The hardest working club in (orchid) show business



Here’s a garden club that provides over 4000 hours a year of unpaid help to a local botanical gardens, organizes a popular show once a year, and is a rich source of information and advice for anyone in Western New York who wants to grow orchids. And they don’t exactly fit any of the unfortunate stereotypes that came up the last time we discussed clubs.

I have to confess that while I admire orchids, especially the fragrant ones, I’ve never been tempted to grow any myself, and I just can’t seem to get too excited about them. The orchid displays at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens didn’t convince me either; they often seemed cramped and minimal. Up until now. With the help of the all-volunteer Niagara Frontier Orchid Society, orchids at the Gardens are now part of a tropical habitat display; they appear growing out of rocks, hanging from trees (as this stanhopea, above), and potted (but discreetly cited in a natural setting, not in tiers and rows, as they were before).


After talking to a couple of the Society members, including president Joe DiDomenico, above, I couldn’t help but be impressed by their enthusiasm and knowledge. They’ve been working with the Gardens for ten years, and during the last year they’ve finally created a setting that gives a better sense of how these plants actually work in the wild.


The tree limbs are from locusts downed during last year’s storm; locust is rot-resistent and won’t need to be replaced as often. The Society has also donated many of the plants as well as paid for some of the misting system. This is going to be a glorious room to visit in February.


A core group of ten club members spends every Wednesday morning at the Gardens, caring for plants in the two behind-the-scenes glasshouses as well as the plants on display. They also organize an annual competitive show, which is judged by reps from the American Orchid Society. This year’s winner, a Beallara, grown by a Rochester enthusiast, is shown above. I asked Sue Charles of the club what the three biggest mistakes you can make with orchids are; she immediately supplied the following:
1. Overwatering
2. Not enough light
3. Overpotting (too large a pot and too much potting mixture)

I’ll keep those in mind. Maybe I’ll start one or two myself this winter.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I’ve never gotten an orchid to bloom a second time, but I have a friend in New York City who has great luck with them. She has them in surprisingly sunny windows–and mists them regularly.

  2. Ooh nice looking display.

    We have great success with the more commonly offered varieties in the bathroom windowsill – I think the humidity from the shower does them good.

    At the moment I’m all about the hardy species; it took us a while to get them right but would you believe they’ve suddenly started selfseeding all over the place! I can see why they are addictive and good for clubs/organisations – you need someone to share the ups and downs with.

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