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Thursday, June 20, 2024
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Smaller shows spring a surprise

The highlight, but also the low light, of the past weekend was a trip to the Walter Nash Centre in Taita for the Wellington Orchid Society’s annual show.

It was great to see so many different orchids on display, but it was sad to see how small the show was – it was less than half the size of the Masterton shows of 20 years ago, and this is in the capital!

Almost all of the gardening and horticultural societies are undergoing a massive downturn – many of which had thousands of members and are now a mere rump of the groups they once were. The once popular rose, iris, dahlia, daffodil and chrysanthemum shows all attract many fewer exhibitors, and accordingly, fewer visitors.

The delicate flowers of an Australian dendrobium. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

I guess it is all part of a modern trend, where younger people do not join organisations in the manner that us older folk did. They probably have busier lives, they definitely do not garden in the way we did, and they also have a social life that, in part at least, takes place online.

Having said that, there were quite a few people milling around at the orchid show, and plenty were buying plants from the commercial vendors.

At one time it was cymbidiums that were far and away the most popular items at these shows. The plants are easier to grow than most orchids and do not need a lot of care to succeed. Nowadays, it seems as though they are not so dominant, with a wider range of cultivars of different kinds on show.

Many people have discovered the wonderful ‘moth orchids’, Phalaenopsis varieties, are relatively easily grown in most homes. These have wonderful flowers that are about the size of a large butterfly, usually white but often with markings. They will grow well in modern homes so long as they get sufficient light – if it is not strong enough the plants will not initiate new flowers, and the foliage will become limp.

These beauties require regular hydration – do not allow them to dry out between waterings – and also make sure they are not in a hot and dry location in summer. Experts recommend that the plants be placed near an east-facing window behind a net curtain. I have whanau members who do exactly that, and they grow moth orchids very well.

These are often given as presents, as they look so outstanding in the florist’s shop. A little bit of care is all that is required, and you should be able to have succession of flowers, and a healthy plant. After the first flowering [it will be in flower when you are given it!] just cut the stem above the node where the first flower blossomed. Hopefully, within a couple of months, a new flower stem should appear.

Thelytira orchid growing on Taratahi, Mount Holdsworth. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Another branch of the vast orchid family that was popular at the show was the Australian dendrobiums. These are generally quite robust plants with smallish flowers that are carried in extreme abundance on the plants. They are relatively easy to grow, thriving and multiplying in our cold greenhouse. I am sure you could happily grow them on a frost-free patio or on a kitchen bench.

We grow several different varieties, all of which were gifted to us and as such we do not know the names. The best of them [to my mind anyway] is a white variety that has popped up even stems of flowers this year. Each flower is a perfect miniature of a typical orchid flower, reduced to about 2cm across. We also grow a couple of different pink forms, but none seem to have the same character.

There are a few tips for growing these well. As always, make sure they get plenty of light, and also ensure they do not dry out for a sustained period. I plant ours in a very free-draining orchid mix, so they require frequent watering. I also throw a handful of slow-release fertiliser around them as they like a bit of tucker.

These plants prefer to be a little bit rootbound, so do not be tempted to put them into a larger container and spread the roots about. It can damage them and make them prone to infection.

I used to grow the New Zealand dendrobium – well, it used to be called a dendrobium, but it has had a name change and is now Winika cunninghamii. This pretty little flower is white with magenta markings and can be found in the wild in Wairarapa, usually growing on trees.

There are other New Zealand orchids, many of them quite small, and lots of them subtly coloured. However, there are also some very pretty native species, ranging from the very tiny Earina autumnalis, whose sweet honey fragrance will announce its flowering in autumn, through to the wonderfully coloured sun-orchids Thelymitra species. These can be found in a range of pinks, mauves and blues – startlingly beautiful.

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