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Nurturing Biltmore’s Orchid Collection

Posted on 03/18/2013

On a spring afternoon in Biltmore’s greenhouses, you may come across Jim Rogers tending to our thriving collection of orchids.  Jim’s forthright manner tells you everything that you need to know in a matter of minutes. A retired artist, he created beautiful sculptures and did commissions for the Dalai Lama and a bronze portrait of Senator Sam Nunn. But according to him, orchids have always been his passion.

“When I was in graduate school in Johnson City, TN, I was in the woods and saw a plant that I didn’t recognize,” Jim said. “I brought it home and tried to grow it.”  After some research, he realized that it was a terrestrial orchid. From that moment, he fell in love with orchids and began amassing a personal collection that at one point grew to 200 plants!

After retiring from sculpting in 2006, Jim felt it was time to cultivate another orchid collection. A Biltmore fan since his initial visit in 1970, he called our horticultural department and asked to volunteer. The phone call transformed into a part-time job caring for the orchids.  “I believe that if you follow your bliss, it will lead to bliss,” says Jim. “That’s what I’ve done. I have a wonderful orchid collection—it just belongs to Biltmore!”

Jim cares for 300 orchids in the production house and 100 orchids in the Conservatory. He also rotates the Conservatory’s plants so that guests always see a stunning collection of orchid blooms during their visit.  A typical day includes repotting plants that have outgrown their home. “I spend time with each plant, tending to its needs,” says Jim.

Weekly chores include fertilizing and watering. “The rule of thumb among orchid enthusiasts is to fertilize weekly—weakly. The philosophy is that when orchids are in the wild, they only get a smattering of nutrients from their surroundings,” says Jim. “Then I water once every week until they’re soaked.”

Jim’s main objective is to grow and care for the collection, but he also has future dreams of cultivating a Biltmore orchid fine enough to win an American Orchid Society Award.  “I would love to see a Biltmore orchid win an award,” says Jim. “When an orchid receives an American Orchid Society Award, it retains its genus and species name, but the society adds a clonal name to the plant. The clonal name is given by the grower, so my hope is that one day we have an orchid named by Biltmore.”

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