Orchid delights: Beautiful blooms inspire growers of exotic plants

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 16, 2011

By PL Byrd
For the Salisbury Post
The language of orchid growers is poetically technical. Five-syllable Latin words roll off Dorcas Brogdon’s tongue with the ease of ancient botanist Pliny the Elder. “Just don’t ask me to spell them,” she laughs.
Brogdon was one of several independent hobbyists and professional growers featured during an informal annual orchid show held in Winston-Salem’s Reynolda Gardens’ greenhouse on Dec. 10 — a fragrantly gorgeous event with a 30-year history. David Bare, greenhouse manager and orchid aficionado, says, “Dorcus is one of the best growers I’ve ever run into in my life.”
Bare’s opinion counts. He’s been Reynolda Gardens’ greenhouse manager for 10 years, nurtures a breathtaking array of orchids as well as hundreds of common, uncommon and rare plants, and writes a weekly garden column for the Winston-Salem Journal. “This isn’t an Orchid Society show, but it’s a place to see extraordinary plants,” Bare says. “It’s a great place for beginners to learn.”
Ask any orchid grower to describe a particular plant’s aroma, and be prepared for a romantic, sensual response. It’s like listening to a wine connoisseur describe a favorite vintage. “Banana taffy,” says Bare after burying his nose in the bloom of a cherry-toned Cycnodes Red Wine “Delight,” a vigorous orchid that has received the highest award — FCC, or First Class Certification — given by the American Orchid Society. An AOS score in the 90s is the orchid industry equivalent of receiving internationally-famous wine critic Robert Parker’s most exalted rating.
Orchids smell like Sweet Tarts, mango milkshakes, cinnamon red hot candies, even cough medicine and dead flies. Some have a faint sweet smell, and some don’t smell at all. “They’re not all fragrant,” explains Dale Erickson, who, with wife Phyllis, owns Ironwood Estate Orchids in Hickory. “They turn the fragrance off and on, trying to attract a pollinator. If they’re not interested, there’s no fragrance.” Dale Erickson says. “It’s the orchid equivalent of a bad date.” He pollinates some of his shyer orchids by hand. “A toothpick is a handy tool,” he says.
Phyllis Erickson dispels the myth surrounding the orchid’s high-maintenance reputation. She says they are not difficult to grow. “The main thing is not to overwater. And, some like more light than others. Find the orchid that suits your home, your environment.” However, there is one thing you should never do if you want your orchid to thrive, according to Phyllis. “Don’t touch the bloom,” she says. “This is not beneficial to the plant.”
Skip La Llave of Backyard Orchids in Lewisville is a professed “orchidholic.” A large Wilsonara Tropic Breeze Everglades sits unobtrusively on La Llave’s display table, providing backdrop for showier winter bloomers. Don’t be fooled. An enthusiastic overachiever, Tropic Breeze “shoots out a 9-foot tall spike topped with reddish, fragrant blooms once a year around Mother’s Day.” La Llave’s love affair with orchids began 28 years ago, but the attraction is still fresh. “There’s a lot to this,” he says.
The Everglades might be the Olympic pole-vaulter of orchids, but Linda Thorne of Seagrove Orchids displayed the most expensive one, a sassy 15-year old Cattleya perciviliana in regalia befitting a queen. The lavender beauty, known as the Christmas Orchid because of its bloom cycle, would set a buyer back $3,000. That’s right, three thousand dollars. “This is huge, a very nice specimen,” says Bare. “If Linda’s orchid had one bloom and sat in a four inch pot, it’d still be a good specimen.”
Small or large, showy or subtle, orchids are magically intoxicating. They are mysteriously patient. They walk on the wild side. If Pliny the Elder had established a dress code for nature, orchids would have broken the rule.
To learn more, contact the following growers for an appointment:
Dorcas Brogdon, Trickle Creek Orchids, Mocksville, 336-998-8739.
Skip La Llave, Backyard Orchids, Lewisville, 336-793-6349
Linda Thorne, Seagrove Orchids, Seagrove, 336-879-6677
Dale and Phyllis Erikson, Ironwood Estates Orchids, Hickory, 828-294-3950.