Most new orchid society members have only a few orchids and have never previously belonged to any other orchid society. They usually join after attending an orchid show, where they are often amazed at the great variety of orchids on display. I still remember my amazement when I attended a January meeting of the Warringal Orchid Society as a guest over twenty years ago. Although I’d grown a few orchids for the previous five or ten years, I had no idea that it was possible to have so many orchids in flower at that time of year. Before the night was out I had applied to join the Society and, not being able to wait a whole month for its next meeting, attended a meeting of the Ringwood Orchid Society a fortnight later and applied for membership there as well! I’m now a member of four orchid societies – down from a peak of six when my orchid addiction was at its climax.

If they have a choice, new growers are advised to join a society that holds a new growers’ session, where the convenor usually points out what jobs need to be done in the orchid house during the coming month, as well as talking about a particular orchid genus suitable for shade-house cultivation. Another good way to learn more about growing orchids is to compete in the show-bench competition whenever you have orchids in flower.

Unless you’ve had some previous experience, it’s best to exhibit in the Novice Section at first. Compare your orchids with those entered by others and ask the advice of the other exhibitors if your orchids are not as well flowered as theirs. I know some people find it difficult, but don’t be afraid to ask questions of any of the growers, even those high-and-mighty experts in the Open Section! We were all novices once, and most of us are happy to share our growing ‘secrets’.

When entering orchids on the show bench, remember to fill in an entry card for each plant. Make sure you use the appropriate plant entry card (new growers usually begin in the Novice, section before progressing through the Advanced Novice, Intermediate and Open sections as they become more experienced). Enter the orchid’s name and its Class, for example, Cymbidium Cronulla ‘The Kahn’ and Standard Cymbidium, or Dendrobium kingianum and Australian Native Species. Don’t worry if you’re unsure in which Class your orchid should be entered, because the judges will usually correct your entry card and move your orchid to its correct spot on the show bench if you’ve got it wrong.

Next, turn the card over and enter your name and the date. Please write legibly, as the information has to be recorded in the list of results by the judges, and for points to be assigned to each grower if the society runs an annual points competition. Most societies award three points for a first place in each class, two points for a second place and one point for a third place. In addition, one point is often awarded for each plant displayed, up to a maximum of six points each month. Cumulative scores are published in the society bulletin either monthly or quarterly, and the winners are often presented with trophies at the end of the year.

The show-bench competition is an important part of society meetings, so try to bring your plants when they are in flower. An orchid society wouldn’t last long unless there were orchids on display at most or all of its meetings. If you hope to get the most out of your society membership, PARTICIPATE! Attend the early session for new growers and display your orchids at the monthly meetings and annual shows. Also, try to attend the home visits that societies occasionally arrange with some of their experienced member growers. It’s a great way to learn more about orchids and to make new friends at the same time.