Lynnwood grower says orchids a rewarding challenge

  • By Gale Fiege Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, January 7, 2014 4:13pm
  • Life

Ellen Covey doesn’t sell the orchids you find at the grocery store, the full-blooming, unscented, insect-resistant plants most likely shipped from a factory greenhouse somewhere in Taiwan.

Covey, the owner of Olympic Orchids near Lynnwood, specializes in scented orchids, collector species, compact and miniature orchids, seedlings and preblooming-size plants.

Nevertheless, she encourages people interested in growing orchids to buy their first one in the supermarket.

“If you can keep the store-bought orchid alive, you certainly can grow the orchids I sell,” Covey said. “Orchids that are forced to grow up fast in a greenhouse don’t always do well after you get them home.”

At Covey’s home, orchids grow in a solarium off the kitchen and in a greenhouse in her back yard.

Most are in small pots and canning-jar flasks. Her orchids also grow on pieces of bark, as exotic species would grow in the jungles of Southeast Asia or South America. Covey also grows orchids native to Washington state in her garden.

A biologist and neuroscientist, Covey teaches in the psychology department at the University of Washington.

While earning her doctorate at Duke University, she was impressed by the orchid collection of a colleague and went to her first orchid show.

“I was amazed at the incredible variety of this flower,” Covey said. “But I found myself much more attracted to the wild orchids. Some bloom only once a year.”

Examples of Covey’s orchids are found on her mail-order website, including cattleya, dendrobium and phalaenopsis.

Most can grow on a window sill with indirect bright light and be watered as needed. Temperature and humidity depend on the species.

“You can’t micromanage an orchid,” Covey said. “Too much fertilizer will burn the roots.”

Above all, orchid growers must practice patience, she said.

“It’s much more fun to watch a small plant grow than to buy an already blooming plant and watch it die,” Covey said.

During the past 30 years, orchids have become one of America’s favorite houseplants. And the price for most orchids has come down considerably.

A good market still exists for the rarer orchids, such as the ones grown by Covey, though her plants tend to be affordable, too.

Inspired by the scents of various orchids, Covey also makes and sells perfumes using essential oils and aroma chemicals.

Covey is a member of the Northwest Orchid Society, which participates in the Northwest Flower and Garden Show.

The show takes place Feb. 5 through 9 this year at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle. More information about the annual show is at www. gardenshow.com.

Gale Fiege: gfiege@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3427.

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