My name is Debbie and I am an orchid addict!

My mum (now also a windowsill orchid grower) and my grandad, were keen gardeners who fuelled my interest in plants and gardening from an early age, but my fondness for tropical plants began in my late teens with the assistance of two lovely people. The first was the Reverend Tony Clements, who always attended the Cheltenham Flower Show at the Town Hall with his beautiful Saintpaulias. He gave me a lot of them for helping him out one evening and I continued to grow them for a number of years. The second was John (Eyre?), the owner of what was then Cheltenham Garden Centre. John gave me a cutting of a beautiful epiphyllum called “Friendship”. I kept it a long time and have loved them ever since. Sadly, they don’t do well for me here, but if I move I will try again. I’m sure you know the common name for epiphyllums is “orchid cactus”, and so we come to orchids and my interest in them – or lack of.

In 1988 the British Orchid Congress was held at Cheltenham Town Hall, so I went along, just to look. I’d read orchids were temperamental, difficult to grow and expensive, and I had no intention of buying. Nevertheless I succumbed and took a nice phalaenopsis home to my cold, draughty, flat where, to make matters worse and knowing no better at the time, I put it on the living room windowsill and shut it between the curtains and the window every night. Needless to say it didn’t survive long, reinforcing their “temperamental” tag and putting me off orchids forever…

Several years later I was again in Cheltenham Garden Centre (I forget what it was called by then, John having sold it some time previously), and an orchid with a few remaining purple-pink flowers caught my eye in the reduced section. It was pretty and priced at £1, so wouldn’t be an expensive loss if it died. It was Dendrobium phalaenopsis. I took it home, where it grew and then rebloomed magnificently and I was hooked. Not only did that plant start my love affair with orchids, it was also responsible for, amongst other things, my newly found, relative, poverty; my greying hair; and my run-ins with such things as boisduval scale, red spider mite, mealy bug, and a variety of other little blighters I’d never come across before and could well do without. The most recent of these being an almost invisible underside-of-leaf-coloured caterpillar that seems to eat half a plant overnight before turning into something I haven’t managed to see yet and beginning again, all seemingly within the space of a couple of days!

I had seen miniature orchids at a couple of shows but they held no interest for me. I couldn’t see the point of having something with flowers so small you’d need a magnifying glass to see them, until during a visit to RHS Wisley in Surrey, I saw a display case filled with beautiful, brightly-coloured, masdevallias. I tried a couple. They died. I couldn’t grasp the concept of cool growing orchids. My head said orchids are tropical. Cloud forest, and “cool-cold”, were alien concepts to me as far as orchids were concerned, and it was only when I really understood what they meant that I started to succeed with them, and they now form the bulk of my collection – although I still have a very soft spot for dendrobiums.

I am addicted beyond hope of redemption although, thankfully, I am over the “have to have everything in sight” phase (I think!) My partner was dragged along to every orchid show (he drove, so I guess he wasn’t too reluctant) and ended up growing orchids on his windowsills. Not that he really had much choice. It is thanks to him that this website, and its predecessor, came into being.