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Orchid growers put on a dazzling display at Botanical Gardens

Erin Grajek

The Buffalo News
Cover of City & Region
February 22, 2014
by Jane Kwiatowski

People forget what flowers look like during these dog days of winter.

That’s why each February, members of the Niagara Frontier Orchid Society roll out hundreds of their dazzling aromatic blooms.

Not every flower commands its own show at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, but orchids are not your everyday flower.

“They say you can’t be considered an orchid grower unless you’ve killed 100 plants,” said Glen Decker, an orchid vendor who on Friday drove from Saratoga Springs to sell his greenhouse wares. “I figure I’m an expert.

”Decker, 52, began growing orchids at age 11 on Long Island. His learned the hobby from his mother, who serenaded her plants with music. His 5,000 plants filled an 1,100-square-foot greenhouse. By the time he reached his 20s, Decker admitted, he was out of control.

“Orchids are different,” he explained. “They are relaxing. As semiterrestrials, they thrive in loosely packed debris of decaying leaves and wood. Some require no dirt. What they do need is air at their roots to survive.

”At the moment, Decker’s orchids – about $7,000 worth – were resting comfortably in a mixture of bark chips and charcoal. He was one of the first vendors to arrive at the tri-domed glass, wood and steel conservatory that distinguishes the South Buffalo gardens.Decker’s most expensive orchid, a non-blooming collectible, will sell for $89, he said. In the past, one of his specialty slipper orchids – known for a delicate pouch that some say resembles a slipper – sold for $2,000.

Decker, who recently had an article published in Australian Orchid Review, is a respected lecturer on the international orchid circuit.

Members of the Niagara Frontier Orchid Society agreed they have learned much about growing orchids from each other.

Joseph DiDomenico, society president for eight years, watched as his wife, Diane, and their granddaughter set up a small orchid display. The DiDomenicos, who returned to their Elma home on Tuesday after spending six weeks in Marathon, Fla., were disappointed to find few blooming orchids in their greenhouse.

“Every year is different,” DiDomenico said. “I had flowers blooming last week. I’ll have orchids open Monday or Tuesday. That does me no good this weekend.”

The DiDomenicos are frequent visitors to the Botanical Gardens. DiDomenico, an amateur beekeeper, manages a beehive on permanent display.

There are 25,000 to 35,000 species of orchids and hundreds of thousands of hybrids, said DiDomenico, as society members made their way into the Florida-like air that fills the garden dome. Members are encouraged to set up displays even if they have just a few plants, DiDomenico said.

Growers put the average price of an orchid plant at $25 to $30, although you can buy them for $10 to $15.

Some species, DiDomenico said, have flowers that last for five to six months. Others fall after half a day.

“Like the vanilla orchid,” he said. “You’ll have to wait from six months to a year for it to bloom again. The seed pod is where the vanilla actually comes from. By weight, it’s the second most expensive plant product in the world.”

The Niagara Frontier Orchid Society’s Winter Orchid Show will be held today and Sunday at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, 2655 South Park Ave. Show hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 835-2132.

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