Sign Up for a Worthy Cause
ONE OF THE BEST WAYS TO GET ON the fast track and learn more about any special interest or hobby is to seek out organizations for those of a like mind. Orchid societies, whether local, regional or national, can provide that opportunity for the orchid hobbyist.
Joining a group and attending a few of its meetings and functions may be fine if you are a passive sort or perhaps have too many interests and activities on your plate. But if you want to get the most out of your membership, commit to the organization and get involved.
Most orchid clubs and societies are organized similarly, with a board of directors and officers who are charged with operating the organization and coordinating its activities. While you will often find that the individuals who serve in those capacities are experienced members of the organization, it is usually true that you do not have to be a board member to volunteer or help out the society. In fact, most organizations welcome new faces and fresh ideas.
Before you risk coming on too strongly to those in charge, it is a good idea to observe and learn a bit about the society’s workings. Perhaps you can identify an appropriate individual to ask how you might become involved and whether you might attend a board or committee meeting to learn more about how the society operates. After you have spent some time observing and learning about the group, you may see an opportunity or niche where you can fit in.
The best ways to become known to those in charge of such organizations is to either arrive at the meetings early enough to help with set up and preparation or stay late enough to assist with tear down and clean up. At these times you should be able to have a few moments to introduce yourself to those who run the meeting and hopefully assist them in some small way.
As you come to know the organization and its officers, consider ways your talents might be of use to the organization. There are endless possibilities and many are easily accomplished. Whether you are a newer member or have belonged to the group for many years, it is important to take some time to consider ways that you can contribute to the cause.
GETTING STARTED Assisting with or contributing to meeting refreshments is almost always an easy way to get started. As it seems almost everyone likes to eat, you can hardly go wrong in this department. With the ready-made choices available today, you do not have to be a gourmet cook. Show up with an unexpected treat at your next society meeting, and I guarantee that someone will notice.
If it is possible for you, another valuable way to assist your society is to offer to host a guest speaker from out of town in your home. To do this well, you should not only be able to provide reasonable guest accommodations in your home, but also have some time available to escort the speaker around the town or area in which you live. Try to include destinations of interest such as local nurseries or garden centers where orchids are sold, nearby public or botanical gardens or perhaps visits to some of the better orchid collections among your society’s members.
Hosting visiting speakers is one of the best ways to fast-track your orchid education. You will learn much from your guests and most societies today have a shortage of members with the time and ability to do a good job with their out-of-town visitors. If, by chance, your society does not bring in speakers from other areas, you might suggest the possibility and get the ball rolling.
At most thriving orchid societies, a variety of activities occur at regular meetings in addition to the main program. Some of these may provide you with an opportunity to participate. For example, many societies have libraries of orchid books available for loan to its members. Usually, one to a few members are in charge of the library and are available at meetings to check out books and accept returns. Those who sit at the library table, meeting after meeting, year after year, are often grateful for assistance. Sometimes a fresh face can help encourage an evaluation of library titles that can lead to the elimination of some older titles and acquisition of new ones.
If your society does not have a library, you could become the catalyst for one. The organization does not have to make a large expenditure to start a library, but could solicit donations of books from its members. A library does not have to be large to be useful, particularly because special interests such as orchids are rarely served well at public libraries. Indeed, it seems that a good orchid library continues to be a valuable membership benefit for many societies and while plenty of good information can be obtained via the Internet, the best orchid books are still not there for the reading.
DRAWINGS Raffles and drawings for orchid plants are another popular activity at many orchid society meetings. Opportunities for involve-ment may exist in ticket sales and plant acquisition for these events. Again, if your group does not have a drawing for plants, perhaps you could organize one. A few plants are all that is necessary to get started. Plants for this purpose could be solicited from members or might be purchased from or provided by your speaker. Some groups draw ticket winners from a fishbowl one at a time and let each winner choose from all remaining plants. Other societies put containers, such as plastic cups, by each raffle plant so purchasers may selectively deposit their ticket stubs for only those plants they would like to win. A winning ticket is then drawn from each cup. Either system provides opportunities for members to acquire new and different types of plants for their collections that they might not otherwise purchase.
A growers’ contest is another possible activity to suggest to a receptive group. For this one you need to acquire a number of nearly identical young orchid plants from a single source. The appropriate number will depend on the size of your society’s membership. If your society has never had a growers’ contest, buying the number of plants sufficient for about half the number of members that regularly attend meetings will probably suffice, as everyone will not choose to participate in this activity.
The kind of orchid purchased for the contest should be one that can be grown in a variety of hobby grower environments, from windowsills to greenhouses. Try to consider the growing conditions of most of your members when making your selection. Ideally, you would like to acquire plants that are what growers call “near blooming size,” plants that could hopefully flower within the next year, but possibly sooner and perhaps later. Avoid getting plants that are already in spike. Those that are in the early stages of new growth are often ideal. While mericlones can offer good uniformity of plant size and development, a seedling population provides opportunities for unique variations among the individual plants as they start to flower.
In preparation for the meeting at which they will be sold, the contest plants should be placed in paper bags of a sufficient size to contain them and the top of each bag should be stapled shut, in order to leave the opportunity of getting a slightly bigger, more mature plant to chance. The plants should be sold at a price that will cover their cost as well as provide enough extra money to offer a cash prize to those who successfully flower the orchid first. You could have one, two or three winners, on a sliding scale, depending on the size of your membership. First prize might be $100, second $50, etc.
It is best to keep the exact identity of the contest plant a secret until the first one blooms. General information and cultural guidelines should be provided to contest growers, such as “this is a cattleya alliance hybrid and should thrive in bright light,” but the real excitement of the event is the skill that each grower brings to the challenge. Good cultural practices usually succeed, and offering prizes for more than first place helps modify the advantage that receiving a slightly bigger plant can bring to its grower.
Only one or two individuals should know the exact identity of the contest plant and ought to see each winner’s plant when it flowers in order to verify the win. If such a contest is undertaken, it should be promoted in advance so that anticipation can build and interested members can bring sufficient funds with them to allow all plants to be sold at one meeting. Unsold plants will obviously require someone to care for them until they might be sold at a subsequent meeting.
Keeping plant costs low, yet obtaining orchid plants that will flower in a reasonable time are this scheme’s biggest challenges. There are commercial growers who will try to help you acquire 20 to 30 plants or more for such an activity if you let them know what you are looking for and that plant uniformity is key.
AUCTIONS Another popular event on the annual schedules of some societies is an orchid auction. Plants could be donated by members of the society or obtained from distant growers, or both. Auctions provide opportunities for participants to add diversity to their orchid collections. If you are fortunate to have members who have grown orchids for many years, you can occasionally obtain divisions of orchids that are seldom available today. Orchid equipment and paraphernalia can also be good items for an auction.
These events offer a number of volunteer tasks for anyone willing to undertake them. The biggest effort in putting on a successful auction is often in obtaining the auction items, but a lively and entertaining auctioneer for the event is indispensable.
If you are a good planner and organizer, suggest a special event or activity that could be offered to selected members of the orchid society. Such an event is often held at a time other than the regular meeting date. It could be a tour to an orchid retailer or other destination of interest in your area. Activities for newer members, such as repotting demonstrations, are always a good idea. Even a hike to see native orchids in your area will almost certainly help participants gain a new appreciation and understanding of their hobby.
NEWSLETTERS Orchid society newsletter editors are almost always in need of material to publish. If you have an ability and interest in writing, talk with your newsletter editor and see how you might contribute. You might not even have to be a particularly talented writer to make a worthwhile contribution to your orchid society newsletter. One year, when I was the newsletter editor, I ran a series of articles titled “The Orchid Society Says…” At monthly meetings I passed around papers with a short statement to which interested members could respond, and asked them to drop their responses into a box at the back of the room. I compiled their remarks into a short article that was quite easy to assemble.
The trick was in coming up with sufficiently provocative statements that would elicit a variety of interesting responses. A few of them included: “The most I have ever spent for an orchid plant was ____. (list the plant and price).”; “My favorite orchid is ____ (and why).”; “The orchid I most wish I could grow, but always seem to kill is ____.”; and “The orchid I would recommend to every beginner is ______.” Respondents were told they did not have to sign their names but if they did, I would assume they would not mind being quoted. It was a fun way to help fill column space for a number of months.
If your orchid society does not publish a written directory of members, you could volunteer to take on the task. I find the directories of the organizations to which I belong are invaluable references for me throughout the year.
Perhaps the ultimate volunteer opportunity in an active orchid society is organizing a successful orchid show. Orchid shows indeed require the help of a number of individuals and yet they are not necessarily as daunting as you might imagine. Orchid shows do not have to be huge to be successful and worthwhile. There is probably no better way to promote your organization to the public and it is unfortunate that more small societies do not find ways to undertake them.
If your group’s membership is waning, spearhead a membership campaign. If you have belonged to the society for years, perhaps it is time for you to mentor a newer member. Many of us tend to get into a rut of socializing with our same buddies at every meeting and make little effort to meet and greet the newcomers.
If your society is not an AOS affiliate, you could help it work toward that goal. If, by any chance, there is not an orchid society in your area, consider organizing one. You can find interested individuals through busi-nesses and retailers that sell orchids or other plants. Public gardens, other plant societies and local garden clubs are other possible sources for members.
Many orchid societies and clubs operate with a few individuals carrying most of the load. When many get involved, the workload is easier and the effort is more satisfying because much more gets accomplished.