Member Snapshot: Bryan Spurrs

Our Member Snapshot for this month is Bryan Spurrs who shares with us some of his innovative ideas on growing his native orchids.


Q: How did you come to be an orchid enthusiast?

Bryan: It started out about thirty years ago when I used to work for National Parks. I would pop in to Coles in the city. They often had Australian native orchids on sale which had been salvaged from forestry operations in New South Wales.  I would buy them and attach them to the trees I had at home. It was only a pastime and not really a hobby yet. It wasn’t until I retired that I became really involved. I attended a 6 week “Introduction to Orchids” course run by David Floyd at his nursery in Hornsby. He’s retired now and it’s a shame this course is no longer available. After I finished, he suggested taking my interest further and joining an orchid club. So I did. I joined the nearest one to where I lived – Ku-Ring-Gai Orchid Society. I found that one meeting a month was not enough and so I joined five more! I still am a member of these clubs (A.N.O.S. Sydney, A.N.O.S. Warringah, Ku-Ring-Gai, North Shore, Species and Manly-Warringah orchid societies) and attend almost all the meetings.

Bryan Spurrs

Q: Which are your favourite native orchids and why?

Bryan: Initially, I concentrated on native Australian terrestrial orchids because I could spread the pots around the garden under the trees and I enjoyed reasonable success. Native orchids are the basis of my collection. Before my bush house, I was growing Sarcochilus hybrids in the garden under shade trees. It was not successful.  Eventually I had a bush house built using 2nd hand galvanised pipes and mesh for the benches. 2/3 of the bush house was covered in Alsynite polycarbonate roofing and 1/3 shade cloth. I have now replaced the shade cloth with Laserlite polycarbonate roofing which I found to be better. The Sarcs liked the new conditions in the bush house and flourished.  My Dendrobiums did better outside in spite of the 20 metre tree canopy. The trees provide perpetual shade except for a small window of 3 hours direct sunlight in the morning.  The bush house faces north and favours Sarcs. I like the Sarcs because they are easy to grow and have a wide range of colours. The only disadvantage is that they are harder to sell because they flower late in the year when most of the shows are finished.

Sarcochilus ceciliae separated to keep dry over winter.

Some of Bryan’s Sarcochilus pots.

Q: Approximately how many “pots” in your collection?

Bryan: My collection consists of 1,700 pots from specimens to seedling tubes. More than half are Sarcochilus species and hybrids. I have 200 native orchids growing on mounts and a few terrestrials which I’m starting to grow again. Aside from natives, I also have some Dendrochilums, Coelogynes and its hybrids.  

Q: How often do you water your orchids?

Bryan: During summer, I mist my mounted orchids and the rest of my collection daily using a FOGG-IT green nozzle attached to my hose. In winter I still mist my mounted orchids daily and include the others every 2nd or 3rd day.


Q: Do you fertilize your orchids?

Bryan: I fertilise weekly using a “fertigator”. I can do the entire bush house in 30 minutes using liquid fertiliser (Peters Excel) working on 1 gm. / litre concentration.


Q: What are the common pests that attack your orchids and how do you control them?

Bryan: I feel guilty that I don’t have a regular pesticide regime for my bush house. I work on a case to case basis and spray Confidor on the odd plants that suffer from aphid or mealy bugs.  I spray miticide on the entire Sarcochilus collection only when I see symptoms of the two-spotted spider mite. I put out rat baits amongst the orchid trays and I just squash grasshoppers with my fingers!

Q: What was the most memorable orchid collection you’ve visited?

Bryan: David Butler’s collection in September. It is really a site to behold. I am biased towards Sarcs though, but David’s bush house when his Sarcs are in flower is truly a fairyland!

Q: Which is your favourite nursery to purchase orchids from?

Bryan: David Butler’s of course, but also Ken Russell, Ray Clements (Tinonee Orchids) and Neville Roper before he passed away. I also like Barrita Orchids. I really admire Scott Barrie’s use of technology in growing his Sarcs.


Q: What was the worst mistake you ever made growing your orchids?

Bryan: Because my block is on a valley ridge, I have good air movement in my bush house, but I wanted to increase the humidity inside though. So under my central benches, I excavated soil down to about half a metre deep. I lined the hole with black plastic and filled it with old discarded orchid media. I then topped it with a layer of blue metal gravel. The idea was to trap the water running down through the orchid pots into this gravel filled pond and give me the desired humidity. It didn’t work. Maybe the hole was too deep or the plastic lining got punctured....I don’t really know. It was a lot of effort with nil results. What I do now is place all my discarded potting mix under the benches and the water dripping down keeps the floor moist. I also grow a lot of birds nest ferns in pots under these benches. These also help keep the humidity up.

A few native terrestrials in pots.

Birds nest ferns under the benches and mounted orchids on the south wall.

Q: What would you advise novices thinking of or just starting out growing orchids?

Bryan: If just starting out, buy mature plants first. Get a scattering of a few mature plants and find out which ones can grow well under your conditions. See if you like them and build from that. Go to shows and auctions held by orchid clubs, and select good mature plants. You can also buy seedlings, but seedlings are risky for inexperienced growers. They’re relatively dearer compared to buying more advanced plants from an orchid society sales table.  

Q: What do you like about our club ANOS Sydney Group and what activity do you enjoy the most?

Bryan: The mix of members. I’ve always associated some of the top native orchid growers like David Butler, Mike Harrison, Gerry Walsh, John Hurst (to name a few) with A.N.O.S. Sydney. Members of other A.N.O.S. clubs like Bill Dobson, Greg Steenbeeke are also members so the wealth of knowledge in the club is tremendous! I like the way the younger members have stepped up and taken over from the older members and the brewed coffee served at our meetings is second to none!


Q: What is on your orchid wish list?

Bryan: I would like to see some members of the other orchid societies (native & exotics) become more interested in growing native orchids and join A.N.O.S. Sydney. Some of our members are also members of these clubs, and it would be terrific if they can promote A.N.O.S. Sydney and native orchid culture to the members there.


Q: Is there anything else you may want to add?

Bryan: If I may, I would also like to share some of my successes with our readers. I have also been successful in growing some orchids using artificial lighting.  I got a heated sand tray from David Butler which I then illuminated with 3 x banks of Gro-Lux tubes. I use it in winter for temperature sensitive plants like: Oberonia, Bulbo macphersonii, Cadetias, and Dockrilla rigida (Dendrobium rigidum).

I have also converted my orchid bush house into a cold “glass house” by hanging Solarweave curtains on the sides in winter.  The temperatures inside warms up much quicker during the day and stays warm much longer before it cools down at night. Day time temperatures are 8 to 10 degrees warmer than outside due to the glasshouse effect and reduction of wind. The plants go through a more benign winter.

Dockrilla rigida 

Orchids happily growing under lights.

Solarweave covered sides (facing north).