You'd have to be pretty keen on a plant to grow 500 of them in your house and garden - and that's how Ron Bollicks is with orchids. But he's not alone. As the president of the Tacoma Orchid Society, Bollicks is just one of around 55 Society members who are in love with this finicky, heat-loving flower. And the society is happy to get you started too at the annual orchid sale held this weekend, just in time for Valentine's Day.
“I grow them in my greenhouse, in my hot tub room and in the solarium,” says Bollicks, who has been an orchid grower for 15 years now, and who’ll be at the sale held at Windmill Gardens in Sumner.
If you, too, would like to populate your house with orchids (or even just buy one) you’ll have plenty of choice at the TOS sale. Growers such as Olympic Orchids from Seattle, Sorella Orchids from Vancouver, Wash., and even the Western State Hospital will be there, with around 15 tables in all, selling everything from miniature orchids to dendrobiums. There may even be some of Washington’s 42 native orchids, which can take colder climates. Society members such as Bollicks will be on hand to repot your plants, for a small donation. The only thing that won’t be at the sale is a judged show; that’s now in Seattle.
The sale is a golden opportunity not just for orchid newbies but for veterans like Bollicks, who doesn’t do any breeding himself – orchids require a specific pollinator or even hand-pollination, some only flower for one day, and it can take up to eight years to get a flower from a self-propagated plant.
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Having growers come together at a sale is good for another reason, says Bollicks – local businesses.
“Vendors are going out of business these days,” he says. “They’re being forced out by the big box stores.” Bollicks now buys most of his plants online from growers as far afield as Hawaii and Thailand.
Once you’ve gotten started on growing orchids, the Tacoma Orchid Society is there to help: Monthly meetings at Bethany Lutheran Church offer a beginners’ class, a show-and-tell and even gift certificates, not to mention free advice.
The best advice Bollicks can give, he says, is about potting mix – don’t use it.
“The biggest mistake people can make is to treat orchids like potted plants,” he says. “But 90 percent of them are epiphytes, they cling to trees in the forest. They breathe from the roots as much as from the leaves, and their outer root layer absorbs all nutrients from water.” Bollicks advises potting in bark, soaking the plant in a sink of nutrient-rich water from time to time and misting a lot.
“You could even put them in a pot of marbles if you wanted,” says Bollicks. He remembers the time he and some fellow orchid-lovers watched Martha Stewart do a show on orchids, carefully potting them into houseplant potting mix. “We all snickered,” he says.
Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568 firstname.lastname@example.org
Tacoma Orchid Society annual sale
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Feb. 12-13
Where: Windmill Gardens, 16009 60th St. E., Sumner
On offer: All kinds of orchids including miniatures, plus repotting; free class at 10 a.m. each day (register at 253-863-5843)
And also: The TOS meets every fourth Tuesday with a beginner class at 6:30 p.m., meeting at 7 p.m. in the basement of Bethany Lutheran Church, 101 E. 38th St., Tacoma