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After our February speaker concluded the main portion of his presentation, members in the audience were encouraged to ask questions. One of our newer growers asked a question that involved a plant she had purchased at a local home improvement center garden shop. Although the speaker's response was well-intentioned, the grower who asked the question as well as other growers in the audience, may now believe that they should ALWAYS avoid purchasing orchids anywhere other than commercial orchid nurseries. Surely our speaker did not intend to discourage budding orchid enthusiasts. Often blooming orchids can be purchased locally at a variety of garden shops, and if they can be purchased cheaply, and if the plants appear to be in good condition (with or without name tags), it is far kinder to a new grower's bank account to experiment with inexpensive plants than to purchase expensive ones that may well end their days on a compost pile.


In the January, 1998 issue of "Chula Orchids Newsletter", pages 15 and 16, Harry Seward, an orchid grower and employee of Home Depot in Reading, Pa., took issue with a few negative comments Harry Tolen (Chula Orchids) made in the December, 1997 issue, page 2, of "Chula Orchids Newsletter". (Harry T. has kindly given us permission to use "anything" he has printed, "anytime without asking". You're a Prince of a Fellow, Harry!)



"Some thoughts on the diatribe about Home Depot in December's newsletter. I am your customer. I have been growing orchids for 25 years, and have been an orchid addict for 2 years. I am a horticulturist for over 30 years. I have an Associates' degree in horticulture from State University of New York/Farmingdale, a B.S. from the University of Georgia and a Masters degree from Michigan State. Five years as a manager in a fertilizer company, twenty years managing a wholesale flower house, and have worked at several nurseries and garden centers on the East Coast.


I have taken an early retirement at 50 and now work 40 hours per week at...HOME DEPOT! Yes, run a Home Depot Greenhouse! It is neat and clean and well run. Any time I see a customer in the orchid section, I talk to them and encourage them. I hold free classes on orchids, bonsai, cactus/succulents and tropicals. The orchid class is the most popular and usually has about 25 people. My manager has taken the two year course at Longwood Gardens. He too is a horticulturist.


I know that we are the exceptions in the system. But we do exist! And we are making a difference! I learned long ago that you can't change the world; you can only change yourself.


Now the important part. Many of my customers really develop an interest. It is at this point my customers become 'your customers'. At the end of each orchid class, we discuss resources, the local orchid society...local greenhouses, AND mail order sources. I open up to most customers a whole new world. YOUR WORLD! I show them catalogs and lists. I explain this is where they have the most purchase choices. I know they will still purchase from me; maybe less plants and maybe more supplies.


So you see, in the end, Home Depot and the other mass marketers can actually ADD to your business. And about those people growing a million orchids, ready to sell them for peanuts...GOOD! Because this is the pool of people out of which come your next orchid addicts. The ones who MUST have something different and don't mind a second mortgage to get it! Get the idea???"


Recently I happened upon an experienced orchid grower who was working in a local garden shop at one of the large home improvement centers in the valley. Not only did the young man impress me with his knowledge of orchid culture, but also he expressed an interest in educating his orchid customers! One of the orchids for sale in the shop was Onc. Sweet Sugar 'Emperor'. I noted that the medium in the pot was cinders, and I asked if the orchids were purchased from Hawaii. The young man confirmed my assumption. Each plant had a name tag in the pot, and each plant appeared to have been grown under optimum conditions. I bought one! The garden shop orchidist thought that the price on this plant was expensive, until I told him that some commercial orchid nurseries have advertised this plant for 50% more. I bought this oncidium because I wanted it in bloom for a special occasion that day.


There ARE exceptions to the avoid-orchids-at-garden-shops "rule". There are garden shops where healthy, tagged, inexpensive orchids can be found. From my experience, it is rare to find such a shop, but if a seasoned, open-minded shopper/grower is persistent, he or she might find satisfactory orchids in a local garden shop and/or general plant nursery. If the shop is manned (or womanned) by an experienced orchid grower, a "mother lode" of sorts has been struck! Garden shops are NOT a substitute for commercial orchid nurseries, but they do serve a purpose. Our next most dedicated OSA member might have purchased his or her first orchid from a local garden shop!


Our thanks to Harry Tolen the commercial orchid grower for having the courage to print the response from Harry the garden shop employee. Harry T. had said that he "really stepped in it this time", but if the "Chula Orchids Newsletter" had not printed negative remarks about garden shop orchids, H. Seward, serious orchidist and loyal customer of Chula, would not have been inspired to make his thoughts known!


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