Tauranga Orchid Show

 September 22-24 (Friday-Sunday)
10am-4pm

Tauranga Racecourse, Greerton
$3 entry (under-12 free)

Although orchid growers ‘invariably’ kill a few plants they should chalk it up as part of the learning process, according to Tauranga Orchid Society president Conrad Coenen.

He won’t let on how many plants he’s sent to the great compost heap in the sky – or what their total value might be – but says he keeps the name labels to remind him of his mistakes. “It’s like gardening in general. You grow with your plants.”

Hundreds of years of orchid-growing experience will be available at this year’s Tauranga Orchid Show and Conrad invites people to take advantage of it. “Come and ask questions, look at the plants on display, watch our repotting demonstrations and buy some plants to take home and try.”

Conrad Coenen with his Zygolum Louisendorf ‘Conrad’s Star’, which in 2013 won an Orchid Council of New Zealand award. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A qualified nurseryman who works as a landscape gardener, Conrad is a ‘born-again’ enthusiast after letting his membership lapse as a young family and work took up his time.

“I remember buying an Anguloa clowesii, or tulip orchid, for $40, a huge sum for me back then. It flowered once in 5 years – but for me getting something a little bit difficult to flower is the whole excitement of orchids. We try things out, we look things up, we talk to people more knowledgeable than ourselves.

“What I love about belonging to an orchid society is the camaraderie, the people you meet and the plant collections you get to see.”

His favourites are Lycaste orchids, a close cousin to the Anguloa type. “They’re big, they’re bold and I can’t get them to flower,” he laughs. “I get one flower on a plant and think it’s amazing but I know they can throw 40 to 60 flowers at once.”

The theme for this year’s show is ‘Alice in Orchidland’ which is allowing society members to show off plants in a fun setting.

“The show is a chance to let people see some stunning flowers as well as letting them know that orchids aren’t always ‘hot-house flowers’ that need special equipment and demand lots of attention. There are plenty of people in Tauranga growing orchids outside and there are many cool-growing varieties that will do well here.”

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Tauranga Orchid Show 2016

The first problem that arises when showing orchids is, well, having any orchids to show. Your precious plant may have buds, but Murphy’s Law decrees those buds will open after the show or have already flowered and be past their best by the day of judgement.

A richly scented stem of Stanhopea oculata drew much attention at the April 2014 Bay of Plenty Orchid Show in Te Puke, with plant owner Conrad Coenen of Apata, near Tauranga, saying it was a rare sight.

“Not that I mean it’s a rare plant,” he hastened to add, “just that it’s rare to see it a show as the flowers last for only two or three days. The planets have to align to have it open on just the right day.” He joked that he’d been breathing on the buds to try and hasten their opening!

This month is an especially busy time in the orchid world – the Tauranga show this weekend (September 9-11) is followed by the national Orchid + Flower Show in Auckland (September 22-25). Both shows offer massed displays of flowering plants and the chance to buy plants not seen in garden centres, as well as getting practical advice from experienced growers.

Orchid societies are a wealth of accumulated knowledge and members are only too happy to share what they’ve learned as they have lavished care, attention and patience on their plants, sometimes for decades.

Last year a staff member in the refurbished Peter Black Conservatory in Palmerston North’s Victoria Esplanade casually pointed to a Vanda orchid in a hanging basket and told me it had recently flowered – for the first time in 28 years! He believes better heating, fewer draughts, and new glass in the structure finally provided the right conditions for the warm-growing beauty.

Fortunately, one of the largest families of flowering plants also has members that are decidedly unfussy, and some that are downright tough, including Bifrenaria harrisoniae and the Australian native Dendrobium speciosum (rock orchid).

There are also those that can flower at any time of the year and may flower more than once in a year, including the easy-care Restrepia orchids, Maxillaria variabilis, Coelogyne fimbriata and Cattleya Quinquecolor, while the blooms of the fashionable Phalaenopsis (moth orchid) last for months.

Te Puna Quarry Park near Tauranga has an outstanding display of Cymbidium orchids – on now – thought to the largest outdoor planting of Cymbidiums in the southern hemisphere. They thrive in next-to-no top soil and receive no extra fertiliser or irrigation, beyond guano and rainwater. Volunteers have just rolled them into place among the rocks and left them to get on with it.

Tauranga Orchid Society president Barry Curtis helps look after the orchids at the park and is a keen Cymbidium grower himself, winning the top award at the 2013 national Orchid Expo with the miniature Cymbidium Cricket. His secret to success? One of them is that when Barry puts a ‘Cymbid’ in a new pot, he half fills the pot with bark and adds a handful of crumbly-stage horse manure before topping off the bark. The plant’s roots are fed each time the pot is watered and Barry reckons they lap it up.

Other ‘cool-growing’ orchids (6 degrees C on the coldest night, although may take as low as 2; up to 30 on the hottest day) include Coelogyne, Dendrobium, Epidendrum, Laelia, Masdevallia, Ondontoglossum, Paphiopedilum (slipper orchids), Pleurothallis,  Sarchochilus and Zygopetalum, and within the hybrids of just these few types there are great varieties of flower shape and size, flower colour, and plant size.

There are some useful books by New Zealand authors, keep an eye out at book fairs and in second-hand shops for volumes by Ross Macdonald (including Cool Flowering Orchids Throughout the Year), and the late I D James (including The New Zealand Orchid Grower).

All orchids have the same basic requirements – good air movement, regular water and food, and the right amount of warmth and light. Joining an orchid society means ongoing, free advice as to how to interpret these requirements for your conditions, plus there’s practical help if problems arise, visits to members’ collections, access to a library, guest speakers and the camaraderie of others suffering from the same ‘disease’.

The Tauranga Orchid Show is at the Racecourse (Cameron Rd, Greerton), $3 entry for adults (under-12 free). You’ll see the display we’re entering into the national expo, a mass of flowering plants, there are plants for sale, repotting demonstrations, advice from expert growers and a café and raffles. See you there – do come and say hello!

  • Tauranga Orchid Society meets on the third Tuesday of the month, 7.30pm, Wesley Church Hall, 13th Ave, Tauranga. Visitors always welcome. Contact Sandra.
  • Bay of Plenty Orchid Society meets on the second Sunday of the month, 1.30pm, Masonic Hall, Oxford St, Te Puke. Visitors always welcome. Contact Faye.