The Rapidian

Brilliant Orchids Brighten West Michigan Winter

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Orchid Show Details

See the best of West Michigan's orchids this weekend

Saturday January 22, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Sunday January 23, 12 noon to 5 p.m.


Lectures each day:

  • 1 p.m. How to Select an Orchid (both days)
  • 2 p.m. Orchid Repotting (both days)
  • 3 p.m.  Orchid Pests (Saturday) Orchids for Beginners (Sunday)
  • 1-4 p.m. Kid's activities (both days)
  • 11 a.m. Photographer's Hour (Sunday)

 Orchid show is free, regular Meijer Gardens admission applies for the rest of the facility.

One of Matt Manley's orchids, a Dendrobium Alexandrae

One of Matt Manley's orchids, a Dendrobium Alexandrae

Matt Manley, orchid guy

Matt Manley, orchid guy

A Vanda orchid grown by Matt Manley

A Vanda orchid grown by Matt Manley

There are few plants that are as heartbreakingly beautiful as orchids. And few plants are as heartbreaking as an orchid.

A nice ordinary orchid from Meijer or a garden store will set you back about $15-$25 and serious orchid collectors consider flowers an investment and it isn't unusual to find a plant costing over $100. If you don't follow the care instructions, an orchid will suffer and die before your eyes. But a well-cared-for orchid can last for several generations which makes it a great investment.

This weekend the Frederik Meijer Gardens and the Grand Valley Orchid Society will hold its 13th annual orchid show. The show features show-stopper plants from local collectors and growers as well as educational programming.

Matt Manley, adjunct art professor at Grand Valley State University, illustrator and Heritage Hill resident has been growing orchids for 15 years. His interest in orchids began just after he and his wife, Amy Price, graduated from Kendall College of Art and Design. They were working on a calendar project for the Meijer Gardens and they were given free admission to the venue. "They had an orchid display there and I saw a butterfly orchid also known as a psychopis. I thought, I have to grow one of those! I found it on the internet, ordered a couple and that's how it all started," said Manley.  He was already growing carnivorous plants and other houseplants, so the leap to orchids wasn't that big. "The types of plants I grow today are very much like that first one: both beautiful and strange," he said.

Orchids have both common and Latin names and both are commonly used.

The biggest challenge of growing orchids? Manley laughs heartily, "Keeping them alive." This part can be a bit complicated, but not impossible. An orchid is most wonderful when it blooms.  The second challenge with orchids? "Getting them to bloom again. It comes down to knowing what plant you are growing and what it needs to be healthy. When I was getting started, the biggest challenge was knowing when to water. I killed a lot of plants by overwatering," said Manley.

Most orchids are epiphytes, which means they grow on trees or rocks with roots are exposed to air. "That's why you see a lot of orchids grown on bark. They're all different though, some like like to be constantly moist, some like to dry out between waterings, some have winter dormancy. You just need to know what they need to bring on the blooms," said Manley. Depending on the type of orchid, it might not need much water at all or it might need to have wet roots all of the time. Some orchids need a lot of light and West Michigan with its gray winters makes it impossible to grow them without added artificial lights. Easier to grow orchids are hybrid phalaenopsis, paphioedlum and phragmipedium said Manley.

Manley has about 80 orchids. He had around 180 a few years ago, but a bacterial fungus brought in on another plant infected his and despite trying a variety of natural and chemical treatments, his plants were failing. To protect the healthy orchids, he culled his collection and threw out dozens. Heartbreaking for a guy who builds his own orchid cases (imagine a china cabinet) with light, air circulation and humidity control. "It's a love-hate thing. Most satisfying thing is seeing them bloom and re-bloom every year. A lot of them bloom in winter, so when it is grey and dingy outside you have amazing flowers inside," he said.

A fan of the Meijer Gardens orchid show, he recommends the two day event as a resource for growing information and a good place to buy orchids.

Worth reading: journalist Susan Orlean's book The Orchid Thief. A non-fiction story about a south Florida plant dealer and the orchid collecting culture.


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