An open house at the greenhouse
Marlow Orchids welcomes local enthusiasts
Orchids comprise one of the largest groups of flowering plants, with about 28,000 accepted species and more than 100,000 hybrids and cultivars. Even with so many diverse types, they still have the reputation as being one of the more difficult house plants to keep alive. Jim Marlow didn’t let the flower’s difficult reputation deter him from purchasing his first orchid more than fifty years ago, and he now owns Marlow Orchids in Scottsville. He and his co-owners Mike Bucur and Jonathan Jones present at twelve to fifteen orchid shows per season around the Northeast, host two or three open houses a year, and operate a thriving online business.
(585): How did you start your business, Marlow Orchids?
Marlow: I started Marlow Orchids in 1993. I had a small greenhouse in the city, and I started bringing phalaenopsis [orchids] to work at Xerox and sold them there for four or five years. In about 1995 we did a show in Rochester…in order to do the show I had to be registered as a business, so I got my business license. I started selling more and more orchids at local shows in Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, then I started going to more distant shows like Massachusetts and New Hampshire. In 2002 I took an early retirement to focus on this.
Marlow: I got into orchids when I was in my twenties. I was at the Zurich Bog, outside of Newark, one morning before work and I saw some lady slippers. That night I dreamt about those lady slippers and started to have recurring dreams about them, so I ordered some orchids. When they arrived all the roots looked odd and funny to me because I really didn’t know what orchids were, so I cut all the roots off and planted the orchid in pro mix; in the summer I put it in full sun. I pretty much did everything wrong but still managed to get good results.
Jones: I’ve always been in the field—my dad introduced me to gardening and greenhouse growing when I was young. I originally went to college for dairy science and was introduced to greenhouse operations and to more common orchids like phalaenopsis and cymbidium. Three years ago I came here (to Marlow Orchids) to get ‘Sharry Baby’ oncidiums, and Jim spent about two hours with me that day going through the greenhouse and talking about his orchids…I was hooked on the vast variety and the challenge of growing different cultivars.
Tell us about your greenhouse setup.
Bucur: When we moved here we decided we’d get a greenhouse kit, and I thought, how hard could this be? So I ordered it and one afternoon I came home and the whole backyard had box after box, huge refrigerator-size boxes. It took all summer long, during one of the hottest Julys I can remember, but we did it.
Marlow: It’s a 2,000-square-foot greenhouse, and we grow different genera of orchids that have different temperature requirements, so there are micro-climates within the greenhouse. We’re able to grow a lot of overlapping orchid types in this environment.
Jones: We have 6,000 to 7,000 plants in the greenhouse, from little seedlings (we’re starting to do our own breeding and seedling production), to big specimen plants.
What are some misconceptions people have about caring for orchids?
Jones: That they’re too hard to grow. I always tell my customers it’s about consistency…knowing what the conditions are for that orchid and being consistent with the lighting, watering, and fertilizer.
Marlow: Consistency is the most important thing. Orchids go downhill slowly, and people might not realize it because the top growth looks healthy, but the roots are rotted.
Any tips or tricks for growing a healthy orchid?
Bucur: A tight pot—they like to be root bound, and repotting is important. People are afraid to repot because they think the plant is so delicate, but within an hour of repotting the plants look better. They really perk up. At shows one of the most frequent questions we get is how to get an orchid to rebloom? And the first thing I ask them is when was the last time you repotted?
Marlow: They’re epiphytes. Most of them grow on trees and so they’re always growing out of their pots. Once that happens it’s time to repot the orchid, but it’s best to repot before this occurs.
You host two to three open houses a year—how did those start?
Marlow: We started doing open houses for Orchid Society members—we did that for a couple of years. Then I created an email list and started inviting everyone on the list. We have people come from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee… they come from all over; it’s amazing.
Bucur: They’d bring about twelve to fifteen people; they’d spend the day; I’d make a pie. People will go out to the greenhouse and last an hour before getting overwhelmed with which ones they’re going to buy, so then they come in the house, have a bite to eat, and are ready to go again. Jones: We’re kicking around an idea of extending the open house into a summer fest this summer; have some classes, bring some stuff outside if the weather’s nice.
What are your favorite parts of the open houses?
Jones: The people. It’s great to see all the people you do business with, people who are so enthusiastic about orchids, and it’s nice to have people from across the country want to come and see us.
Marlow: And it’s funny because it’s not only people who belong to orchid societies. It’s also enthusiasts, people who do it on their own.