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A Year in the Life of our Orchid Grower

By Gregory Griffis, on February 11, 2016
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My first year as the Orchid Grower at Longwood Gardens has been quite an adventurous one. This is a large collection to take on, and with its age and tradition, a very serious collection at that. Because of my background in retail orchid growing and the wholesale production of orchids, I was able to identify ways in which I wanted to restructure the culture and methods we use to manage the collection rather quickly.

Longwood orchid grower Gregory Griffis. Photo by Jennifer Fazekas.Longwood orchid grower Gregory Griffis. Photo by Jennifer Fazekas.

I have made my own bark mixes and embarked on repotting the entire collection in those new mixes. As of today we are about 40% complete. The media coincides with my watering style, and we have begun to see some very nice growth and good flowerings in the orchids. I began to change some of the greenhouse conditions to push certain plants to grow more aggressively, and altered others to create different climates that would suit certain plants better. We walled off the end of the cool growing house to make it even cooler (high of 65 degrees F in the summer) to accommodate our Masdevallia, pleurothallids, and Dracula (Monkey-face orchids). We have seen tremendous growth and some very good flowerings come out of those plants in the last year because of this climate change!

Masdevallia Southern Sun ‘C’ put on quite a show this year, flowering many times. At its best it displayed 16 flowers at once in a two-inch pot. Photo by Duane Erdmann.Masdevallia Southern Sun ‘C’ put on quite a show this year, flowering many times. At its best it displayed 16 flowers at once in a two-inch pot. Photo by Duane Erdmann.

We have very big plans for the collection and its future growth. Our curator, Dr. Peter Zale, and I have been identifying genera of interest so that we can expand the collection. We have recently acquired, by the generous donation of Duane Erdmann, a collection of Restrepia that contains every named species and a few unnamed ones. These plants grow vigorously, form wonderful clumps, and flower freely throughout the year. Their flowers are charming and full of different patterns and colors, and they will catch your eye on display.

Restrepia cuprea, part of an orchid collection donated by Duane Erdmann. Photo by Duane Erdmann.Restrepia cuprea. Photo by Duane Erdmann.

We are pursuing unusual and uncommon plants of high quality with tremendous aesthetic impact. Genera like Pleione, Disa, Odontoglossum, and Habenaria may be showing up in greater variety and with greater impact in our collection in the near future. Longwood’s first Director, Dr. Russell Seibert, collected specimens of Disa during a plant exploration trip to Africa in the mid-50s. These plants have been a standout for Longwood and we are working on bringing in new plants of D. uniflora to strengthen our breeding lines and we are pursuing different species and hybrids to create more diversity.

One of the pink strains of Longwood Disa uniflora hybridizing on display. Our Disa are bred and grown here at Longwood. Photo by Duane Erdmann.One of the pink strains of Longwood Disa uniflora hybridizing on display. Our Disa are bred and grown here at Longwood. Photo by Duane Erdmann.

Our Pleione have exploded with growth and I expect to see a profusion of their pink to lavender flowers this spring. You can also expect to see larger specimen plants (we recently acquired a few very large Vanda), award quality flowers, and greater diversity in the collection in the coming years! We have a few Dendrobium that are about five or six feet tall that we recently repotted that should be putting on a show later this summer. I am very excited to share these plants (and the rest of our amazing orchid collection!) with our guests. Suffice it to say, there is much to do and many opportunities here at the Gardens. I invite you to visit this winter during Orchid Extravaganza to see orchids showcased throughout the Conservatory, and stop by our Orchid House any time of the year to explore hand-picked selections from our collection.

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