My wife and I live in the northern beaches area of Sydney, Australia, and as such are blessed with some of the best weather for growing cool to intermediate orchids with no other protection than in a bush house covered with 50% knitted green shade cloth.
Our house faces directly north and we are situated at the bottom of a hill that gives us protection in winter from the prevailing westerly and southerly winds.
Like a lot of people, we started growing orchids after receiving a gift of a Cymbidium orchid. A year or two later I was visiting my brother in north eastern New South Wales, where we would go for extensive walks in the morning or afternoon. The Australian bush for me is a magical place and I could quite easily spend my life there, anywhere within Australia. Alas my wife is a city girl heart and soul, so I enjoy immensely these infrequent interludes. Anyway, this day we went for a walk and came across a clump of Dendrobium speciosum var. hilli that had fallen out of one of the huge eucalyptus trees that grow in the forest in that area. With five of us linking arms we could not join up around the trunk and it was over 60 to 70 feet high. The clump of Dendrobium was too heavy to lift. I have no doubt it would have flattened anyone if it fell on them. I managed to extract 5 canes from one side and with that and a piece of Dendrobium linguiforme and Dendrobium teretifolium we brought them home to Sydney.
They struggled on over the next year, and a friend at work who grew orchids said that the local orchid society was staging a show at a hall nearby and I should take the family and go see it. I would probably be able to pick up information that may help me.
Well, when we walked in the door of the hall I was stunned. The massed displays of plants, colour and incredible blend of fragrances was nearly overwhelming. It didn't take long for me to join the Society; and they must have seen me coming for at their next meeting the President said that if I really wanted to learn about orchids they were looking for a Secretary. "What better way to get all the information than by first hand", he said. The sight and fragrance of these beautiful plants must have weaved a spell on me for I agreed, and became the Secretary of the Manly Warringah Orchid Society. That was September 1987.
We had early hiccups as some people do. It was only years later I grew to appreciate what an older, and wiser, member had told me about building our first bush house. "Think of the size that you will need to grow all that you can and then double that and then double that again" he said. I must have thought he was senile or something and dismissed his advice. Twelve years later and three bush houses merged and pulled down we finally have one that is indeed close to the size he suggested and now in the "correct" location in the yard.
We tried to grow everything that was a "cold grower". Some of these went to God and some we gave away before they succumbed. Gradually we settled on what we would grow, Cymbidiums for my wife and cool growing species and Australian Natives. I am particularly interested in Dendrobium speciosum in all its varieties and Dendrobium kingianum.
Our backyard has changed over these years. We now have a "Tunnel House" that is 20ft wide and 40 ft long on the western side of the land so it gets the morning light. This is a galvanized tubular steel frame with a covering of 50% knitted shadecloth. On the northern end of this we have an extra covering, for 15 ft , of 50% shadecloth for the Sarcochilus, Masdevallia, Odontoglossum and other cooler growing plants.
Our plants are hung from a mesh suspended in the roof, on benches of mesh, and under the benches, a perfect place for our Stanhopea species. They flower every year, but I have to rescue them before they open or they touch the Salginela fern growing on the ground. We also have plants growing outside in full sun all year round such as Neobenthamia gracilis, a massive Sobralia xantholeuca, Laelia purpuratas, Vandas and Dendrobium speciosums and of course an overflow of my wife's Cymbidiums.
Four years ago, when we built the bush house, we decided to take life a little bit easier and so built a covered deck on to the rear of our house and paved between it and the bush house. This turned out to be a great decision. It was intended to be used for entertaining and parties, such as my daughters 18th with 70 guests and a raging storm. We strung up a bit of plastic on the sides and no one got wet. It really came into use however, when the flowering season came and we had plants covering one end to the other, so they wouldn't get spotted.
We do get some temperature fluctuations and storms in Sydney. Summer, Dec-Jan-Feb, averages 29-30º C during the day with 17-19 at night. Occasionally we have days to 40-49º C but these are rare. Winter, June-July-August, averages 14-16º C during the day, while 3-5º C at night. Occasionally we have nights down as low as 0-1º C but usually the day temperature is over 14º C so my plants, and I, don't need an overcoat.
Some days if I've had a hard days work, I come home and take a beer from the fridge and wander through the orchid house. The trouble and stress of the day seem to melt away. While I'm not inclined to be religious, I believe in the "force" more than a supreme being, when I look at my plants it's hard not to believe that someone must have designed them and they didn't just happen by chance.
If you would like some more information please feel free to contact me at
I have tried to keep this site small, as I know what the "World Wide Wait" is like. However, if you like to have a look at the following pictures of our place it may give you some ideas.