For Jane and Robert Johnstone, the passion started one Christmas 20 years ago when Jane's brother Alan quite innocently gave them an orchid. It lived happily on their windowsill and was so lovely that they decided to get another one…then another one…then another one. Not long after they had so many orchids that they decided to move them all into their sunroom-turned-greenhouse. They joined an orchid society, and Robert became the president. Now they have about 1,000 orchids. “It all started with that plant,” says Jane. “It was so beautiful we were hooked.”
Orchids, once rare and costly, are currently one of the most popular houseplants and available almost everywhere. Some bloom twice a year – the blooms often last for months – and prices start around $20. But be warned! Buying that first orchid could be the beginning of a growing obsession.
Orchids for beginners: buying and growing tips
• Orchid shows are good places to talk to knowledgeable growers, and orchid-society members often swap plants. Try Internet and mail-order suppliers, too. Orchids vary; ask the supplier to specify the cultural requirements for the particular plant you are purchasing.
• There are about 30,000 species of orchids worldwide, but not all will thrive on a windowsill. See our trio of best bets and look for blooming plants or mature specimens with flower-stem spikes thrusting up from the base.
• Orchids don't thrive in soil. Instead, they're grown in charcoal, Styrofoam, cork, rock wool, fir bark, stones or minerals, either alone or in a mix (all available at garden centres).
• Most orchids love bright, filtered sunlight such as that found in an east or north window or a shaded south window.
• Most orchids prefer daytime temperatures of 15 to 27C (59 to 81F) and nighttime temperatures of 11 to 15C (52 to 59F). This daily range promotes flowering.• Place a layer of pebbles in a tray; on pebbles, place potted orchids. Keep tray filled with water to just below pebble tops. Give humidity-loving orchids a morning spritzing once a day. The humidity helps keep spider mites away, but ensure good air circulation, too, to avoid mould.
• A weekly watering is the general rule. Some varieties need more frequent watering, especially while flowering, and some should dry out completely between waterings. Rainwater is best.• Dilute houseplant fertilizer, such as 30-10-10, to quarter or half strength. Feed plants as you water: submerge pots in a bucket of water with the food solution; let sit for several minutes, then drain thoroughly.
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Photograph provided by Jane and Robert Johnstone.
To learn about orchids, swap them and show them, contact:
Central Ontario Orchid Society
P.O. Box 40074, 75 King St. S.,
Eastern Canada Orchid Society
699 Cardinal Street,
The London Orchid Society
509 Commissioners Rd. W., Suite 162,
Manitoba Orchid Society
PO Box 7, Group335, RR#3
Orchid Society of Alberta
PO Box 33169
15557 Stony Plain Road
Orchid Society of New Brunswick,
(This society has disbanded but local information is available)
271 Smith Road
Orchid Society of Nova Scotia
c/o the N. S. Museum of Natural History 1747 Summer St.,
Orchid Society of the Royal Botanical Gardens
P.O. Box 399,
Ottawa Orchid Society
P.O. Box 38038, 1430 Prince of Wales Dr.,
Saskatchewan Orchid Society
P.O. Box 411,
Southern Ontario Orchid Society
P.O. Box 241,
Vancouver Orchid Society
P.O. Box 23932, Airport Postal Outlet,
Information on the Internet
814 Southdown Road
655- Balaclava Street