Orchid fancier: Roald Dahl

Several years ago I heard author Joy Cowley reminisce about a visit she had made to the home of Roald Dahl, a superstar in the firmament of children’s literature, while he was adapting her 1967 book Nest in a Fallen Tree to the silver screen (it became the 1971 movie The Night Digger).

It was a hilarious set of stories, especially when faced with the image of Cowley throwing up into the master’s indoor swimming pool after she’d imbibed one too many of his rather strong cocktails! The pair kept in touch until Dahl’s death in 1990.

Besides the cocktails, the other thing I dredged up last night from the recesses of memory was her description of a wall beside the pool – running water, she said, and  covered in orchids. He also had a glasshouse for his orchids beside the pool.

A quick Google or three later and it turns out I remembered correctly (not always a given these days). His widow Felicity (Liccy) is on record as saying that onions and orchids were his horticultural passions and growing them appealed to his competitive nature. She mentions his ‘gold-medal-winning orchids’ but adds he gave them all away towards the end of his life. The garden, still in Liccy’s ownership and next door to the Roald Dahl Museum, is at Gipsy House, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire.

A 2010 biography by Donald Sturrock records that a childhood interest in flowers had been reawakened by an elderly colonel he came across during his war in East Africa, a man who had been to South America in search of orchids.

During the summer of 1964, spent in Hawaii where his first wife Patricia Neal was filming In Harm’s Way with John Wayne, Dahl searched the islands for Phalaenopsis to take back to a planned new, heated orchid house.

From the biography: … his orchid house also contained a huge cactus he had inherited from his mother and that periodically required the roof to be raised to accommodate it.

A Dahl quote from another website: “Some people like tomatoes, I like orchids. Partly because of their beauty, partly because they are tricky to grow – it takes two years before any buds appear, and the flowers are very small.”

His bio note on the Macmillian publishing website quotes Dahl as saying that he breeds orchids and a 1977 New York Times article has this: When not writing he is mooching restlessly around the countryside or working in his greenhouse experimenting with 400 breeds of the rare and splendid phalaeonopsis orchid and thinking up new and highly original plots — “a dreaded business” he calls it.

Later, apparently, the orchid house went in favour of a new guest wing at the property.

The Roald Dahl Rose was debuted at last year’s Chelsea Flower Show to mark the centenary of his birth but as far as I could see there has been no orchid yet named for him. (The link also shows a photo of Dahl in his orchid house.)

Among his other hobbies were breeding budgies, breeding dogs, collecting fine art, collecting wine and playing golf! He also helped invent several medical devices.

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Waikato Orchid Society Show

The Waikato society holds its autumn show on Saturday, May 13 at Hamilton Gardens Pavilion. The venue will be open from 8am for setup with staging of plants between 9am and 10am. Judging begins at 10am. Show marshal is Pat Kenny.

The sales table will be open from 9.30am to 3pm, with the table for plants from WOS members and exhibitors only.

The show will be open to the public between 11am and 3pm with a $2 entry fee for adults.

If anyone would like the show schedule please email.

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New Gastrodia orchids

The great Australian website Garden Drum has posted a news story about the discovery on Okinawa Island in Japan of two new parasitic orchids which have been named Gastrodia nipponicoides and Gastrodia okinawensis.

Like New Zealand’s native Gastrodia orchids, these two don’t have foliage but instead gain nutrients from a relationship with underground fungus which themselves take what they need from trees.

The orchids were discovered in March 2012 and named by Professor Kenji Suetsugu of Kobe University’s Graduate School of Science.  Read more and see photos of the newly named orchids here.

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Singapore’s national flower

Singapore’s national flower is the orchid, Papilionanthe Miss Joaquim (formerly Vanda Miss Joaquim).

Selected as the national flower in 1981, the orchid was chosen from 40 other blooms, of which 30 were orchids. The National Orchid Garden website says there are several varieties of Vanda Miss Joaquim with ‘Agnes’ chosen for its “vibrant colours, hardiness and resilience – qualities that reflect the Singapore spirit”.

vanda Miss J

Papilionanthe Miss Joaquim in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Photo: Sandra Simpson

It became the symbol of the Malay Orchid Society in 1957, appears on Singapore’s currency and stamps, and is widely grown on the peninsula, in The Philippines and Hawaii.

The orchid was bred by Agnes Joaquim, a well-known horticulturalist in Singapore, who crossed Vanda Hookeriana and V. teres, “two plants cultivated in almost every garden in Singapore”, according to an 1893 article by H N Ridley (first director of Singapore Botanic Gardens), which described the plant for readers of The Gardeners’ Chronicle. Read the full article here. P. Miss Joaquim is recognised as the first hybrid orchid created in Singapore.

Miss Joaquim (1854-99) was a second-generation Singaporean of Armenian descent (her Armenian name was Ashkhen Hovakimian) and a keen gardener. Read more about her life here.

This article also mentions later aspersions cast on the claim that she bred the orchid rather than simply discovering a natural hybrid. An excellent post about the plant at Singapore Infopedia notes that in March 2016, Linda Locke, a great-great-grandniece of Miss Joaquim, began approaching public agencies with research proving that V. Miss Joaquim had been bred by her forebear. Later in 2016, the National Parks Board and the National Heritage Board officially recognised Miss Joaquim as the breeder.

V. Miss Joaquim was displayed publicly in Europe for the first time at the Royal Horticultural Society show in London in 1897. The RHS awarded a First Class Certificate to Trevor Lawrence, the owner of the plant, which had been grown by his gardener W H White from a cutting sent by Mr Ridley. In 1898, the orchid also gained a Cultural Commendation Certificate.

The flower debuted in Singapore at the annual Flower Show in April 1899, where Miss Joaquim won first prize for  “rarest orchid”.

Before World War 2, V. Miss Joaquim was the mainstay of Singapore’s cut-flower exports and in 1938 a crate of the orchids was flown to Amsterdam for Queen Wilhelmina’s 40th Jubilee.

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Club Officers 2017-18

The recent Tauranga Orchid Society AGM saw some changes in the club’s officers. Elected were:

President: Conrad Coenen. Vice-president: Barry Curtis. Secretary: Sandra Simpson. Treasurer: Brian Simmonds.

Committee: Alec Roy, Jean Richardson, Noeline Gardner, Jocelyn & Bob Mankelow (all continuing), plus Grant Bayley, Evelyn Wills, Natalie Simmonds, Ute Rank (newly elected).

Auditor: David Bulloch. Newsletter editor: Barry Curtis. Library: Evelyn Wills. Supper: Jean Richardson. Raffle Table: Alec Roy.

Thanks to everybody for their willingness to serve the society.

Outgoing president Barry made a presentation on behalf of the club of flowers and an embroidered cushion to Natalie after 25 years of tremendous service as secretary. Unfortunately, Natalie was unable to be present and so Brian was asked to convey our immense appreciation to her, along with our very best wishes.

Conrad thanked Barry for his 9 years of chairmanship and presented him with a gift.

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BOP Orchid Society champion

Popped back to the Bay of Plenty Orchid Society Show in Te Puke this afternoon – delighted to learn that the Tauranga Orchid Society stand had won first prize and that a plant grown by Tauranga member Brian Enticott was judged Grand Champion of the show.

A shaft of sunlight illuminates Paphiopedilum Gary Romagna ‘Palm Beach’, grown by Brian Enticott. The plant was ‘awarded’ 16 years ago – and today received a higher award from the Orchid Council, as well as its BOP Orchid Society prize. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Paphiopedilum Gary Romagna is a cross between P. Saint Swithin and
P. rothschildianum, with Saint Swithin itself a cross between P. rothschildianum and P. philippinense var. roebelinii. The single stem had four glorious blooms on it. Brian recalls that when it was last awarded, the plant had two stems but not as many flowers on each one. The name he was able to add then – Palm Beach – commemorates where he lives at Papamoa.

Reserve champion was a vibrant Dendrobium Jairak ‘Ruby’ grown by Richard Christensen of Napier. Unfortunately, the photo doesn’t do justice to the colour of the flowers which was both richer and darker.

Dendrobium Jairak ‘Ruby’ grown by Richard Christensen. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Richard’s father Carl Christensen had last year’s Grand Champion orchid, which had also been Reserve champion in 2015. See a photo of it here.

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Te Puke Orchid Show

By Sandra Simpson

Just back from the first day of the BOP Orchid Society Show in Te Puke – beautiful flowers and plenty of plants for sale to tempt both newbies and connoisseurs. It was great to bump into people I know from Rotorua, Tauranga and Katikati, all enjoying the beautiful blooms.

As well as a display by the BOP Orchid Society, there are also stands from the Tauranga Orchid Society, the Whangarei Orchid Society, Leroy Orchids (Auckland) and Carl Christensen (Napier).

The show is in the War Memorial Hall in Te Puke’s main street and is open from 10am to 4pm with a $3 entry charge (under 12 free).

The Grand champion and Reserve champion plant will be named tomorrow morning but in the meantime, here are a few photos of the plants on display to tempt you through the doors if you haven’t already been.

Afternoon sun lights up Oncidioda Charlesworthii on the Tauranga stand. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Ascocenda Nong Nutch x Betty May Steel on the BOP display. Photo: Sandra Simpson












Dendrobium Lori’s Star on the BOP stand. Photo: Sandra Simpson









Cattleya Brownlee ‘Riga’ x Chocolate Drop ‘Waki’ is grown by Carl Christensen of Napier. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Jim Gilchrist’s large Miltonia clowesii lives in a concrete block and covers itself in flowers every year. Photo: Sandra Simpson

This unnamed Cycnoches orchid is part of the Whangarei Orchid Society display. Photo: Sandra Simpson


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