Copyright ©2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MADELINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Madeline Brand at NPR West.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick in San Francisco at member station KQED, where I've been on various NPR assignments for several days this week.

The city was cool and rainy before dawn this morning. It may even snow a little in some places and still this place is as glorious as ever. The hills, the Bay and the architecture the landscape inspires. You catch a cab across town here, even 15 minutes, and each moment may thrill your heart. Another panorama around the next corner. You'd think the superior airs of San Franciscans get tiresome, but come back here and discover again that the real power of San Francisco's allure is that most people here don't get jaded by it.

We saw a notice for an event that seemed too good to miss, the Annual Pacific Orchid Exposition. Orchids, surely in horticulture terms this is the San Francisco of flowers. We had to see this and you can too because we took pictures. You'll find them online at our website, npr.org. Go there now because there are illustrations for what you'll hear next.

This is a very big orchid show, we learned. One of the biggest in the country. There are so many different climates in the Bay Area. Wet, dry, warm, cool, flat, steep. Even with all the different varieties of orchids, a lot of them do well here outdoors without greenhouses. And there are many different kinds of orchid fans here at this show, commercial growers, others who are amateurs but very accomplished, others who are just beginning.

The orchid show is in the city's Fort Mason Center on a pier in a big white warehouse that's being transformed into a spectacle of color. Just starting into the place I see some landscaped areas that are done by a man named Michael Galli from Metamorphosis Landscaping and I think this is the right person to talk to. He grows all kinds of flowers. He knows different kinds of flower people. And I ask him, what are the orchid people like?

Mr. MICHAEL GALLI (Owner, Metamorphosis Landscaping): Their passion is unique. I mean these people were carrying them like they would carry their children. They just love their plants more than you can imagine.

CHADWICK: You know daisy people and rose people and petunia people.

Mr. GALLI: Nothing like the orchid people. They're a breed apart.

CHADWICK: Here comes a man pushing a stroller. He's got another small child walking along with him. His name is Charles Lee. Where are you from?

Mr. CHARLES LEE (Commercial Orchid Grower): From Monterey Bay.

CHADWICK: Monterey Bay?

Mr. LEE: Yeah.

CHADWICK: Yeah. Are you a commercial grower?

Mr. LEE: Yeah, commercial grower. Yeah.

CHADWICK: Yeah. What got you into orchids?

Mr. LEE: My uncle gave me one.

CHADWICK: How long ago?

Mr. LEE: 1972. Now I have one million plants. And he's retired now. Even better.

CHADWICK: At flower shows people get kind of crazy with their display areas. They build extravagant landscaped tableaus. There's a volcano here, an igloo, meadows, hillsides, all of them covered with orchids. And these are not the droopy, uncooperative, sullen, non-bloomers that languish in some corner of your living room. No, these are extrovert orchids, vibrant, sexy, looking very good.

Ms. FRANCIS LaROSE (Manager, Orchid Show): We think there's probably over 100,000 orchids and orchid plants in this building.

CHADWICK: Francis LaRose, who has helped manage this orchid show for about 15 years.

Is that your real name, LaRose, a flower person?

Ms. LaROSE: It is. It should have been LaOrchid, would've been better in this case, but it's not, it's LaRose.

CHADWICK: Earlier I was speaking with a landscaper who'd done some things here at the show and I asked him about orchid people, and he said that they're about the most devoted flower people that there are. More devoted even than the rose people. Why do you think that is?

Ms. LaROSE: Well, as an orchid grower myself, I got addicted to orchids about 15 years ago, and there's a book and they talk about orchid addiction and all these different things. But the majority of the people here are fascinating. They're interesting. Their plants are phenomenal.

Their plants, once an orchid blooms it often stays in bloom for two months, three months. It's not, you cut a rose, it's there three days and it's gone. I mean, that's not fun. You get this beautiful orchid, you put it on your kitchen and it's there for two months and it's phenomenal. And they come in every shape, size, color, and so do the people that love them, every shape, size and color.

CHADWICK: They call this the Pacific Orchid Exposition, but it's also the Pacific Orchid competition. Bloom to bloom, stem to stem, it really does matter here that you be the best orchid that you can. Debbie Atwood is leading several judges through orchid groupings. They are searching for a particular arrangement of petals that is called pyloric(ph).

Unidentified Woman: What we're judging right now is sort of commercial entries, the Cymbidiums. There it is right there. I would call that maybe striped and spotted.

Ms. MARCIA ROMICK(ph): It's not pyloric.

Unidentified Woman: No, but it's also stripes or spotted.

HELEN: It doesn't have to be pyloric.

Unidentified Woman: Yeah, what do you think, Helen?

HELEN: Well, that uniform markings on the flower, I think it's quite nice.

Unidentified Woman: I do too. The flowers are nice and open, nice and round.

HELEN: The color is clear.

Unidentified Woman: Yep. I think that's a nice one.

HELEN: And the lip is attractive. Very nice.

Ms. ROMICK: I'd still put a blue on the pyloric.

CHADWICK: That's another one of the judges, Marsha Romick.

Ms. ROMICK: I'd still put a blue ribbon on the pyloric one.

Unidentified Woman: Yeah, I like that one too.

CHADWICK: The one back over there, you'll like that.

Unidentified Woman: And then we have to go to 5660, which is at the end of this row.

CHADWICK: You've spent only 30 seconds looking at that one.

Ms. ROMICK: Right, but we know what we're looking for. And we see it, or we don't see it. If we don't see it, we move.

Unidentified Woman: Yeah, and what we just have to look at is the flower itself. We're not judging the entire plant. We're looking at the flower for size, clarity, shape.

CHADWICK: All right.

Ms. ROMICK: Okay. We're looking for...

Unidentified Woman: Yeah, but that's not a Cymbidium. That's a Bealoria(ph). It's a hybrid.

Ms. ROMICK: That's an oncidium intergeneric hybrid. That means that there are several genera in there.

CHADWICK: That's just a beautiful flower.

Unidentified Woman: Yep.

Ms. ROMICK: It is. You're right, it is a beautiful flower. But we're not judging those.

Unidentified Woman: Okay. Ladies, we're looking for Karen Times' Autumn Crispum(ph). Whoever finds it first gets the prize.

CHADWICK: I'm going back to the studio to get ready for the radio program. Francis Larose is staying here to help organize this show. I have one more question for her before we go.

How many orchids do own at home. How many do you have?

Ms. LaROSE (Executive Director, San Francisco Orchid Society): I have about 150.

CHADWICK: 150?

Ms. LaROSE: Yeah. And that's nothing, nothing compared to a lot of, most of the amateur growers in this area.

CHADWICK: 150 is a lot.

Ms LaROSE: My husband thinks so, and my children think so, but I don't think so. What I'm trying to do is get in so that, hey, what we really need is to get them out of the house and into a greenhouse, so then I can get a greenhouse. It's a motive to my madness.

CHADWICK: Francis LaRose, thank you.

Ms. LaROSE: You're welcome. And please come join us at the show.

CHADWICK: There it is, the Pacific Orchid Exposition this weekend in San Francisco, just opening today. And there are pictures of that prize-winning pyloric orchid at NPR.org.

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