THE ORCHID VIRUS by Keith Hamilton

I know that there are those who vehemently deny that such a Virus exists but I for one can verify that, not only does it exist, but its effects can be almost life-threatening to anyone who has been badly infected! For me, life was good until that day in the early sixties. I had a good marriage, a lovely wife totally devoted to my welfare and that of our five children. However, a move to Melbourne and the acquisition of a neat family home with a well-kept garden in Watsonia signalled a subtle change in our lifestyle.

At the rear of our new home we found a disintegrating structure of timber and glass. Inside it were some straggly, neglected plants with strange roots and stems running wild, the benches supporting them being in a state of collapse. The previous owner wasn’t interested in removing this rubbish and, as I recall, my wife (who has always been happy to play saviour to any sad-looking plant or animal life – I was once a prime example of the latter) paid five pounds for the lot. I was always ready to indulge my wife and before I knew it I was replacing broken glass and propping up decaying timbers and ‘Wifey’ had found a club in nearby Heidelberg to cater for people with what appeared to be a fairly benign pastime.

Only later did I realise that a serious Virus was involved! It transpired that our newly-acquired plants required a somewhat better home and thus it was that a ready-to-erect glasshouse of modest dimensions was purchased. Most of the plants were transferred to this ‘Palace’ but something strange had happened – their numbers had increased! The old wood and glass structure was found to be in the wrong location and had to be moved, its structure visibly disintegrating in the process. This led to further discussions – we couldn’t discard the glass but I could build a new steel frame and use the old glass. However, there had been another population explosion meanwhile and I would need to buy more glass.

It then became apparent that there had been a proliferation of temporary shaded areas that needed to be upgraded to more permanent structures. Come early winter I found that these shade-houses had to be roofed over with clear plastic or fitted with a proper transparent roof. The real shock came later when it appeared that this roof had to be removed and that shade areas were back in fashion! It took me some time to realise that this was a seasonal happening. By then the ‘Virus’ had attained epidemic proportions and worse still, some of the flowers that had been produced were winning prizes at some sort of ‘Show’. At this point I was coerced into having a ‘little look’ at one of these gatherings. I was appalled at the extent of the virus’s spread! Here was my wife, surrounded by hordes of similar people, all with the same terrible affliction.

The past 35 years have become little more than a multi-coloured blur! I have seen this ‘Virus’ affect every aspect of our lifestyle. When the children were young, we still had annual holidays away from home, although I could see that my wife suffered quite a bit of trauma while parted from the comfort of her ‘babies’. It was only a matter of time before the children had grown up and Orchids became almost a full-time occupation. Holidays away were harder to schedule and when work took us to Hong Kong for long periods one of our now-married daughters moved into our home to care for the plants, even attending orchid meetings as proxy. Luckily she is apparently immune to the virus and remains unaffected. While in south-east Asia my wife was quick to visit any place that had a hint of orchid culture and I managed to bring home plants from the wilds of Burma and other places.

Of course, worse was to come! Retirement and a move to the country involved shifting hundreds of plants to the new location, followed by the dismantling and rebuilding of various glasshouses and shade-houses. But the old virus had struck again by the time we had settled down and it became obvious that we now needed about twice the bench space that existed previously to accommodate the orchids. And so began our next building program ….. I realise now that I should have paid more attention at the outset when one of my wife’s new-found friends told me that I shouldn’t become too worried about her new hobby, because orchid culture only dominated those months ending in the letters Y, H, L, E, T, or R.