“I am no expert, I am an enthusiastic amateur,” says Anne Toward.

We all have our passions in life and while orchid enthusiast, Anne Toward, describes herself as an “enthusiastic amateur,” we highly disagree. An orchid professional seems to be a far more fitting description.

Recently we attended the Santa Barbara International Orchid Fair located here in California. While there, a few of us from ProFlowers were fortunate to be able to tour the event with Anne herself, who was in town visiting from England. Walking through the fragrant and colorful displays of orchids, Anne was like an encyclopedia of information; sharing tips and pointing out details of orchids we might have overlooked.

Orchid Show

After walking through and purchasing a few of our own orchids, we caught up with Anne over a coffee and were able to learn so much more in this interview below:

Tell us, where did you grow up?
I grew up in a town in the northeast of England, in Bishop Aukland about one hour from Scotland. Although I have always lived within five miles of the same area, I have been fortunate to travel all my life.

What was it like growing up? Was your family into gardening?
Well my brother and I grew up during the wartime as children. Life was very different then. One wouldn’t think of having a garden other than to grow vegetables.

Let’s talk about your first big steps in the orchid industry. When did you start?
My father and brother had been into gardening after the war. About 15 years ago, I became interested in orchids. I started growing them and joined my first orchid society. My brother quickly followed suit and took an interest to orchids as well. I would say that he became the better orchid grower between he and I. We had a healthy and welcome sibling rivalry.

Starting off I would purchase orchids at every show that I attended, just to grow my collection. I call them “must haves”. You just have to have them. I must have this one, I must have that one, and quickly your collection grows. As you become more familiar, you become more selective with the orchids that you purchase.

Are you a member of any Orchid Societies?
I’m in two orchid societies (one is the North East of England Orchid Society and the other is the Darlington Orchid Society, in which she is the Vice President). It’s really a great social life to be in an orchid society. It’s a mix of men and women, generally 50 and over. We have a great time together; we have talks, we compete in orchid shows, we go on trips. In a few weeks, a few members and myself will be traveling to Germany to visit professional orchid growers and enabling us to expand our personal orchid collections. We do a great amount of work to expand our knowledge in the subject. We also do a bit of conservation and help to keep certain species alive that have been starting to die out in their natural habitat in the wild.

Do you share resources or is it competitive?
It’s extremely competitive. There isn’t real competition between societies, however there is just such great talent, which makes it competitive. Sometimes you agree with the judges and sometimes you disagree, but in the end they make the final call.

Tell us a bit more about the judges.
Being a judge is a big deal. We don’t take it lightly. One must study and pass exams prior to becoming a judge, and even then it’s specific to an area. There are various associations around the world that the orchid judges are members of: The American Orchid Society, The European Orchid Council, and so on.

What are some of your favorite orchid shows?
The Tokyo Dome Orchid Show is the largest in the world. For five or six years, my brother and I would travel to Japan to attend. We would spend two whole days there looking at everything. The Peterborough Orchid Show was a close second, however it closed down a few years ago due to the economy.

The Tokyo Dome Orchid Show is really top notch. The prize for “Best in Show” was a Mercedes Benz and a substantial check. The show is for Japanese growers only, and although Japanese style growers focus on the health and growth of the leaves, the competition pieces for Best in Show were always in flower form.

We hear you have a conservatory, tell us about it.
Well I actually have an orchid house and a conservatory. After growing my collection to over 300 orchids, I had to expand outside of my home so I had an orchid house and conservatory built. The orchid house has air conditioning, humidity and air movement that are all maintained in the orchid house. The conservatory on the other hand is a bit cooler since it houses my masdevallia orchid collection, which requires cooler temperatures.

Is there a water system as well?
With all of these plants, it’s still important to water them by hand. When watering by hand you are able to see if there is any disease or pests that are damaging the plant. It doesn’t take all that long. In the winter, you water once every three weeks and in the summer you water once a week. It’s simple really, and I enjoy it.

For someone just getting into caring for orchids, what advice would you give?
People overwater. They think orchids are delicate plants when in reality they really are hearty. You’ve got to ensure that you have the right growing conditions for the orchid you have; some need a cold environment while others need a warm environment. The goal is really to recreate the environment that they are from. When you bring an orchid home after buying it, inspect them for bugs and pests.

Our meeting with Anne was both educational and inspiring. If you want to enjoy the beauty and magnificence of orchid plants too, you don’t necessarily have to be an expert, or have a green thumb, like Anne. Just browse our wide selection of these exotic beauties and follow a few simple care instructions. You’ll love the way orchids light up any room in your home!