My story

As current President, I thought it was time to include how I came under the spell of orchids. Here’s my story and I hope it inspires you to explore orchid biology.

How I fell under the spell of orchids

I am a teacher by training and have always loved science, nature and plants. I spent a good part of my professional life working in botanic gardens where we developed public displays to connect visitors with the wonderful world of plants.


While working in education at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney we developed an exhibition called Sex and Death: starring orchids and carnivorous plants which ran for three years (2005-2008) in the Tropical Centre (now redeveloped as the Calyx). Here we told the story of plant sex by exploring the fascinating pollination mechanisms of orchids. The concept of death was a great excuse for the gardens to display its extensive nursery collection of bizarre-looking carnivorous plants.


During this time, I became familiar with the most fascinating orchids around – such as Dracula vampira ‘Bela Lugosi’ (great name!) and Angroecum sesquipedale– which were skillfully grown by the gardens horticultural staff. It was fun telling their pollination stories in the interpretive panels.

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Here’s Dr Peter Weston and myself at the exhibition opening standing in frosd2ant of some hanging orchids that are floral mimics. Native to the humid tropics of America, Dracula orchids use deception to take advantage of the reproductive instincts of fungus gnats.  Since fungus gnats like to lay their eggs in mushrooms, bizarre flowers of Dracula orchids imitate mushrooms with their appearance, scent, feel and location.  Thinking that a Dracula orchid is a mushroom, the gnats lay their eggs in the orchid flowers, and in the process, transfer orchid pollinia from flower to flower. While the Draculas use the gnats to reproduce, the gnats themselves get nothing. The insect eggs and larvae cannot survive for long in the flowers, and so the insect offspring will eventually die.

One of the most famous stories of cooperation between an orchid and its pollinator is that of the Christmas Star Orchid (Angraecum sesquipedale) of Madagascar and the Hawk-Moth (Xanthopan morgani predicta).  In 1888, Charles Darwin looked at the extremely long nectary spur of this orchid species and declared that there must be an insect with a proboscis long enough to drink nectar from the flower. Many people ridiculed this idea because no one had ever seen an insect with a proboscis that was 28-32cm long!  41 years later, a hawkmoth was indeed found to have a proboscis of 30-33cm long. (As this amazing photograph by Marcel Lecoufle shows.)


The botanic gardens had many knowledgeable botanists and horticulturists and I got to know many passionate orchid growers involved in Sydney’s local orchid societies. I bought my first orchid at one of our orchid shows and before I knew it, I was hooked …

I still have that Australian native orchid Dendrobium delicatum and my love affair with orchids continues to this day. I only grow orchids suited to the climatic conditions of my small front and back yard but somehow manage to always have something in flower to enjoy.


Meet Bill Dobson

It’s time to profile another member of the North Shore Orchid Society.  Bill has had a long association with the NSOS and was a valued member of our Committee for many years. Here’s his story:

How I fell under the spell of orchids

My firbill dobsonst encounter with orchids was when I was about 30 years old. I came across native species growing in the Australian bush when I went on fishing trips to NSW South Coast or when I visited my brother on the north coast.

The first time I went to an orchid show was out at Mona Vale Community Centre where I saw a Dendrobium speciosum ‘Charlie’ in flower. I was hooked and this made me even more committed to growing Australian native orchids.

Around this time, I was button-holed into become Secretary for the Manly-Warringah Orchid Society – a post I held for 18 years! During that time, I also joined other societies such as the Australian Native Orchid Species (ANOS) society where I developed my passion for all species orchids (rather than cultivars) and continued on with my love affair of Dendrobium speciosums.

This quickly turned into a magnificent obsession and surrounded by great mentors I learnt to grow them well. I helped serious orchid growers with potting up their collections which gave me lots of practice and useful tips. In time I even became an ANOS judge and registrar of ANOS judges in NSW.

I now have a backyard FULL of orchids – from all around the world – in and around a 40’ x 20’ bush house.

I probably spend too much time with my orchids but they don’t require that much of my attention.

As long as you give the plants good air movement, plenty of light and water (say twice a week) they pretty much look after themselves.  I fertilise my orchids regularly with Peter’s Excel CalMag and a little bit of Blood and Bone and I use AusGro South Australian bark as my growing medium.

There’s nothing more rewarding for me than to see a specimen plant – large healthy and in full flower … and to know I’ve grown that!


Happy New Year

Our Society finished the year with a terrific Christmas party in place of our December meeting. There was an excellent turnout (120 attendees) and it was great to have Deputy Mayor Councillor Judith Rutherford and her husband Ken represent our patron Willoughby City Council’s Mayor Gail Giles-Gidney.  Merit awards and Annual Point Score awards were presented and many members took this opportunity to showcase their December flowering orchids.

So a new year begins and memberships fees are due. At our January meeting we reflected on how much we get for our meagre $16 membership fee:

1) access to the best one-on-one advice from knowledgeable members on how to grow and maintain all sorts of orchids in Sydney’s climate.

2) fantastic learning opportunities – such as the educational culture classes given that night by Seony Tay and Garrie Bromley who demonstrated how to repot paphiopedilums and cattleyas and let us into their secrets on potting mixes.

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3) spectacular  monthly displays of living flowering orchids showcasing the amazing biodiversity of this plant group. (just look at our bulletins to see the variety!)

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So come along and join us and fuel your own passion for plants!

Meet Jody Cutajar

At our November monthly meeting, I asked members who would like to be our next web ‘profile of the month’ and share their story about how they fell under the spell of orchids. The strangest thing happened because almost unanimously they called out ‘Jody Cutajar’!

Jody is known to many of us around the orchid world and with Royale Orchids’ Laelia purpurata Show and Orchid Auction on this Saturday 8 December, the timing is prefect!

Here’s a picture of Jody with Janine Hipkins at Royale Orchids and here is his story:

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How I fell under the spell of orchids

I started growing orchids in Victoria back in 1985 at the tender age of 16. My first orchid was a reed stem Epidendrum or Crucifix Orchid which I bought at a flea market and from there I was hooked. Like most people I started collecting anything that was an orchid with little regard for the requirements of the plants which lead to many slow deaths and some successes.

I was fascinated with these plants and wanted to find out more about ‘orchids’ so I went about learning as much as possible. This was mainly achieved through the resources of public libraries where I gleamed as much information as I could and where I came across a fantastic set of six books written for Australian conditions by Jim Rentoul. These books became my bible and my orchid collection started growing as the knowledge of my conditions and capabilities expanded.

I was lucky enough to make contact with some of the most fantastic orchid personalities of that time such as Phillip Altmann of Warnambool Orchids, Clive and Agi Halls of Mt. Beenak Orchids, who are still in operations to this day, and the most amazing Gerald McCraith who specialized in marvellous miniature species and Odontoglossums. From these growers and many others, I added to my collection.

Once I got my driver’s licence, I joined an orchid club and started exhibiting my plants and expanding my group of orchid friends with whom I swapped, traded and shared plants. By the time I left Victoria to move to NSW in 1997 I was a member of five different orchid clubs, was an OSCOV Judge and had amassed a collection of about a thousand plants.

When I moved to NSW I started working with Kevin Hipkins at Royale Orchids. Along with working in the nursery, Kevin sent me around the world to attend orchid shows and events selling and buying orchids for the nursery.  During these trips I was always able to make a few personal purchases which added to my collection. Today I grow mainly species orchids in my two green houses, each 15m long and 3m wide.

I love having several examples/varieties/forms of each species that I grow and I have been lucky enough to have collected numerous awards for my plants along the way.

I really love my plants but the friendships that I have made along the way are more valuable than the plants will ever be!


Some great opportunities for building up your orchid collection

The NSOS show season might be over for 2018 but there are still some great opportunities to build up your orchid collection.

The Australian Native Orchid Society Sydney Group is hosting its 2nd Annual
2018 Australian Native Cymbidium Celebration on Friday 16 November at Baulkham Hills Community Centre. 15 Conie Ave. Baulkham Hills, NSW, ANOS Sydney Group


The Laelia purpurata show and auction is on, the 8th December at Royale Orchids. This is a wonderful opportunity to see these orchids, which flower at a time of the year when there is limited benching opportunities. This is just over 3 weeks away, mark it in your diaries, you won’t be disappointed if you make the trip up the highway. Royale Orchids Facebook

We’re starting a member’s profile

At one of our recent monthly meetings a few of us were discussing where our passion for orchids started. It was fascinating to see the variety of ways these fascinating plants  wrapped their plump tendrils around our hearts, minds and wallets and hooked us for life. So we decided to share some of these stories with you.

As we have just created a new website, who better to start our profile series than with our webmaster, Trevor Walshe.

How I fell under the spell of orchids


In 1990 we purchased a house in Chatswood West. The previous owner had grown a few cymbidiums and Dendrobium speciosums and offered them to Carole. When we moved in, most of the better cymbidiums were gone. Turns out a neighbour helped himself, between the previous owner moving out on Friday and us moving in on Saturday. He just put them under a tree and didn’t do anything more. Unsurprisingly, they died.

Anyway, with what was left, I thought I would ‘improve’ their growing conditions and made every mistake known. They mostly died. So I got to thinking, there has to be a better way. I looked up orchid societies and lo and behold, I found the North Shore Orchid Society. We joined the society and as they say, the rest is history.

I find the variety of orchids, their adaptation to local conditions, the symbiosis with specific insects to be an engrossing pastime. Not that I get as much time as I would like to devote to looking after my orchids.

Orchids can be tough, in their preferred environment. I’ve seen Dendrobium kingianum orchids growing on a rockface near Gloucester with its blistering summer heat and often near-freezing winters. I have seen orchids growing in New Zealand’s mountains, where they would be covered in snow for four to five months of the year. I’ve seen them growing on Mount Kinabalu and several other places in Borneo. Of course, anywhere you go in Thailand, you will see soft cane dendrobiums growing in half coconut shells. If you want to see Miltoniopsis to die for, visit the botanic gardens in Dalat in the mountain country of Vietnam, simply stunning.

Near our home on the Central Coast you can wander through the bush and see a number of different varieties of orchids at various times of the year. Look but don’t be tempted to ‘rescue’ a sample, some terrestrial types will only grow in symbiosis with the local eucalypt trees.

I have the understanding, that more orchids die from too much or incorrect care than too little care, so when I give orchids away (to encourage more people to take up the interest), they often are worried about how to look after the orchid. I say ‘Shower them with neglect!’. So, if you provide a good growing media, a little fertilizer, some water if it is dry and for most types, some dappled light (hang it off a tree) and you are in business. And, of course, think about joining a local orchid society.


Blog Posts

The North Shore Orchid Society is one of the premier orchid societies of Sydney and was formed to educate and encourage its members, and the public, in a better understanding and appreciating of all orchids. We encourage discussion between members at our regular monthly meetings and during our events throughout the year.

Please consider becoming a member (for the meagre sum of $16 per year) and you’ll receive our monthly bulletin by email and get regular information about all our activities. Also, come along and enjoy the friendly atmosphere at our monthly meetings … and see what’s in flower in the amazing world of orchids as members bench their prize worthy specimens for the evening.

At our next monthly meeting on Wednesday 3 October 2018 we’ll also be having a plant auction where members bring in their surplus orchids to sell.  This is a great way for you to buy all kinds of orchids at reasonable prices … and get free advice from our knowledgeable members on how best to grow them!

We’ve just finished our shows for 2018 and at the fabulous St Ives Orchid Fair (now in its 19th year!) our society put on a colourful and top-quality display which took 1st place in the large display category. Our members also took out several other awards including Grand Champion and Reserve Champion.

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