Flower power

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growing orchids

Orchids are challenging to grow but beautiful in appearance, according to avid gardener Dr Vicky Balnave of Mt Druitt Veterinary Clinic in NSW.

“Orchids are finicky plants that are extremely hard to cultivate. People buy them from Bunnings then discard them two weeks later because they’re dead. But if you have patience, the right conditions and culture advice, they’re very rewarding to grow. 

“To grow exotic orchids in Australia, you need a shade house, hot house or both. Some of our native orchid species will grow happily in the garden alongside other plants or in your home. Personally, I like to grow slipper orchids or Paphs (Paphiopedilum orchids). While other growers find them difficult, I seem to have a natural affinity with the species. They just serendipitously grow and flower.

“I joined the Blacktown City Orchid Society in 2012 with the aim of giving something back to the community. I soon became treasurer and hold that position today. Most of the members, who are now lifelong friends, are older than me but we learn from one another, and their life and orchid-growing experience is invaluable.

“I didn’t really get interested in gardening until I became a vet. My husband and I own a terrace home and started an organic permaculture garden on the available land. Close to the house are the vegetables, fruit trees and flower plots. The mid-section is where my chooks forage and where I keep a hive of stingless bees and a hive of honeybees. I started the hives because I didn’t understand beekeeping and thought it would be a challenge. Once I completed a course, I set up the two hives. I have the whole protective suit for collecting honey.

“Towards the back of the property, there’s a native garden bordered by a hedge of bottlebrush, with a massive gum tree. My home-grown vegies and fruit taste fantastic—they’re definitely worth all the hassle and effort. 

“My daughter loves toddling in the garden and picking and eating food from the plots. With hard work and perseverance, we’ve won several gardening and orchid awards.

“As much as I love my garden, it’s the orchids that really appeal to me. There’s a saying in the orchid world, ‘once you get bitten by the orchid bug, you’re in it for life’. It’s the challenge of growing and flowering them that appeals to me—some species only flower once every 20 years. Orchid growing and gardening is an outlet for the stresses of owning a practice and being a mum. It teaches you the rewards of patience and delayed gratification!”

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