‘An Orchid Obsession’

McMurray woman catches ‘bug’ at her first show

March 20, 2013
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Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter
A mini Phalaenopsis, one of 45 orchids throughout Janet Greenberg’s McMurray home. Order a Print
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Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter
A Phalaenopsis grown by Greenberg Order a Print
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Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter
A Papiopedilum grown by Greenberg Order a Print
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Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter
One of Greenberg’s Phalaenopsis orchids Order a Print
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Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter
Janet Greenberg stands by a windowsill in the dining room of her McMurray home, where she moved several of her orchids for the winter. Order a Print

McMURRAY – Janet Greenberg considers herself a novice when it comes to growing orchids.

But one would never know it by the impressive collection she has cultivated in her modest McMurray home.

And, no doubt, more will find their way into her home after this weekend’s annual Orchid Show, sponsored by the Orchid Society of Western Pennsylvania, at the Phipps Garden Center in Pittsburgh.

Appropriately enough, the show’s theme is “An Orchid Obsession.” There will be hundreds of orchids in full bloom in specially designed exhibits and floral arrangements that will be judged by certified American Orchid Society judges. The show also will include free educational seminars, plant raffles and sales by vendors from the eastern United States and, for the first time, Ecuador. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

“I have my heart set on a Brassia, a Cypripedium and a miniature plant that, amazingly, grows directly hanging off a piece of bark,” said Greenberg, who was bitten by the “orchid grower’s bug” four years ago.

“Many people can buy their first orchid, admire it, tend to it briefly on their own terms and end up throwing it out,” she said.

But not her.

Greenberg’s passion for orchids only continued to grow when she started researching the importance of repotting, fertilizing, lighting and misting, not to mention the colorful variations of species.

Even though she always admired the climate-controlled greenhouse of one of her best friends, Barb Ford, president of the Greater Akron (Ohio) Orchid Society, Greenberg never considered raising orchids herself because she’s always had bad luck with indoor plants.

Besides, “Everytime I would go to her greenhouse, I would think, ‘Oh, these are hard to grow.’”

Her attitude changed, however, when she purchased an exotic-looking green Paphiopedilum, or Lady Slipper, at her first OSWP Orchid Show four years ago.

“When I realized the bloom came in green, I was beside myself,” Greenberg said. “I then proceeded to discover everything I could about ‘paphs.’ It surprised me to discover that they bloom mostly just once a year, but, amazingly, the bloom can last for months. After the bloom was gone, I dutifully learned how to repot my plant. … and there was no turning back.”

At her second spring show, Greenberg purchased “a gorgeous, huge, burgundy paph.”

“Within a short period, I was up to eight orchids, then said I was through,” she said. “Then I owned 15 and said the same thing.”

So did her husband, Jack.

But they were both wrong.

Today, 45 plants representing 10 species are displayed in five locations in the Greenbergs’ home. And Jack can’t resist the urge to buy a plant, occasionally bringing one home as a gift for his wife.

“I was surprised that growing orchids can be easy, but also hard – all at the same time,” she said. “Some species are much easier to grow than others. I have good luck with Phalaenopsis, Lady Slippers, Oncidiums and Dendrobiums. And I can say, so far so good with my one Miltonia,” which hangs over the kitchen sink since it requires a lot of humidity.

“However, I managed to kill off my Brassia, probably from overwatering,” Greenberg said. “I am giving it another shot with a new one I recently purchased.”

Orchids do not get their nutrients from soil and are often sold growing in sphagnum moss. Greenberg has no luck with the moss, so once the plant is finished blooming, she repots it into a special bark.

“Repot your plant after it’s finished blooming, never when it’s blooming if you can help it,” she cautioned.

She tries to mist her plants daily, and she uses orchid fertilizer on a regular basis, per the instructions. She also removes the dead roots with sterilized scissors, and uses plastic pots with holes on the sides.

“Most plants do not like to sit in water,” she said. “Water in the morning so the leaves are not wet by nightfall.”

Greenburg also is very meticulous about tracking her orchids. She numbers each orchid and records each one on a separate page in a small notebook, noting the purchase date and place, color, repotting dates, the arrival of buds and how long the bloom lasts.

Her healthy orchid collection is even more striking considering she lacks specialized lighting, a greenhouse and pebbled water containers. She does read extensively on the subject, and she receives plenty of encouragement from friends and fellow orchid growers when something goes wrong. “I needed somebody to tell me, ‘Don’t panic,’” she said.

In fact, Ford is encouraging Greenberg to enter one of her orchids in the show.

Nevertheless, Greenberg remains very humble.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get out of the rookie stage. I’d either have to get more involved or get a greenhouse,” she said.

For more information about the Orchid Show, orchids and the Orchid Society of Western Pennsylvania, visit www.oswp.org.

Denise Bachman is an award-winning journalist and veteran of the Observer-Reporter. She joined the staff in 1981 as a sports writer after graduating from Penn State University with a degree in journalism. After working in various capacities, she has served as the managing editor of production and lifestyles editor for the past several years.

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