An obsession with orchids

Grower Pat van Adrichem stands among some of the flowering orchids in his greenhouse. He is one of many growers and enthusiasts who will be on hand for the annual Victoria Orchid Society show and sale at the University of Victoria.

Grower Pat van Adrichem stands among some of the flowering orchids in his greenhouse. He is one of many growers and enthusiasts who will be on hand for the annual Victoria Orchid Society show and sale at the University of Victoria.

Prize-winning grower speaks about the ABC’s of orchids

It may be a snowy day with a wind chill outside, but inside Patrick van Adrichem’s orchid greenhouse is like being in the tropics.

Stepping inside the greenhouse, which runs the width of his North Saanich home, the first things a visitor notices are the warmth, the scent and the colours. Creamy white, butter yellow, hot pink and wine purple orchids lean from their pots, brushing your hair as you walk the aisles.

Potted plants hang from floor-to-ceiling metal wall grids and on rows of shelves made with eavestroughs. A koi aquarium the size of a small bathtub burbles and a half dozen fans swirl, keeping the warm moist air circulating.

“Air movement is quite important in a greenhouse,” van Adrichem explains, “otherwise you’ll get cold areas and plants that don’t dry off.”

He has been growing prize-winning orchids for 35 years and admits it’s “a hobby gone crazy.”

This weekend he’ll be one of 100 participants, including many from Oak Bay,  taking part in Victoria Orchid Society’s show and sale at the University of Victoria.

Van Adrichem grew up on the Butchart Gardens property; his father Paddy was a gardener in Butchart’s sunken garden area. As a kid following his dad around, he learned all the botanical names of plants, but he didn’t take notice of orchids until he was an adult.

After a trip to Hawaii, where he noticed orchids growing profusely, he bought his first plant. “You buy one and then it dies and then you buy another.”

He discovered varieties with blooms that range from the width of his finger to those that spread five inches across. He learned orchids grow best in a humid environment, receiving bright, dappled light about 12 hours a day. He settled on his favourite species – Phalaenopsis, with blooms that last two to three months – and started growing. 

Although orchids are thought to be fussy, van Adrichem says they’re not.

“If you can grow African violets you can grow an orchid,” he says. “If you have a bathroom with a water tray underneath to create little more humidity that would be ideal.” He feeds the plants water soluble fertilizer supplemented with kelp and seaweed. He’s tried to use biological controls to keep bugs down, but does spray twice a year with chemicals. 

By day he runs a manufacturers’ service and supply company. But he still finds time to check on the 1,000 plants in his greenhouse, watching for bugs or scale and wetting them down if needed. In addition, he grows some plants from seed and clones others in his home’s furnace room turned laboratory. He sells his plants across North America from $10 up to $150. 

Over the years Van Adrichem has won 35 American Orchid Society awards at shows. The society will again be judging the two-day show at UVic.

There will be about 20 large displays at the show and roughly 30 members will contribute to the Victoria Orchid Society’s display. Van Adrichem will have an individual display. 

Participants are expected from Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. U.S. growers used to attend, but have been stymied by border regulations which tightened in the 1990s, says society member Poul Hansen, who is also a judge at the show.

For growers, it’s a chance to show off plants, but also a gathering where information can be exchanged. 

“And also we like to enlighten the public as to what we’re doing,” he says. “It’s our kick at the can to show how much we like orchids.” 

Orchid experts will also give talks at the show. 

 Although van Adrichem admits his hobby is an obsession, it’s not unlike other hobbies, he says. 

“If you’re a golfer you go and get good clubs or if you’re a fisherman, new lures.”


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