by Gene Marrano
The Blue Ridge Orchid Society, which meets on the second Sunday of each month at the Council of Garden Clubs building on Colonial Avenue (except for July and August) welcomes orchid growers at all experience levels. That’s according to retired Blacksburg pediatrician John Ogburn, a member of the Blue Ridge group on hand at a juried orchid show held last weekend at Greenbrier Nurseries on Starkey Road. Orchids are also displayed at each club meeting in what it calls a “mini-show.”
Two other groups from Charlottesville and Raleigh had entries in the competition at Greenbrier Nurseries as well. Members of the Blue Ridge Orchid Society come from as far away as Lynchburg, Gretna, much of southwest Virginia and from West Virginia. Exhibits were judged on overall presentation once they were classified correctly; the flower bloom is primarily what is judged. The American Orchid Society trains judges for these competitions, according to Ogburn. Many growers travel a regional circuit in Virginia and North Carolina, exhibiting their orchids at weekend competitions.
Orchids have blooming seasons in both the spring and fall said Ogburn, and they grow best when potted in a mixture that is mostly tree bark. “They live on trees [in the wild],” noted Ogburn, who grows his orchids in pots and puts them outside when the weather is warm. “They kind of love their summer vacation outdoors – [but] under shade trees.”
Sunrooms and greenhouses help control the growing environments, “[but] we all kill a bunch [at first] and that’s how we learn what won’t grow,” chuckles Ogburn. One nice feature of orchids: the blooms may last 1-2 months, in a variety of rich colors, many of which were on display at Greenbrier Nurseries.
“Most orchids don’t like temperatures under 50 degrees,” added Ogburn. Coconut husks are another favorite when potting orchids; the mixture in any case must be fairly porous. There are also special fertilizers for orchids. Ogburn has “no idea” how many different types of orchids are grown by Society members; he also says there are “tens of thousands” of variations, mostly in the wild – not including all of the engineered hybrids.
The Blue Ridge Orchid Society aims to put on a show every year and a half, taking advantage of the spring and fall blooming seasons in alternate years. Ogburn has much more time to spend now on his orchids since retiring. “I just enjoy growing things. I enjoy the flowers and the challenge of creating an environment for tropical [species].” He’s always liked to grow plants and flowers outdoors and says the challenge for him was to “bring color indoors in the winter.” Orchids that bloom from the fall through the spring provide him with that outlet.
See blueridgeorchidsocietyva.org for more information on the local orchid group, which meets at 1:30pm on the second Sunday of the month, except for the two midsummer months. Orchid aficionados of all stripes are welcome and classes on subjects like the repotting of orchids (once they outgrow their original container) are offered to members and guests: “we were all novices at one point,” Ogburn points out.