One of the best in the nation, Santa Barbara’s very own Orchid Show and Sale is coming this weekend. Intoxicating scents, eye-popping floral displays, world-renowned speakers, and a huge sale tent are the main attractions. You will also find volunteers making orchid corsages and expert growers demonstrating their secrets to their success.

Along with six major nurseries specializing in orchids, there are plenty of amateur growers in the area, as well. To get a sense of the passion these folks bring to their hobby, I spoke with two Santa Barbarans who have been growing orchids for decades.

Fritz Amacher, a retired investment banker, bought his first orchid in 1955. It was a cymbidium that his neighbor, Paul Gripp (former owner of the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate), convinced him he needed. He hasn’t looked back. His most recent purchase was a Laelia from another area nursery, Cal-Orchid. In fact his current focus is to grow as many orchids outdoors as he can and he has many selections of this hardy genus. He mounts them on trees in his garden or on other pieces of interesting wood that he picks up as he hikes. Some of his plants are sure to be featured in the upcoming display put together by members of the Orchid Society of Santa Barbara, although he won’t know just which ones will be at their peak until the week of the show.

Don Brown is also retired after a career teaching anthropology at UCSB. He moved to Santa Barbara in 1969, and his first orchids were left behind by the previous owners of his house. Having no idea what they were, he tossed them in his garbage pit, but it wasn’t until his neighbor spotted them a year later, still alive, that he became interested. From those first cymbidiums, he scoured garage sales and discovered cane-stemmed epidendrums and eventually made his way to the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate for more. He is still rightfully proud of a giant specimen of Dendrobium speciosum that one Best in Show in two categories in 1998 with near-perfect scores. His current favorites? The lady slipper orchids in the genus Paphiopedilum.


Join these and the many other orchid enthusiasts Friday-Sunday, March 12-14, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., at Earl Warren Showgrounds (3400 Calle Real). Call 687-0766 or see Cost: adults, $12; seniors, $10; kids 12 and under, free. For more info, call 637-4578 or visit


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