Orchids my Way Chris Squire

Chris started growing orchids in 1966 at the same time as his father Eddie following a trip to Mansell and Hatcher. This developed collaboratively, and soon mushroomed into 2 lean-to greenhouses and around 350 plants – built up from various shows and trips, often abroad. Some flasks were imported, and some seeds were sown creating more variety, especially with Disas.

The current greenhouse is an Eden Chelsea at 12‟ x 9‟, which is aluminium (not wood) for durability with an added polycarbonate division to allow the creation of 3 climatic zones. The outer zone is 45F minimum, the inner is 54F, and the inner sanctum is 68F (in reality this is a plunge bench with extra cable heating). The greenhouse has aluminium benches with a galvanised mesh to hold the plants. Bubble wrap is in place all year round for extra warmth. Rainwater is collected from the roof, which also has cedar laths on 1 side for shading. These can be rolled off/on, so aren‟t secure, and can blow off in a serious storm. An under bench fogger is used to maintain humidity in short summer bursts. Other plants are grown on the floor to aid in humidity – bromeliads, begonia rex, ferns, and a ginger plant. Electricity is an essential (albeit expensive) part of the jigsaw, and has quite a complex set of controls governed by an RCD. A 3KW fan heats the inner section, and a low voltage cable warms the sanctum. 3 x 4” fans circulate air, with a 10” extraction fan in the gable end (warm), and a 7” inlet fan in the door (cool). The roof vent is run by wax expansion lift.

The greenhouse currently has about 160 plants, of a large variation. As with all growers, some succeed, and some don‟t. Never be afraid to experiment to find the right microclimate for something new. A tendency towards smaller plants does allow the collection to grow.

The cooler section holds Odonts, Lycastes, cool Dendrobiums, Draculas, cool Vandas & Coelogynes. The warmer section holds Cattleyas, Laelias, warm Coelogynes & Dendrobiums, and Stanhopeas (in baskets). Chris is currently trialling Cychnoches and Catasetums here. The sanctum is much smaller, and holds Angraecums, Aerangis, Renanthera, Huntleyas, seedlings, and the odd rescue Phal. Each year Chris sets himself a bit of a project. The one for 2010 is to add an epiphyte branch to add more plants. A decent oak branch has been obtained for this purpose, and so far is settling in well. Compost wise, a variety of mixes can be used, based on requirements. A standard mix is bark, sphagnum, perlite, charcoal, bone meal & dolomitic lime. Rockwool is used separately, but demands a differing watering regime. Peat and perlite has been tried, but he hasn‟t tried coconut chips yet. They all have their pros and cons of course. Plants are repotted when necessary, but no more than 2 years apart. Watering is always in the mornings with either tepid tapwater or rainwater. Usually 5-7 days in summer, and 10-14 days in winter. Never overwater, and keep an eye on humidity at the same time. A mixture of Focus feed and Dynagrow is used to feed – never any urea. He feeds every watering, and flushes on the third one. Every 6-8 weeks a dressing of Calcium Nitrate is applied. Greenhouse hygiene is important. A weak spray of Physan is used weekly on benches and staging. This leaves only a few pests such as scale and mealybugs which are controlled by sprays and meths. A nightly slug patrol can prevent an opening bud from disaster.

Chris has a few guiding principles that he adheres to as well as preaches to converts. “Science begins with observation” is certainly true – do some geographical and climate research on new plants. Maximise use of your microclimates. Take a few seconds to sense what is happening in the greenhouse once you open the door each day. Join an orchid society, visit nurseries and shows. Better still visit the rainforest(s) or take an orchid focussed holiday. Make changes one step at a time – be disciplined. Understand when, where, why etc.. Make notes on your plants to refer back to. Don‟t forget, in a small greenhouse the environment can change quickly. Several of Chris‟s plants were shown to us, and after a few questions a hearty round of applause was given. JG