This old photo may explain my passion for Dendrobium speciosum. That’s me with my father. Jeez I was cute! Just how my cuteness fled me later on is still a subject for family discussion. I was born on September 25th, 195? That’s the absolute zenith of the flowering season for the thousands of “Rock Lilies” adorning the cliffs (back fence) you see in the top of the picture. Also on the huge rock just behind and between us. This is my home in Kangaroo Valley. As I was carted home from Shoalhaven Hospital for the first time, the air would have been infused with the heavy scent of speciosum perfume. That drug-like perfume still thrills and intoxicates me each Spring. Is this Karma? Providence? Fortune? Destiny? Luck? Some of you “star-gazers” out there might know the answer . . .
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A certain John Walsh was born in County Armargh, Northern Ireland, in 1810. He became a pick-pocket. He wasn’t a particularly good pick-pocket. After his third appearance at the Dublin Old Bailey, he was granted an assisted passage to the “Colony of NSW, effective immediately”. The Magistrate recommended that John should seek a more fulfilling career. He had a secure but poorly payed position awaiting him on arrival in Sydney Town. After seven years, John took his “leave” and found himself working a dairy farm at the junction of The Princes Highway and Fox Ground Road near Gerringong NSW. Along came baby Peter in 1852. Peter selected 370 acres of steep, cedar-clad brush country in the rugged Kangaroo Ground district, later on re-named Kangaroo Valley. He cut the valuable cedar, cleared the brush and began dairying. A hundred years and three generations later is where I make my grand debut in the scheme of things . . .
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I have known Dendrobium speciosum, or rock lily, all my life. I started growing it when my wife and I purchased our first home back in 1975. I made a journey back to my child hood home in the beautiful Kangaroo Valley area of NSW. In the front yard of the old farmhouse were a few rock lilies. Possibly they had been there for a hundred years but likely less. They were old when I was young. We took a few of these “THINGS” home with us to tart up the front yard of our little castle. No need to say anymore . . .
37 years have now passed and the passion has not abated nor been stronger for me than it is right now, even as I write. I have travelled from Cann River in Victoria, to near Cooktown in north Queensland, doing countless trips in my quest. This is the known range of Dendrobium speciosum. Maybe it is better to label it: “an obsessive odyssey to explore more, learn more, grab it by the throat . . . and be the master of it”.
Over the years, my reward has been discovering many superb examples of this stunning native orchid. I can swear I possess some of the best forms of D. speciosum that can be found. Over the years I have swapped some of my finds with other growers who also have wonderful forms. I must say however that the vast majority of my best plants are living in my bush house alone and no where else.
I have never been one to go out to a whole bunch of orchid societies and exhibit my pets at every opportunity. So they remain only known to me and a few close friends. I have only been a member of one society all these years, that being ANOS Sydney group. Always been quite content to keep my plants to myself and enjoy them the same way. Occasionally the green-eyed monster wakes up and I chase a few pieces from other growers about the place.
As my hair has gone from jet black to light black, (luckily I still have all my hair though), I started wondering what the future is for me now. I fine-tuned my collection and although I still make many treks into the bush in spring, I do not bring champion finds home nearly as often as I used to. If it cannot beat half a dozen similar ones growing in my bush house already, then there is not much use making it seven, even though the new find may be a good looker. I’m so selective these days.
A few years back I started thinking I should be now crossing the absolute best of my plants and seeing what I can do with them. So that is exactly what I started doing, and now I want to see what other growers can do with them too. I now make an admission to readers of these pages; I do not consider myself to be a good grower. I consider myself to be a reasonable grower. There are others who I know will grow my plants far better than I can. And that is what I want to happen.
I have never stayed home much in the spring when they are flowering at their best . . . always going bush instead. When they should be repotted just after the flowering, I am still out in the bush. Consequently, my collection has not thrived like I wanted it to. That is going to change from now on. My tripping around will be very, very discerning, and not nearly so frequent. I AM going to put in the hard work and hopefully produce the goods. So watch out!
If you do decide to buy a few seedlings from the catalogue, make sure you put them onto the show bench when they flower. Most of all, I want you to report back to me to tell me how good the results are, or maybe how bad they are. Perhaps they will all be champions . . . perhaps they might end up in the compost bin. But you just have to let know, please!