This section is from the book "Commercial Gardening Vol2", by John Weathers (the Editor). Also available from Amazon: Commercial Gardening, A Practical & Scientific Treatise For Market Gardeners.
A score of years ago any suggestion that Orchids might be worthy of consideration as subjects for the skill of the market grower would have been met with scorn. But the speed with which matters horticultural have advanced of late years has brought Orchids into line, and they cannot be overlooked in any work on commercial gardening. In these pages they have to be considered in a manner quite apart from that with which they are viewed by the amateur, or the Orchid grower in a private garden, or even the retail nurseryman.
Orchid blooms possess such a richness, grace, and exquisite beauty, that their use in the highest floral art is now a general practice. To the bridal or ball bouquet, to the choicest wreaths, harps, or other designs for funeral orders, and to the dinner-table decorations on special occasions Orchid flowers impart an air of nobility and rare elegance that no other flowers can supply, hence there is always a demand for them, no matter what the time of the year. Of course it is during the spring - the London season - that the demand is at its height, and, fortunately, the demand synchronizes with the period of the year when Orchid flowers are the most plentiful. But in late autumn and in early winter there is also a fairly good demand, especially when all outdoor flowers have been cut down by frost, and also during the Christmas and New Year festivities.
Orchids display a wonderfully wide range of form, size, colour, and habit, consequently the flowers may advantageously be used for a great variety of purposes. The "man in the street" regards every flower that is curious in form, or ultra-beautiful in colouring, as an Orchid; he also looks upon the different kinds of Orchids much as an amateur Rosarian looks upon different varieties of Roses; and he has a profound belief that Orchids can only be cultivated in extreme heat, and by a grower whose skill borders upon wizardry. A grower for the cut-flower market knows better than this, and the only question for him is whether the cultivation of Orchids will pay him a trifle better than, say, Carnations or Chrysanthemums. Let us state at once that in our judgment there is no room for any great extension of Orchid culture on commercial lines for cut flowers, but we believe that in many cases where a grower has a regular and high-class clientele he could grow a few kinds of Orchids with advantage and profit, provided he, or one of his employees, has a good practical knowledge of the cultural conditions necessary for them.
The comparatively cheap rate at which glasshouses can be built nowadays, the increasing economy of modern heating apparatus, and the fact that so many of the kinds of Orchids especially useful for the purpose under consideration do not need continuously extreme heat have all tended to reduce very materially the cost of Orchid culture, and thus make flower production more remunerative.
We do not forget that a considerable number of hybrid Orchids are of immense value for cut flowers, and some of these are now so plentiful and reasonable in price that they come within the bounds of practical politics; but, nevertheless, the majority of Orchids grown for the cut-flower trade are imported from their native lands, and offered for sale in bulk at different periods of the year, chiefly in the spring, at the auction sales held in London, Liverpool, Manchester, etc.
Purchase of these imported plants is the best and cheapest method of commencing Orchid cultivation, unless one is in the happy position of being able to import direct from someone who can be depended upon to send plants of good quality, both as regards vigour and strain. The question of "strain" may appear to have little bearing upon the subject when importations are concerned, as this phrase is commonly used in connection with races or varieties of plants and vegetables raised annually or biennially from seeds. But it does count for a great deal, as many know to their cost. For instance, Cattleya labiata and Odontoglossum crispum (fig. 287) are two Orchids most extensively grown, and yet some importations give a high percentage of plants that will never yield other than the weediest of flowers, while others will give a high percentage of flowers of fine form, and purity or richness of colour. These latter will secure the highest prices as cut flowers, and there is always a good market for any plants of outstanding merit among growers who maintain private collections. On the other hand, the weedy-flowered plants will never produce fine blooms, however skilfully they may be cultivated, and their blooms sell at a reduced figure. Nor must it be forgotten that it costs just as much to grow a plant worth 1s. or less, as it does to grow one that may be worth 5s. or £50. From this it will be gathered that Orchid cultivation on the basis of importations is something of a speculation. And so it is. Under skilful management the crop can be made to pay, but it is the finely blotched 0. crispum, and the pure-white or grandly coloured and well-formed Cattleya labiata, sold to a fancier, that will put the gilt, edge on the profits.
All newly imported Orchids must be treated as convalescent. Any attempt to deal with them as though they were established plants will end in dismal failure, and consequent loss of time and money. Every plant must be carefully handled and closely examined; it must also be thoroughly cleaned and relieved of all dead and decaying matter. Lack of attention to these matters in the first instance has not seldom led to disaster, or, at least, to the need of a large amount of labour at a later stage to free the plants from insect pests. Clean pots, clean crocks, and an abundance of the latter used to secure ample drainage, are items of the first importance, but the plants should be placed in a comfortable temperature for a short time before potting takes place, so that the pseudo-bulbs and leaves may plump up in the moist warm atmosphere, and new roots begin to form. During this convalescent stage fairly heavy shading must be afforded, reducing this somewhat as time proceeds, for it must be remembered that the plants have travelled long distances closely packed in dark cases. Fortunately, in most cases these imported Orchids have a large amount of reserve force stored up in their pseudo-bulbs, and if they are not over-potted or over-watered in these earlier stages of their new life they are not difficult to establish.