At the entrance of the 65th Kenya Orchid Society show themed 'Garden of Eden
American Orchid Society VP Robert Fuchs awards Kenyan orchid growers
And why would orchids inspire a medical specialist like Dr Janak Gohil to forego her lucrative work as an anesthesiologist for even a day just to arrange her award-winning orchid display at the Exhibition Hall of Sarit Centre where the 23rd Kenya Orchid Society’s annual showcase of both indigenous and exotic plants was on display through last Sunday.
I’d ask the same question of a well-established lawyer like Alexandra Kontos who’s qualified to practice law in three different countries. Why would she devote so much of her life to not only growing award-winning orchids? She also mentors future judges like the four who helped judge this year Kenya Orchid Society (KOS) show.
“It takes years to qualify to be a judge,” says Alexandra who won many awards this year, both from KOS and from the American Orchid Society, which is by far “the largest and most active orchid society in the world,” according to Ingeborg Gonella, who like Alexandra is a former Chairperson of KOS and a longstanding KOS member who was described to me as being ‘encyclopedic’ when it came to orchids.
The AOS had sent almost 30 representatives to attend this year’s multi-colored, multi-flowered displays of orchids, according to KOS’s current Chairperson Salima Tejani. Nine of them also served as judges of the show. Their leader, Robert Fuchs, who’s Vice President of AOS, described the KOS show, after making the rounds of all 24 orchid exhibits, as one of the most “spectacular” he had seen in years.
Alexandra accepted all her awards (from both KOS and AOS) with humility on the opening night of the show, the theme of which was the ‘Garden of Eden’. But it was clear that she has worked hard to cultivate the quality of orchids that could meet the high international standards conveyed by the AOS.
After that, her friend, Roger Danahy, brought her 15 more plants. By then, she’d read up on techniques of growing healthy orchids such that she’s now been able to grow so many exquisite orchids that she enjoys returning hundreds of them to natural habitats like those found in Karura Forest, Nairobi National Park and Brackenhurst Ecology Centre.
“It required a lot of reading, but since I am an avid reader, I qualified after two years,” says Alexandra who was initially invited to become a judge in 1987.
Orchid plant named after Ria Meyer, wife of the master orchid judge Herman Meyer
'Orchids are not difficult, they are just different', says Ingeborg
But Ingeborg notes that the situation with orchids has rapidly changed in recent years, due to both hybridization which is the crossbreeding of different species to produce a hybrid plant, and the cloning of orchids which has brought down the prices of orchids so they are now far more affordable.
Ingeborg's exhibit of orchids
'Orchids are not difficult, they are just different,' says Ingeborg Gonella