Saunter through the Floradise Orchids greenhouse, the sound of Puccini mingling with the scent of soil and vanilla in the air, and Janet Cherchuck and Steve Shifflett will happily tell you a tale. They’ve got thousands of ’em, one for every orchid in the place.
There are Masdevallias, with their blooms like pointy, upside-down hearts—lipstick red, saffron yellow, tangerine orange—high-altitude orchids native to Central and South America. Certain Masdevallia species grow at Machu Picchu.
There’s the 1869 orchid, its white and maroon bloom bulbous and waxy, a division of the first man-made lady slipper hybrid, which won an award from the Royal Horticultural Society.
There are dozens of wee little baby orchids no bigger than a pinky fingernail, tiny green leaves and tiny silvery roots clinging to small slabs of craggy cork hooked to a trellis. There are orchids so young, they have not yet produced their first bloom (which can take from two years to two decades, depending on the species).
That Cherchuck and Shifflett are expert orchid raconteurs is only appropriate: Floradise has its roots in a book. While studying horticulture at the University of Maryland, Shifflett bought Harry Britton’s Orchids You Can Grow for $5 at a used book store.
Britton’s book was more than an orchid growing guide and reference book. It brought orchids to life, vividly discussing the individual species, the places they’re native to (orchids grow everywhere, even on sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island), who discovered or cultivated them, and more. It made Shifflett feel like he was traveling the world. He went out and got some orchids of his own.
Shifflett and Cherchuck opened Floradise, located on Route 15 in Gordonsville, in the winter of 1978-79. They’ve had some of the plants in the greenhouse since the beginning.
Floradise specializes in cultivating and arranging tropical orchids (plus succulents and cacti), and Cherchuck and Shifflett happily advise on which ones might best suit a customer’s taste, lifestyle, home or office environment, and budget. (Many orchids at Floradise cost between $20 and $40, but some specimens—older ones, in particular —can be costly.) They’ll consult on proper watering, repotting, relocating, and fertilizing methods. By the end of a greenhouse visit or phone call, customers will know where their orchid’s coming from and, with the proper care, where it will go.
Cherchuck and Shifflett’s shared passion for—and head-spinning knowledge of—these plants is what makes shopping at Floradise an experience altogether different from your run-of-the-mill supermarket orchid purchase. And with tens of thousands of types of known orchids out there, Cherchuck and Shifflett have constant fodder for enchanting not only greenhouse visitors, but themselves.
See these long strings coming off each flower? Nectar spurs, explains Cherchuck. This orchid’s from Madagascar. It’s white, fragrant at night, and in its natural habitat pollinated by a particular type of moth whose tongue is long enough to get nectar out of the long spurs (at Floradise, Cherchuck and Shifflett do the pollinating by hand). Because moths are mostly nocturnal, color would go to waste, as would daytime fragrance, Cherchuck explains, a smile spreading across her face as she leans in for a closer look at the plant she already knows so well.
“It’s just all beautifully designed,” she says with a sigh.
So, you want to grow an orchid…
Janet Cherchuck and Steve Shifflett of Floradise Orchids can help you with that, but first, they’ll need to know: Which orchid do you want to grow? Because ultimately, the kind of care an orchid needs depends on the kind of orchid in your care. The best thing you can do is ask an expert for help choosing the right bloom. Be honest about the type of environment that orchid would be in, and how committed you are to watering and feeding your plant so that it may continue to grow and bloom for many years. Buying a warehouse-bred $20 Phalaenopsis and watering it occasionally will give you a good show for a couple of months. The plant may or may not live beyond that bloom, but it’s still a much better value than any cut flower arrangement out there.—E.O.