Member Snapshot: Mark 'Bush Basher' Daniels

Our Member Snapshot for this month is Mark ‘Bush Basher’ Daniels. Here he shares with us his passion for growing native orchids (starting when he was still very young) and his advocacy of promoting their conservation in the bush for our grandchildren to see and enjoy them as well!


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

Mark: I was thirteen years of age and a student at Cowan Public School. My primary school teacher introduced me to our local ranger from Hallstrom Nature Reserve Mr Metcalf, who came to give talks on conservation. Because of my intense interest in the local wildlife and flora, I was invited to help out as an honorary ranger painting the local flora and wildlife which later became a regular weekend job. This was where I saw in flower and smelt my first colony of Den speciosums, then later found out there were pink ones too (Den. kingianums) which then grew at Peats Ridge behind Gosford. That year I joined Berowra Orchid Society.

My father Roger Daniels also supported my love for orchids at an early age, an expert native orchid photographer. He took me to all my secret bush orchid spots. He loved coming with me because it gave him a chance to practice his photography.  I owe him heaps for the time he spent with me and waiting for hours at a time (sometimes days) for me to return from my expeditions. There were no tracks into these places in those days.  The toughest walk was to Terrible Billy an isolated mountain range of continuous rock and steep slopes south west of Gloucester. This was where all the good stuff grew and will still be for years to come because of its isolated rugged terrain.  It took 3 days to get there! We camped on 'Berrico Trig' the first night, and then back to Terrible Billy the second day in pouring rain. This is where Dendrobium kingianum Queen Rose came from.

Dendrobium kingianum Queen Rose

Dendrobium 'Claro Princes"

Q: Which are your favourite native orchids and why?

Mark: It would still have to be Den. speciosum and all its varieties. Nothing beats a top clone curvicaule  (like 'Claro Princess'), the most prolific flowering orchid in the world.  You can have thousands of flowers on one plant and its potential and influence on new hybrids is amazing. That alone and its perfume in the wild is invigorating.  It keeps you alive all the way to the following spring!

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

Mark: Around 20,000.


Q: How often do you water your orchids?

Mark: Three times a week in the middle of summer. Stop a couple of days before the heat waves start and start again when the cool changes come, and once a fortnight in middle of winter. Stop a week  before the big frosts.

One of Mark’s favourite orchids Den. Wonga x Hastings

Q: Do you fertilize your orchids?

Mark: Yes I make my own fertiliser salts and use it every second watering.


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

Mark: Scale, Dendrobium Beetles, Spider Mites, Thrips, Black sooty algae mould caused by insects and fungi. I could not grow orchids if I did not have my Strongrow organic Orchid Servicing Liquid long term protection and prevention, instant death to most insects including beetles and ants. Great for scale & mites, only need to spray twice a year. I spray it on with a high pressure sprayer atomiser and a compressor used for cleaning car motors down. It’s done in minutes not hours.

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

Mark: Tony Blewitts for huge diversity and variety. Ted Walmsleys for quality show plants. Ken Russell for the most rare and beautiful orchids. Dan Tomich for his huge vigorous healthy plants and flasks. There would be heaps of growers just as good but I have not seen them.


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

Mark: Royale Orchids Kevin Hipkins has many surprises for the fussy orchid grower and clean top quality plants. Kevin sells a lot of David Butler’s orchids and crosses from his hey days.  I was a complete idiot by not realising until it was to late how good David Butler’s native Dendrobium hybrids were and missed out big time.

Making a fresh batch of Mark’s own treated orchid mix.

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

Mark: About 10 years ago I was visiting two top growers (one was in the Hunter Valley the other on the North Coast). They were into slow release granules - the 6 monthly period type with the pink purple stuff. They raved on about how good it was.  So the next week I got a 25 kg. of low nitrogen and phosphorus native plant granules and the pink purple stuff. What a disaster! I put small amounts with my potting mixes on top of my orchids and every orchid that was treated with it did not grow or took years to grow and would not flower. The stuff was killing them slowly. Even to this day every sick orchid in my collection was once re-potted with this horrible toxic crap in it. The funny thing about all this is that the two top growers do not use it anymore. Why? They said it kills your orchids only speciosums can cope with it! So the lesson learnt: (a) do not be a copy cat; it can get you in all sorts of trouble, (b) try it out on a few plants first it might take years to test, but better to be sure and (c) if a recognised grower is doing it, check it out first. Quick easy fertilisers are risky. I have been told on the grape vine that in America, the way to get rid of toxic chemicals these days is to put them in concrete tiles or fertilisers.

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

Mark: The most important thing is a sustainable long lasting potting mix or growing medium. Make a detailed study of all the  ingredients (e.g. type of bark, charcoal, perlite, scoria, pebbles, styro, etc.) and its effects on orchids (pH, cation exchange rate, Ions and anions conductivity speed - you need it to be slow for strong growth). The various sizes grades and whether you have a long term supply of it. How over watering will affect its chemistry and decomposition etc. The rest will fall into place and is easy to learn along the way.

Q: What is on your orchid wish list?

Mark: To breed the best gold orange Dendrobium Cosmic Gold or Dendrobium speciosum in the country.


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

Mark: As I am getting older and seeing all the environmental destruction around me and being less agile, I find myself appreciating the huge sacrifices past A.N.O.S. members have made to keep it all going. Now that young people are hooked on computer games and have no idea what they are missing out on (I could not get my kids interested in native orchids no matter how much I tried), us oldies must keep it going so that when the IT games revolution is over and they get their direction back, we would have at least saved all these beautiful special orchids for them. Can you imagine in 50 years time a young child asking their parents, “Can we go and see an orchid in the wild Daddy?”...and they’re told, “They don’t exist anymore love.”

Very happy kids trying to be the first person to find a bush orchid.

A prize was given to the first person to find a bush orchid.