide how to look after it.

“You’ve got to do a bit of detective work because not only do you nered to work to find what country the orchid came from originally, but also it’s habitat”, he says.  “It’s no use just sqying it comes from Equador, because it grows on the coast, it’s hot and tropical there, so it needs a heated  glasshouse and need s to be kept warm and cosy all the tgime.  But if it grows up in the high mountains just under the snowline, it needs to be kept cool all the time.  And it might be grown in a really wet area or a dry area.” “That’s where orchid societies can help, because you generally find there’s somebody else who’s also  growing that sort of plant or has tried to grow it.”

Wares wishes she and her husband had the  time   to spare from their business commitments  to join  an orchid society as “I alwaqys got questions to ask”.  Contacting  a local society helped her track down a pasrticular orchid she had longed for –  a miniature cascading cymbidium, “Dr. Len Ruby Sunset”.  “I saw it in a display a couple of years ago and I’d been trying to find it ever since”, she says. “I just fell in love with the flower. It was beautiful – it looked just like velevet.”

The society put Wares in touch with an orchid grower in Western Australia, and her cymbidium arrived a few weeks ago. She won’t see the flowers she prizes for a least another year – once they’re in the pot, the roots have to fill the pot before they flower” – but she is happy to wait.

She is also quick to say  that she and her husbanddon’t have a big collection – “maybe four or five different types” of orchids – but she’s loved the flowers since she was a girl and is used tohaving them in the house or garden.   “There’s just that something exotic about them.” she says. “Alkso they last a long time – for weeks.  You can pick a spike of flowers and they do lasyfor a least three weeks. If you leave them on the plant they’ll last longer…but yo should cut them.  It’s bertter for the plant.”

Banks says some big time collectors become so obsessive \about obtaining rare and beautiful orchids that they”l break the law to do it. Recently discovered  slipper orchids in South-East Asia are covered by the Convention for the International Trade of Endangered Species  (CITES) , which not only makes it difficult to export the orchids to other countries, it makes them extremely valuable.   But it hasn’t stopped people trying to smuggle the plants into their home  nc ountry so that they can have one  in the garden or greenhouse.

“There have been people in the United States and Great Britain who have gone to jail of orchid smuggling,”he  says. I mentioned an episode of a british whodunit series in which a clutch of people are killed over a rare orchid.  “I don’t think it’s got to that stage yet,” he says with a laugh.

Additionally,  “For information about orchids, societies, nurseries, auction and photos of the flowers, see  or .  Those wanting to go to one of many shows and displays in Sydney of Melbourne should visit  or www.oscov.asn/shows.html .au for details of times and dates. 

Fun Fact    There are up to 1400 orchid species in Australia with 80% not found elsewhere. Some have specialised adaptions – two native orchids spend their entire life-cycle  underground.

Published in the Sydney Morning Herald,  June 21, 2006