As a young doctor working in Massey, near Auckland, Brian Enticott was given his first orchid by a patient. “It was a Cymbidium of course,” he says, “because that’s about all you could get in the late 1950s.”
He looked after the plant, although not enthusiastically, but a few years later saw a Dendrobium kingianum and bought it as a birthday present for his wife, Betty. “Then we went overseas for a year and both orchids ‘went’.”
On their return to New Zealand and now with two children (with two more to come), the couple settled in Mount Maunganui in 1964 and built a home in Oceanbeach Rd.
“All my family was into gardening,” Brian says, “and my father was very keen – I’m not even in that neighbourhood.
“One of my brothers had a glasshouse where he grew calceolarias and begonias. When he came to visit, he encouraged me to get a glasshouse too, which I did. I tried growing chrysanthemums and did quite well.
“One of my patients, Ken Graham, was on at me to grow orchids. He and his wife, Nola, were quite fanatical about them but didn’t like sharing plants unless they were common. I’d got a bit fed up with chrysanthemums and thought I might have a go at orchids, but only the cold-growing ones. The problem was, where did one obtain them?”
Brian stumbled on an advertisement for cool-growing orchids in NZ Gardener magazine. The vendor was German-born watchmaker Henry Rudolph, who lived in Wellington and whose female choir, the Henry Rudolph Singers, was popular in New Zealand in the 1960s and 1970s – and who had a big orchid collection.
In their 1990 book, A History of Orchid Growers in New Zealand, Nancie and Dennis Bonham say that Henry Rudolph was probably the first person to successfully flask orchids in New Zealand.
Brian ordered several plants around 1970, including an Oncidium Sarcatum (sarcodes x sphacelatum – some doubt now about these names) and an Odontoglossum (now Rossioglossum) grande. The former survived up until recently – i.e. about 46 years, while the latter is still in his collection, although it has struggled in recent years. “I still remain entranced by its ‘tiger’ striping and ‘clown’ shape in the centre of the flower,” Brian says.
“The Grahams were members of the Bay of Plenty and Auckland orchid societies and would travel to Auckland most months to attend meetings along with some very impressive specimen plants such as a huge Den. pierardii. I believe they were prominent members of the BOP society and donated a silver tray to the club as (I think) a prize for the monthly popular vote. It was later used as the prize for Champion at the annual show which I was lucky enough to win myself on one occasion.
“They encouraged me to join a club (which would have helped me to obtain plants), but I couldn’t go to meetings as we were a two-man practice and I had duty commitments, though I did join the Auckland club (officially, the NZ Orchid Society) as a correspondent member. When the Tauranga Orchid Society started in 1981 its meeting night – Tuesday – happened to be my duty night. However, I was able to join in 1984 because our practice had started working with an after-hours medical centre.
“I joined the Tauranga club [rather than Bay of Plenty] because once when I was buying orchids from Russell Hutton in Auckland, Ron Maunder [founding president of Tauranga] happened to be there and asked me why wasn’t I a Tauranga member!
“I am indebted to the Grahams for the help they offered me in those early days of my orchid experience. It was a time when orchids could be imported from overseas and quarantined yourself without much fuss. CITES was not then in existence. Ken had contacts with a number of Australian nurseries and with people in Asia, particularly India, who collected plants from the wild and sent them to him. He obtained a number of unusual Dendrobiums from Australia and India that way – I especially noted different forms of Den. speciosum.
“A couple of times he generously offered to include my selection of some plants in one of his orders from Australia and later a few plants from a private grower (a physician) in the Eastern US who traded under the name of “Jungle Gems” and advertised in the AOS Bulletin.”
Two of the plants obtained this way became prizewinners for Brian – see later.
“Ken died sometime in the late 1980s and I believe his collection was lost – Nola knew quite a lot about their orchids but when she moved to Auckland she would not have been able to care for them and did not respond to my query as to whether she needed help in disposing of any surplus.”
By that time, Brian says, he had long since realised “there was more to life than just cool-growing orchids”. He added electric heating to his glasshouse, a hotbox and extended the building, ending up, he estimates, with about 300-400 plants, “all little bits and pieces”.
“I expanded my collection by attending the NZOS Auckland shows, patronising the sales tables and partly through that became acquainted with other ‘commercial’ growers such as ‘L & R’ species growers, Tuakau, (Russell and Lorraine Hutton); John Scott, Glenfield; Ross Tucker, North Shore; where I obtained a number of treasures. Another grower who had a mail order system was Tom French, then under the name of ‘Bluebird Florist’. He introduced me to the first Phalaenopsis I ever owned (a DTPS, lost name) which was notable for having a branching spike in flower continuously for 18 months.
“During the time that I could not attend club meetings in person, most of my knowledge about orchids and their cultivation was obtained from books. The small library that I built up covered my interests. The one I referred to most (and still do) was Rebecca Northern’s Home Orchid Growing which is an old classic, but covers an amazingly large field. Rebecca is American, so the largest section covers all aspects of Cattleya growing (which Americans are fanatical about, like New Zealanders were fanatical about Cymbidiums!). This suited me fine!
“I got a bit of a name in the club because I was always winning the popular vote and in about 1990 I was one of several people Ron approached to study orchids in a bit more depth. We met in Te Puke because we had a couple of members from Rotorua. Then Ron said we might all think about becoming judges – and most of us did.”
Brian qualified as a judge in 1994 and worked at shows all around New Zealand – none overseas – before retiring from judging in 2008.
In 1990 he attended the World Orchid Conference and Show in Auckland as an ‘observer’/trainee judge and was thrilled to have a mini-Cattleya win a trophy as the best specimen mini-cattleya, with two other cattleyas (Lc. Mini Purple and Brassovola fragrans) first in their classes and a Den. speciosum second in its class.
The trophy winner was an unregistered grex, Laelia Icarus x Cattleya luteola (still unregistered), one of the orchids he imported from Australia through Ken Graham. It is a multi-flowered mini–cattleya (although strictly speaking nowadays is more likely to be included in the ‘Novelty’ class because of its height) with bright yellow sepals and petals and a bright orange-red lip. The only other plant of this cross he has seen in New Zealand was less striking with much paler colouring over-all. It was owned by Syd Wray and it is not known if he imported it from over the Tasman or did the cross himself.
“Cattleyas were, and still are, my first priority,” Brian says, “so to win an award at an international show was a real fillip.
“It’s been rather disconcerting to have so many Cattleya names changed in recent years even though the pundits would say that it’s justified. At present I’m determined not to change all the Cattleya labels – before he died Jimmy James, the great New Zealand mini-cattleya grower and hybridiser, said much the same thing, so if it was good enough for him to stick with the old names, it’s good enough for me.”
Over the years Brian’s orchids have won several awards and prizes including, at the 2005 National Expo at Hamilton, a first for Oncidium species (Baptistonia echinata) and a trophy for ‘best species’ for the same plant. This trophy, appropriately, was donated by the Tauranga Orchid Society! The same specimen was awarded an Orchid Council CCC (cultural certificate) in 2005.
There have been a number of other prizes such as reserve champion at the Bay of Plenty show in Te Puke; reserve champion at the 2015 Tauranga show (Zygoneria Kings Park); best masdevallia at the Waikato show in Hamilton; and the Canterbury Orchid Society trophy in 1990; plus a number of NZ Orchid Council awards.
A cultural award (NZOC) for his Sarcochilus hartmannii (one of the plants imported from Australia mentioned earlier) meant he could name the plant, choosing ‘Surf’ – descendants of that plant are still being grown by members of the Tauranga and BOP societies. “It was a bit different for a hartmannii,” Brian says, “in that it had a straight stem so the flowers were held up.”
Brian served as the Tauranga society’s newsletter editor for 2 years from 1991, saying it was “a laborious job” that took a couple of days each month because it was customary for the editor (who also was no typist!) to give all the display plants a somewhat detailed description. He is still the newsletter’s ‘fact-checker’ for names of plants shown in the monthly table displays.
“The internet is a boon for checking orchid names,” he says. Brian subscribed to one of the first online databases, Wildcatt, and although he’s found it useful says it is limited by not including photographs.
He has also found time to dabble in hybridising.
“The first attempt was moderately successful: – the aforementioned Laeliocattleya hybrid of L. Icarus x C. luteola was crossed with Sc. Beaufort ‘Elmwood’ (Soph. coccinea x C. luteola – a very popular mini with similar coloured flowers to the first parent, i.e., lemon-yellow with red spots in the lip and good form – but a plant with a low untidy growth habit and short flower stems holding only one or two blooms). The aim was to get similar flowers and hopefully more of them on the inflorescence and improve the height and shape of the plant.
“The result was flowers that were similar in form and more plentiful but with a wide range of colours in that the petals and sepals varied in yellow shades from almost orange to a nice clear lemon. The lip also had a similar range of colouration from yellow with two red spots of greatly varying size, like Beaufort, to a completely solid red, brighter or darker like the other parent.
“The plants, although taller, tend to be untidy and also like Beaufort are not ‘good doers’!
“After this trial run I tried a few other crosses other people did not seem to have attempted, using the same Lc. as above, with this time a Broughtonia sanguinea (red, flat flower). The results were disappointing – all-over reddish-yellow pastel shades although the shape was quite good.
“I also did another Cattleya alliance cross between C. dowiana v.aurea and Broughtonia sanguinea v.aurea. The cattleya is a classic large ‘unifoliate’ cattleya with a spectacular flower of yellow sepals and petals and a large dark red/mauve trumpet-shaped lip. Unfortunately the tepals tend to reflex badly, so do not conform to modern ideas of ‘a good flat shape’. I thought the much smaller flat aurea broughtonia might remedy that!
“The resultant flask did not have many plants but eventually I grew six to flowering size. Of these, five have produced flowers very much like a good dowiana perhaps with slightly flatter tepals. The sixth plant is much smaller in size and could be said to resemble more the broughtonia parent. So far it has refused to flower, though I’m still hoping! However, I’m not really expecting to have a new variety of Cattleytonia, as I fear that what has happened is a strange, but well recognised process whereby the pollen parent has ‘fertilised’ the pod parent, but without passing on any genes, so all the progeny resemble the pod parent.
“I also did another unusual cross with the award-winning Baptistonia and a Comparettia macroplectron which again produced lip colours in a wide range from solid red to barred and/or spotted.”
Brian and Betty moved to Papamoa in 1999, building a home that included two growing rooms for Brian’s orchids and a conservatory for Betty’s African violets.
“I’ve mostly been able to look after the orchids myself, although occasionally not to the extent I would have liked. I had a patch of poor health a few years ago and mealybug got away on me. It’s disheartening, you think you’re never going to get rid of it – in the process I killed a lot of orchids too. It’s taken a long time to recover.”