Home of the Finest Phalaenopsis and Phragmipediums

Reds or yellows, Phals or Phrags, H.P. Norton strives for excellence

By Sandra Hardy

   MONCKS CORNER, S.C. — H.P. Norton never intended to make a business out of his orchid hobby. It just happened.

   "If H. P. had two orchids, he would make a cross, which interests him far more than selling one," says Katherine, H.P.'s wife.

   Truth is, "he really has a hard time letting go of most of them," she adds.

   It's not exactly what you’d call a business plan, but then no one would argue with the success H.P. and Katherine have enjoyed with Orchidview, their greenhouse business overlooking the Cooper River in Moncks Corner in the low country of South Carolina.

   After early retirement in 1976 for health reasons from The Outboard Shop, a boat and accessories dealership in North Charleston, S.C., they owned, H.P. purchased his first Phalaenopsis from Jemmco Flowers in St. George, S.C. Since H.P. does nothing halfway, he began reading insatiably about orchids.

   Mike Osborne, one of the owners of Jemmco at the time, became a good friend and mentor. (Jemmco was later sold to Bill and Barbara Ellenberg. They moved to Woodstock, Ga., and renamed the business Peach State Orchids.) 

   Within a year H.P. decided to try his hand at breeding Phals and made his first cross in 1977. At Osborne’s suggestion, H.P. started hybridizing yellows in 1980. Since then he’s made many crosses and has won numerous American Orchid Society awards. 

   Some of the crosses that have played a major role in the Orchidview breeding program are:

   • Phal. Golden Bells (Phal. venosa ‘Red Mahogany,’ AM/AOS x Phal. Golden Sands ‘Canary’ FCC/AOS), which has received three HCCs;

   • Phal. Camp Bells (Phal. Julia Wilson x Golden Bells);

   • Phal. Lemon Candy  (Phal. Hausermann’s Candy ‘York’ AM/AOS x Phal. venosa ‘Red Mahogany’ AM/AOS), three AMs and three HCCs;

   • Phal. Golden Daybreak (Phal. Wappaoola x Phal. Hausermann’s Goldcup), two HCCs;

   • Phal. Orchidview Gold (Hausermann’s Goldcup x Phal. amboinensis), three AMs and eight HCCs;

   • Phal. Orchidview Headliner (Phal. Mok Choi Yew x Hausermann’s Goldcup), two AMs and five HCCs;

   • Phal. King’s Ransom (Wappaoola x Phal. Deventeriana), four AOS awards; and

   • Phal. Caitlin (Phal. Katherine x Hausermann’s Goldcup), five AOS awards;

   Somewhere along the line, the challenge in breeding non-fading yellows gave way to striving for a solid, true red Phalaenopsis. H.P. has found considerable success here as well.

   • Phal. Katie Morris (Phal. Donald Rigg x Phal. Harford’s Jewel) has one AM/AOS, three HCC/AOS and one AQ/AOS to its credit;

   • Dtps. Abed-nego (Dtps. Inferno x Phal. Malibu Imp) has three AM/AOS, nine HCC/AOS and 1 AQ/AOS; and

   • Dtps. Lonnie Morris (Dtps. Jim x Hausermann’s Goldcup) has two AM/AOS and two HCC/AOS awards.   

   These are just a few of the most noteworthy examples of Orchidview reds.

   To understand the kind of dedication that produces winners such as these, it helps to know that whatever the task at hand, H.P. has always approached it head on. No halfway measures for him.

   In the last few years, Phal breeding at Orchidview has been more concentrated on reds than yellows. One of H.P.’s goals for red Phals is to increase flower size while continuing to improve on a clear red color.

   When H.P. was breeding yellow Phals, he never gave serious thought to hybridizing any genera other than Phalaenopsis. However, after he and Katherine participated in the 1996 IPA symposium in Chicago, they hauled home an entire collection of Phragmipediums for their friend Gail Mathews of Live Oak Orchids in Savannah, Ga.

   Gail purchased the collection from George Hausermann, Jr., who was selling it for someone else. Since Gail had flown to the meeting, she asked H.P. to take the collection home in his empty van. When they returned to Moncks Corner, H.P. and Katherine put the plants in their insulated glass greenhouse for Gail to pick up at her convenience.

   Six months later, H.P. was still growing Phrags for Gail, and, you guessed it, he decided to make a cross. Anyone who knows H.P. knows he is crazy about the color red. When he saw  Phrag. besseae bloom out, he was hooked. Then and there he decided the clear red color of Phrag. besseae simply had to be incorporated into other Phrags.

   Since 1998, H.P. has continued along that path, winning 23 AMs and six HCCs from the American Orchid Society for his Phrags. And, after only four years in Phrags, he won his first FCC/AOS on a Phrag — Phrag warscewiczianum ‘Orchidview’, ironically at the June 15 IPA meeting at Lines Orchids in Signal Mt., Tenn.

   According to H.P., the fact that the top AOS merit award has eluded him in breeding Phalaenopsis says more about the difficulty of receiving recognition for Phals in some regions of the United States than it says about his Phal hybridizing program. 

   Phrag. besseae has created a great deal of interest in Phrags because of the possibility of  "color". Before Phrag. besseae was discovered in 1981, Phrag colors were pretty much limited to greens and browns. By the judicious use of Phrag. besseae in breeding programs, the color palette of Phrags has been greatly expanded.

   It’s been said that H.P. Norton is never satisfied. He’s traveled to the West Coast many times in search of the best cultivars available and even bought Eric Young Foundation flasks from Plested Orchids. This constant pursuit of excellence is borne out in his breeding program of both Phals and Phrags.

   Currently the ratio of Phals to Phrags at Orchidview is about 80-20, but will probably move somewhat towards Phrags in the near-term. That direction will be driven more by economics than anything else.

   Most Phrag crosses don’t produce the quantity of seeds that are realized from Phals. Therefore, the Phrags are more limited. The going price for a flask of 50 Phals is about $55, whereas a flask of 25 Phrags brings $200.  Also, no one has successfully meristemmed or tissue cultured Phrags. 

   The lasting quality of Phals is greatly responsible for the current and expected future popularity of the genus, not only as an orchid but also as a houseplant. H.P. believes that Phals will eventually surpass the African violet as the most popular houseplant in the United States. Unlike Phrags, Phals are easy to grow and tolerate a wide range of growing conditions, such as those encountered in windowsill growing. Phrags, on the other hand, are more attractive to orchid collectors than the casual shopper.

   The growing popularity of Phals is also driven by the low prices and variety of venues at which they are being offered — at the big box stores such as Costco, the mass merchandisers and even grocery and drug stores in some parts of the country. Because large growers can sell mass-produced Phals at low prices, many smaller commercial growers have all but abandoned Phals in their marketing mix. Even so, Phals are still very much in Orchidview’s future.

   For the discriminating Phal collector, H.P. sees a concentration on art shades, splash petals and the harlequin/clown hybrids in future Phal breeding at Orchidview. He’s also been crossing some selected cultivars of Phal. violacea and has had some "blues" bloom out of the last few flasks, the most notable being Phal. violacea ‘Gulfstream Blue’, JC/AOS.

   Orchidview Phals are grown in a 30-foot x 84-foot greenhouse about a half-mile from where H.P. and Katherine live on the banks of the Cooper River in Moncks Corner, S.C. The lab is adjacent to the greenhouse and a local teacher helps out part-time with replating. A smaller glass greenhouse in their backyard has been converted to accommodate the cool-growing needs of the Phrags. To date, H.P. has registered more than 100 Phal hybrids.

   As a devout Christian, H. P. is very active in his church. Married to Katherine for 54 years, they have a son and two daughters. Their oldest daughter, Carol, is also an integral part of Orchidview, and their 13-year old granddaughter Rachel Kirk worked in the greenhouse this summer repotting Phals. 

   H.P. is a founding member of IPA and he and Katherine are members of the Coastal Carolina Orchid Society (Charleston, S.C.) and Deep South Orchid Society (Savannah, Ga). In their 25 years of orchid growing, they’ve had occasion to visit some delightful places. Perhaps one of the most enjoyable trips in recent years was their journey to Venezuela in June 2001.

   As one of a small group of handpicked vendors invited by Enrique Graf of Plantio La Orquidea in Caracas to take part in his annual open house, H.P., Katherine and Carol stayed at Enrique’s home. Enrique took them through the Venezuelan interior and rainforests to see orchids growing in their natural habitats. Gene Crocker of Carter & Holmes in Newberry, S.C., was also in the group and commented that the trip was "the second best day of his life" – the first being the day he got married. 

   H.P., Katherine and Carol agree that as delightful as their travels have been, the most enjoyment comes from the wonderful friends they’ve made all over the world as a result of their involvement with orchids. 

   Sandra Hardy is a member of the American Orchid Society, IPA and the Deep South Orchid Society. 496 Harbour Lane, Richmond Hill, Ga. 31324. 912 727-4148. sthardy@coastalnow.net.