April 21st, 2011

Orchids: A Rare Obsession

RF245648About four years ago, my life took an interesting turn when my husband, Cheyenne, began growing orchids as a hobby.  Since that time, his small collection of a few window-sill plants has grown into a collection of over 200 orchids, housed in a bedroom he converted into an indoor greenhouse.  We regularly attend local orchid society meetings and shows like Longwood Gardens’ recent Orchid Extravaganza, and have traveled to many orchid workshops and nurseries along the east coast.  We even journeyed to Hawaii this past year in pursuit of orchids.  In the early days of his hobby, he used to tell me that there are so many species and hybrids of orchids growing in the world, that even if you collected a different orchid every day for the rest of your life, you still wouldn’t be able to collect them all. That doesn’t seem to stop him from trying.

While I’m not quite the fanatic that my husband is, orchid growing has proven to be a fascinating joint pursuit (that is, once I got used to spending every Valentine’s Day at the annual Slipper Orchid Forum in Washington, DC).  For my part as a librarian, I’ve helped him gain access to orchid literature and research via the library.  Early favorites like Understanding Orchids:  An Uncomplicated Guide to Growing the World’s Most Exotic Plants, the helpful guide Success with Orchids, and Orchids For Every Home:  The Beginner’s Guide to Growing Beautiful, Easy-care Orchids helped introduce us to proper growing techniques and conditions.  As his expertise in cultivating orchids grew, we turned to narrative nonfiction tales of orchid obsession with books like Eric Hansen’s Orchid Fever:  A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust, and Lunacy, which examines the dangerous lengths and locales (the jungles of Borneo!) some collectors will go to acquire these rare plants.  And then there’s Susan Orlean’s  best-selling The Orchid Thief (which later became the basis of the film “Adaptation” starring Nicholas Cage and Meryl Streep), a true story of scandal and obsession that led the writer into the swamps of Florida in pursuit of the elusive “ghost orchid.”  Since reading these, Cheyenne has proposed orchid treks of our own into the swamps of Florida, as well as into the jungles of Peru in search of rare kovachii orchids.  The DC Slipper Forum’s not looking so bad right now.

Next Saturday, April 30th at 1pm, Cheyenne will share his knowledge and expertise with new and experienced orchid growers alike in the program “Orchids for Everyone” at the Elkton Central Library.  He’ll also be making room for new orchids in his greenhouse by raffling off some old favorites at the program.  For more information and to register for the program, click the link above, stop by the Elkton Central Library or call 410-996-5600 ext. 481.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve also been blogging about our adventures in orchid growing and getting to know this fascinating subculture of hobbyists and professional growers.  You can check out our photos and stories at Paphaholics Anonymous, aptly named for his addiction to growing paphiopedilums, also known as lady slipper orchids.  For a look at these exotic flowers in real life, stop by the Elkton Central Library where many of our orchids are now on display.

What’s your obsession?




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