Ever Green

By Lois Taylor

Friday, June 6, 1997

ByKen Ige, Star-Bulletin
Evelyn Nakanishi points out one of the 800
or so orchid varieties in her garden.

Ease into orchids

GOLF and tennis are wonderful games, but what have you got when the game is over? Dirty socks. Orchid growers spend time and money on their hobby, too, and what have they got? Shinji Nakanishi says that the answer to that is some of the most beautiful things on earth. Nakanishi, like many orchid growers, sort of eased into his collection. After all, hardly anybody says, "Wow, I'm going to be an orchid grower," backs his truck up to a nursery and buys 50 plants.

Instead, it works like this. "Some friends gave us an orchid plant. We had it a while and then it died," said Shinji's wife, Evelyn Nakanishi. "So we bought another one, and another one after that. Then five years ago, we both got really interested and we joined the Aiea Orchid Club." Evelyn is now club president, but readily admits that the orchid grower in the family is Shinji.

Joining an orchid club is like getting on the World Wide Web of orchid culture. Members share knowledge, trade plants and also become good friends. But it's a lot more work than sitting in front of a computer screen. At least once a year, most clubs become involved in an orchid show, their own or the Big Mama of local shows, the annual Honolulu Orchid Club event in October.

The Nakanishis are working now on the Aiea Orchid Club show, to be held next Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Aiea Elementary School. Their beautifully landscaped front garden on a hillside above Pearl City is temporarily cluttered with several dozen black plastic garbage bags filled with shredded newspaper. "We want the club's exhibit to look like a forest, with tree branches holding orchid plants. The newspaper will form little hills so everything won't be flat." Then they'll landscape the area with hundreds of potted orchids. You'll never see the newspaper. Six other clubs will also be exhibiting at the show.

Members of the seven clubs will sell orchid plants, and Shinji Nakanishi recommends that new collectors do some serious shopping. "I'd say, start with dendrobiums. They are the easiest to grow in our climate. Don't pay any more than $5 or $6 for your first plants, and buy plants that are in flower so you know what you're getting."

For the first five years of the Nakanishis' orchid experiences, they cautiously stuck to dendrobiums and cattleyas, which they said are among the easiest to grow. But once they joined the orchid club, they decided to expand. You don't order hot dogs at a French restaurant. Shinji became interested in the more unusual varieties, the very small and the very large, the orchids that don't look like orchids, and he raises they from very young plants.

ByKen Ige, Star-Bulletin
Shinji Nakanishi won a Honolulu Orchid Society
award for this plant.

"Later on, when you have more experience, you can buy the keiki plants in the tiny pots. They're much more fun because they are more of a challenge. When they finally bloom, it's exciting." Evelyn pointed out that this is a far more satisfying care project than the current mania for the electronic chicken on the key chain.

The Nakanishis' current pride is the brassia orchid with spider-shaped orange-yellow flowers spotted with brown. It won an award of merit a week ago at the Aiea Orchid Club May meeting. The prize-winner hangs in a prominent spot among the large of collection of orchids, but languishing near the fence is a plant that to most people looks about the same. What makes one a winner and the other an also-ran?

"It's a matter of symmetry," Evelyn said. "The flowers on the spray are all pretty much the same size and they all face the same way (on the winning plant.) The judges look for these things. They want a vigorous looking plant with good foliage. Maybe the color isn't quite as good, or the flowers are too small on the other plant."

One of the treasures of the collection is a very inconspicuous dull orange flower growing on a tiny plant in a 2-inch pot. It is worth $100 or more because of its rarity. The Dendrobium cuthbertsonia was imported from San Francisco, and Shinji said that it has never taken to the Aiea sun. "It would be happier in the cooler foggier climate of the Bay Area," he said, but fellow collectors admire it tremendously.

Orchid prices are based on how close the plant approaches the ideal of its variety. Evelyn pointed out a lovely pale lavender vanda hybrid, and explained that the plant was good but not great. "If the flowers were just a little bigger, and the color were more pink than lavender it would be worth five times what this one is worth," she said.

The Nakanishi orchid collection includes at least 800 different varieties. "I kept a record on my computer, but then I quit a while ago. It got quite complicated," said the man who can rattle off the Latin names of most of his plants. "That's quite different," he said. "Anything you can't pronounce, you have to buy."

The orchids are fertilized once a week with a water soluble orchid fertilizer, from either Gaviota or Peters, Shinji said. He uses them at half the strength advised on the label, a practice followed by many growers. The chemical companies, after all, are not selling flowers, they're selling fertilizer.

To get rid of the occasional bug, he sprays with Diazanon or if things are getting out of hand, with Malathion. The latter, while it works well, has an unpleasant and lingering odor, and the orchid collection is off the Nakanishis' kitchen.

Asked if he uses some kind of automatic watering system, Shinji laughed. "I hand water by looking at the plants. I come out every day, and if a plant looks thirsty, it gets water. You learn to feel the medium it's growing in and you can tell when it's getting dry." Evelyn added, "He knows his plants, and that's why they grow for him. That's his secret."


What: Aiea Orchid Club annual show
When: 9 a.m.-8 p.m., June 13-14; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. June 15
Where: Aiea Elementary School cafetorium
Cost: $1 donation
Call: 487-7625
Note: Lectures and demonstrations on orchid culture at 11 a.m. and 2 and 6 p.m. June 13-14, and 11 a.m. June 15

Gardening Calendar

Send queries along with name and phone number to: Evergreen by Lois Taylor, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu 96802. Or send e-mail to features@starbulletin.com. Please be sure to include a phone number.

Evergreen by Lois Taylor is a regular Friday feature of the
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