Ray’s “Orchid Bio”
I have been surrounded by houseplants my whole life, and I suppose that I was “destined” to grow orchids, as I have had some pretty close contact with well-know orchid establishments without even knowing it:
- As a young child, I lived a couple blocks from Walter Off and Waldor Orchids in Linwood NJ. I knew about the greenhouses, but didn’t give it another thought.
- My father was transferred to England in the 60’s, and I lived quite close to a preeminent orchid grower and breeder, Black & Flory, who originated almost 1000 hybrids. Again – no interest on my part.
- Later we moved to northwest Washington DC, and the Maryland suburb of Kensington was a high school stomping ground. Need I say more?
- The biggest coincidence however, happened when I met a college friend at some public greenhouse while volunteering work on their orchid collection: “I didn’t know you were into orchids, Roger” brought peals of laughter from others. That’s when I learned that his father was Merritt Huntington, owner of Kensington Orchids and an officer of the AOS!
My orchid growing began when I was a Ceramic Engineering student at Georgia Tech. After about a year of volunteering my time at the public greenhouses in Piedmont Park – now the Atlanta Botanical Gardens – the orchid grower there gave me a big, “floofy” purple cattleya.
It took me about two years to kill it via the typical root rot-desiccation cycle torture, and at the time, I simply “did not kill plants,” so I was determined to learn more and got addicted like everyone else. Needless to say, in the 40+ years since, I’ve learned that I am a very effective plant killer… (Isn’t it true that you’re not an orchid-growing “pro” until you have killed your weight in plants?)
During my professional career, I have had many opportunities to travel internationally, and put together an extensive collection of orchids from around the world. That travel schedule (averaging 13 flights a week for over three years at one point) led to a great deal of experimentation surrounding keeping plants healthy and happy during my absences, and that’s what led to the development of Semi-Hydroponics.
First Rays came into being by accident – literally – courtesy of a greenhouse heater and alarm failure on a 7°F night in January of 1994. That 20-year collection of plants from around the world was a total loss. After a few months, a new heater and alarm were purchased and written off as business expenses, even though I had no idea how I’d make a business out of orchids.
Shortly thereafter, I divided the first couple of replacement plants I had purchased, created a text-only web page listing them, and offered the extra divisions to the internet orchid community via a post to the Comp-U-Serve Gardening Forum. Within three hours I had two orders, and I knew how I’d make it a business.
The best part about the exposure that First Rays has given me is the ability to communicate with folks from around the world on the fascinating subject of orchids. Sharing the obsession is second only to growing the plants.
Now, after over 45 years of orchid growing, and 24 years of operating First Rays, I have retired from my real job, downsized my home to coastal North Carolina, and downsized the business from over 300 stocked products to just three.