Deep South Orchid Society History

As recollected by Gail MathewsSavannah_Orchid_Society_History

A group of six women met for lunch at the Greenhouse Restaurant on Mall Blvd. in May of 1981 and agreed that our common passion for orchids dictated that a local orchid society be formed in order to “spread our addiction”! Myra Howell (now lives in Garfield, GA), Elsa Johnson (now Wahl), Gail Mathews, Jean Miller (now deceased), Dorie Nichols, and Margaret Weathers (still lives in Garden City, still grows orchids) were assembled over a period of months and people who knew people who knew people who grew orchids. Terry and I were relatively new addicts and had moved here from Augusta where the orchid society had been a vital part of the growth of our orchid interest.

The first meeting was held on August 12, 1981 at the Savannah Science Museum. By default, I was elected President – no one else would take it! Myra was Vice President, Ray Miller (Jean’s husband) was Treasurer (and ended up doing our first newsletters), and Margaret was our Secretary. Our program was entitled “Using Your Blooms” and was given by Jean Miller. Ned and Libby Rock (orchid growing friends of Jean and Ray), Joe Moore (friend of Myra’s) and Terry were at that initial meeting. There were eleven members listed in our first yearbook. Some program topics were:

  • Organization of Your Greenhouse
  • Orchid History
  • Taking Care of Your Plants
  • Native Orchids
  • Building Your Own Greenhouse

We had no guest speakers. All eleven of us took a month, a topic in which we were interested, did the research, and presented a program. We all aggressively worked on publicity to get the word out and find the other orchid growers we were sure were out there – ” Savannah Shorts” in the News Press, articles written on orchid culture anywhere we could find to print them, entering orchids in garden club shows (Margaret won an award in the Fall show at the fair). We took an exhibit to the Jacksonville Orchid Show and won a first place for 25 square foot society exhibit.

DSOS_HistoryIn Beaufort, Dr. Amiot and Mrs. Leora Hewlett, long time orchidists and collectors, were our encouragers, advisors and supporters. Mrs. Hewlett, who was an AOS judge of many years, said that if we were serious about the group growing, shows were vital and would be the source of new members, would unite members in common goals, could even be financially helpful. So, with great trepidation and enthusiasm, we planned our first show in the spring of 1982, entitled “An April Shower of Orchids.” Mrs. Hewlett came and judged the show and donated plants for our plant raffle. Jemco was the only commercial grower to come. We had a color picture of the show on the front page of the paper, the local news shows showed pictures of plants being unloaded at the hotel. We had the show in the lobby of the Hyatt and we took turns sleeping on the couches for security since the lobby was open all night. Two notable quotes: “No one will miss it if I just take ONE” and “Yes, orchids actually copulate in the greenhouse.” I COULD identify the speaker of one quote but the other left in a rush when Terry sat up from his sleeping place!

By the end of the first year, members included John and Gladys Baker, Harry Pike, Dick Raines, Bob Windler, and Skipper Dunn. By 1983 when we had our first AOS sanctioned show, we were up to 70 members (including Brother Tim and Father Anthony of Benedictine and Martin Wahl, Elsa Johnson’s new husband, John and Julia Pritchard, and Harris Lewis) and a regular newsletter. We proudly said in our newsletter that we would have five times as many commercial growers and six times as many judges.

“Celebration of Orchids” was held at the new Mulberry Inn. There were four commercial growers. Getting AOS judges to agree to come judge the show was a problem, but with Mrs. Hewlett’s help we managed a bare quota. One new student judge who came was Barney Garrison and his wife, Aileen, who was not even in the judging program yet! We had some really special trophies – all donated by society members. Dick Raines donated a wonderful painting of a white Cattleya for Best Cattleya (it’s now hanging in my living room). We had been promised the lobby, but at the last minute, they decided that the upstairs meeting rooms would have to do. We carried 50 million coke crates for staging; up and down 50 million stairs and about 5000 foliage plants we borrowed for staging; up and down those same stairs. Steve Arthur of the Aiken Augusta Orchid Society brought a fantastic cork tree full of orchids that was about three feet taller than the ceiling. H. P. and Katherine Norton exhibited a Phalaenopsis schilleriana that was magnificent, was pulled for AOS judging, but was not awarded because of a blemish on one leaf! It was subsequently awarded with fewer and smaller flowers at a later DSOS show. That was also the year we began our library – a commitment about which we felt strongly enough that we included its disposition in the bylaws in case the society ever ceased to meet. The purchase of the AOS’ new film “Many Worlds of Orchids” for $200 was quite a lot of money, so we showed it every two or three hours during the show. By take down, those of us operating the projector (a donation) knew it by heart!Orchid Club History

In 1985 we moved to Oglethorpe Mall for our second AOS show (actually the third show if you’re counting). John Baker was chairman and the show title was “A World of Orchids”. We again had front-page coverage in the Savannah News Press. Herb and Tricia Windom joined, as did Ray Lindquist and Dick and Nancy Grimaldi. Father Anthony was president and Julia Pritchard was show chairman. Terry and I sold as commercial growers for the first time. That was also the first year we did an exhibit at the Exchange Club Fair in the fall – for money! The following year we had “Showers of Orchids” also at Oglethorpe Mall. 1986 was the year the Leopolds joined. “Breath of Spring” was the title in 1987 and our picnic/birthday party was held at the Bakers for the first time.

“A Parade of Orchids” was the 1988 show, the same year the Hilton Head group began meeting and charter member Ray Miller (they had moved to Florida) died (be sure to see the Ray Miller trophy at our next show). Mrs. Hewlett died and Dr. Hewlett was in declining health, had put his Lady’s Island property on the market, sold much of their collection, and offered the balance to our society to use as we saw fit. Member Ted Huggins loaned us a truck and driver, and some of us went over there to pack up the plants. Georgia Nursery gave us greenhouse space to keep the plants and a sale was held in September. What a treasure trove!

1989’s show was “A Treasure of Orchids” but the true treasure was our members! With two weeks notice, the entire show was picked up and moved to Shelter Cove Mall in Hilton Head. It could not have happened without the staff and truck and trailer of Exotica, the Leopold’s commercial orchid nursery. Sales were phenomenal for the growers, but it was really a test for our members. 1989 was also the year long-time member Dick Raines died (see the Dick Raines trophy at our next show). That year also saw me venture into the unknown territory of newsletter editor (Ray Miller, Dorie Nichols, Sharon Clarke). “First and foremost, everyone should understand that not only did the nominating committee not ask me to do this job, I did not accept it and was not voted into office . I have been assured that this is only temporary.” Thus I was dragged kicking and screaming into the computer age.

Bob Gordon, author of several Phalaenopsis books, spoke at our December meeting at Skidaway Institute in 1990 and brought autographed copies of his books. About that time we had Gail Wisler from the University of Florida come to teach us how to test for orchid viruses. She was at the forefront of developing ways to test for plant viruses and had come up with a method involving anti-serum. An article was published in the Bulletin about this, and John Baker and I tracked down her phone number and invited her to come speak to us. When Terry and I and then John Baker did this testing, it was the first time ever for non-scientists. Our oldest daughter Alisa did this for a science project, but it was too complicated and the teacher gave her a C because she didn’t understand it!

The 1990 show “Dixieland Jazz – A Festival of Orchids” was again in Hilton Head and dedicated to the memory of Harry Pike. Harry, for those of you not fortunate enough to have known him, was the best of all examples of a true orchid grower; always generous with his time and help for anyone’s orchids, never met an orchid stranger, and the best membership chairman we ever had. He was a kind and generous man. I still miss him.

In 1991 we brought the show back to Savannah at the Savannah Mall for “Orchid Safari.” In 1992 we had “Mad Hatter’s Orchid Party”, again at Savannah Mall, followed in 1993 by“Orchid Holidays” at the same location. Most memorable exhibit was the DSOS exhibit depicting Boxing Day. If you’re like me and don’t know what holiday that is, check with Jake Rust. That was also the year that they scheduled an antique show in the mall the same weekend as our show. Half of our sales tables were in an empty store. We were cramped and less than happy, so when Oglethorpe Mall offered us more money and an enthusiastic welcome, we moved the show there the following year.

With the show scheduled on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, Show Chairman, Ron Melander chose “Orchids go Bragh” as our theme. This was one of our most successful shows, both financially and in terms of size. Most memorable exhibit was a lingerie chest with bras hanging out of it and orchids in the drawers! Jack Richards joined us about that time and has been responsible for our outstanding show posters since then. The 1996 show theme was “Orchid Fantasy.” That was also the year Sandra Leopold became the society’s first and only AOS judge. In 1997 we had “Rainforest of Orchids” and in 1998 it was “Kaleidoscope of Orchids.” The 1999 show theme was “A Symphony of Orchids”, and the year 2000 saw “One Hundred Years of Orchids” as the theme. That was to be our last show at Oglethorpe Mall for the foreseeable future. The new mall management was unwilling to permit us to hold our show there without remuneration. In addition, the many kiosks that were added left little room for our exhibits and vendors.

So back we went to the Mall at Shelter Cove on Hilton Head Island for the first show of the new millennium, 2001 – “Orchids Southern Style” was the theme, and in 2002 it was“Orchids – Jewels of the Jungle”. In 2003 we were able to get an agreement from Savannah Mall to hold our show there in February. The theme was “An Oriental Paradise of Orchids”and Center Court of Savannah Mall was a lovely setting for our show. We returned to Center Court at Savannah Mall in April, 2004 with “Swing into Spring with Orchids” and have secured agreement from the Mall that we will be back there in April, 2005. Our theme for the upcoming show will be “The Birds, the Bees, and Orchids.”