The Road Less Traveled
To witness an orchid bloom is a lesson in patience
By Ross Howell Jr.
Hadley Cash, founder of Marriott Orchids (named for a relative on his mother’s side who was killed in World War II), has been breeding orchids professionally in Kernersville for more than 30 years. His hybrids have been selected for some of the highest awards of recognition by the American Orchid Society, and fellow enthusiasts have invited him to speak at gatherings across the United States, in England and Europe — even halfway round the world, in Taiwan.
Not bad for a lanky fellow from east Tennessee who double-majored in English and Spanish at Wake Forest University and bought his first orchid to brighten up his bachelor pad.
Since orchids flower annually, he got the idea to buy specimens blooming in different months so he’d have at least one orchid adding color to his apartment year round.
“I thought that would be kind of cool,” Cash says. As he bought more orchids, he read a lot about them.
“In college I discovered that if you learn to read and absorb what you’re reading,” Cash adds, “you can learn to do anything.” He also joined the American Orchid Society (aos.org) and the Triad Orchid Society (triadorchidsociety.org) and discovered the benefits of learning and networking with other growers.
Cash started with Cattleya orchids, the big, showy ones often used in corsages, and soon was winning prizes with his plants at orchid shows. In time, he became interested in Paphiopedilums, a genus of “lady slipper” orchids related to the native lady slippers found in the mountains of North Carolina. (Interestingly, Paphiopedilum literally translated from the Greek means Aphrodite’s slipper.)
“Paphs,” as they’re called, are special. They require less light than other orchids. They can be finicky about their care and nurture. And unlike other genera that can be “cloned” — where a single orchid’s buds are used to reproduce identical offspring — paphs can only be reproduced by pollination.
It takes two to tango, making each paph offspring unique.
First Cash must remove the slipper part of an orchid’s bloom so it can be pollinated. The fertilized pod that develops requires months to ripen. Then Cash sends the ripe pods to specialty growers who cultivate them in “flasks.” Some two years will pass before the flasks are returned. Cash then moves the orchids from the flasks into community pots. As they grow, he separates and repots them into smaller communities, until finally, each orchid has an individual pot of its own.
You’d think Cash would be anxious to see what the blooms of these progeny will look like, especially if they’re a new hybrid. Well, he has to wait five years for that.
Cumulative time from pollination till one of the new kids displays her first slipper? Seven years. Seven.
English major Cash has an explanation for that kind of persistence and patience. He harks back to the poet Robert Frost.
“Doctors, lawyers, scientists, janitors, farmers, people from any socioeconomic group — there’s one commonality in every single person who becomes a lifetime orchid grower,” Cash says.
“They tend to be the type of person who takes the road less traveled in life.” h
You can follow Hadley Cash and his orchids on Facebook at the handle James Cash (Marriott Orchids) or visit his greenhouse by appointment only.
Ross Howell Jr. is a novelist, freelance writer and geezer gardener. Contact him at email@example.com.