Arthur Deakin – 30 years an orchid grower – what have I learnt?

Arthur holds the National Collection of Phragmipedium species. There are about 30 of these. He also has hybrids of which there are many. He has a mixed collection of plants numbering around 600, many of these are Cattleyas.

Arthur started in 1975 when newly married and living in Littleborough he and his wife visited the local garden centre to purchase plants for their new garden. It was here that his wife saw a white flowered Cymbidium which Arthur promised to buy for her birthday the following month, should it still be there. It was and he did. The plant lived in the lounge receiving lots of attention and lots of water. It soon objected and almost died. Arthur returned to the nursery. He was sent to see the owner’s brother, John Rigg of the North of England Society, this led to a visit to Mansell and Hatchers. The result was the purchase of several plants especially an Oncidium which nurtured in a bedroom produced a beautiful spike and won a rosette when entered in a show. Arthur was hooked.

A move to Wakefield resulted in the sale of all Arthur’s plants. A further move to Nottingham and two greenhouses signalled a new beginning. A further move to Halam has resulted in a magnificent purpose built greenhouse. More of which later.

Arthur’s top tips for successful growing include a large amount of common sense which it is easy to either forget or ignore when tempted by yet another a beautiful plant. The amount of TLC you give your plants pays dividends, you can’t afford to let up as the effects soon become evident. Aim to grow only plants that suit what you can do. (How difficult is this?) Try to specialise as anything else is a compromise. People are always willing to give advice, but be careful what you accept. Change gradually and try out new ideas on a few plants at a time. (So you don’t kill them all). Resist the temptation to buy new plants all the time. This leads to overcrowding and possible pest and disease problems. Endeavour to get rid of some plants each year. (I don’t find this is a problem, they go to the big compost heap in the sky). The social side of orchid growing is also important. I think we all appreciate this.

Arthur’s current greenhouse is splendid. 25ft by 10ft built of cedar wood. Ground level louvered vents need to be covered, but in conjunction with the 6ft high ridge give excellent air movement. Automatic ventilation is used in each of the three temperature zones. Rain water is collected inside the glasshouse for watering. A gas boiler and hot water pipes supply the heat, supplemented by fan heaters. Mechanical rather than electrical thermostats are used so that power cuts have no effect. A wooden rail across the front of the bench stops plants jumping off and a 4’ wide path helps to stop them being knocked off. The benching is at three different heights, enabling the tall Phrags to flower without banging their heads. Compost is down to personal preference. Bark which is currently available is of variable quality. Arthur is not too fond of rockwool and prefers to disturb plants as little as possible. He uses three temperature sensors in the greenhouse. He also uses meters for pH, dissolved salts concentration and humidity. Too high and fungi like it, too low and the red spiders do. Arthur grows plants in clear pots so that he can monitor root growth, but stands these in black pots to prevent algal growth. He uses small adhesive coloured discs on each label, colour coded to show the year that each plant was last repotted. Each plant if lifted to gauge whether or not it needs watering and if necessary watered using a lance with a submersible pump system.

Arthur’s recommended twelve plants to grow are:-

Phrag. species e.g. caudatum, hybrids e.g. Jason Fisher (below)

Pleione Shantung e.g. Ducat

Cattleya hybrids e.g. Bob Betts, Virtue species e.g. purpurata

Lc. Puppy Love (below)

Coelogyne pandurata

Paph. species e.g appletonianum hybrids e.g. Alma Gaevert (below)

Oncidium tigrinium

Dracula bella.(below)

Phal. species e.g. lueddemanniana

The future of orchid growing as a hobby is changing. Plant breeding in this country has almost ceased commercially. Fuel costs and CITES charges are proving to be a vast burden. Maybe growth rooms with artificial lighting which is better than daylight are the way forward. Arthur is trialling the use of LED lighting sited four inches or so above seedlings. He is using 50% red 50% blue whilst a friend is using 2/3 red and 1/3 blue.

Pests are controlled using a systemic insecticide twice a year and diseases using Physan twice a year, until his supply runs out. The best thing is to water plants individually so that you are constantly on the lookout for pests and diseases rearing their ugly heads. TC & CM