The Hall of Orchids

Orchids belong to the most diverse of the flowering plant families with more than 25,000 species that thrive in habitats as varied as tropical jungles and near the Arctic Circle. For centuries, the orchid has been a symbol of love, luxury and beauty. To the early Greeks, the orchid represented virility, and the Chinese called it “the plant of the king's fragrance.” Confucius once acknowledged: “The association with a superior person is like entering a hall of orchids.”

Orchids in Montecito took root at the turn of the century, when wealthy industrialists came to the area's burgeoning spas and resorts to escape harsh, eastern winters. Many visitors stayed on, building estates and commissioning world-class horticulturists and landscape architects to design elaborate gardens. Exotic orchids became the rage, with mass plantings of cymbidiums and other unusual species, adding prestige to Montecito estates.

The first Santa Barbara Orchid Show, organized by the Santa Barbara Horticultural Society and under the direction of Bert Kallman, took place in 1945 at Montecito Grange Hall.

This year, the tradition continues as the 62nd annual Santa Barbara International Orchid Show will be held for three consecutive days starting on Friday at Earl Warren Showgrounds. One of the oldest, largest and most prestigious orchid shows in the country, the Santa Barbara International Orchid Show attracts growers from all over the world.

Santa Barbara Orchid Estate, the county’s oldest orchid nursery, will be creating the center exhibit, featuring the largest collection of specimen orchids ever displayed in the U.S. This display will consist of massive orchids that have grown, undivided, for 40 years, some of which are more than 10 feet tall.

Another bonus is the enormous selection of orchids for sale at the show. For me, it is just as much fun to visit the vendor booths as it is to tour the displays. What I discovered at last year’s show is that there are many types of orchids that will grow outdoors in Montecito without the aid of a greenhouse. What I recommend is that you talk to the vendors and ask which orchids will grow and re-bloom outdoors. The ones I bought last year bloomed again in about seven months.

At the show, there will also be hourly demonstrations and workshops on how to care for orchids, how to repot and separate them and anything else needed to know for successful growing.

Opening Night Gala

The grand opening of “Orchids Gone Wild” will be held this Thursday from 5 pm to 7:30 pm. This event will benefit the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute. There will be a preview of the Orchid Show displays, docent-led tours and a buffet dinner and no-host bar.

Call Sansum Diabetes Research Institute at 682-7638 to reserve seats.

Visit the Orchid Growers

During the weekend of the show Santa Barbara Orchid growers will open their facilities for special sales and behind-the-scenes tours:

• Cal-Orchid, 967-1312, www.calorchid.com

• Santa Barbara Orchid Estate, 967-1284, www.sborchid.com

• Gallup & Stribling Orchids, 684-1998, www.americanorchids.com

• Orchids Royale, 684-8066 (generally closed to the public, this nursery opens to visitors only during the Orchid show weekend)

For more information about the 62nd Santa Barbara International Orchid Show visit www.sborchidshow.com.

March Garden Checklist

• Feed your roses

• Cut back any plants damaged by frost

• Cut back bougainvillea, trumpet vine and other woody perennials

• Plant summer-blooming bulbs like dahlias and gladiolas

• Feed and mulch everything and get ready for spring