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Delicate petals
Growing beautiful, award winning orchids
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Gene Gadilhe of Oxford gets excited about "spikes." No, not the shiny metal kind — the light green nubs on his orchids indicating they will bloom.

Last month Gadilhe received a blue ribbon for his elegant Beallara Tahoma Glacier species at the Atlanta and South Metro Orchid Society monthly meeting. Even though he said he wasn’t particularly enamored with the plant’s delicate star-shaped white and purple blooms, the American Orchid Society certified judge observing the category was.

"I didn’t think it had a chance," he said.

Last month wasn’t the only time Gadilhe has received ribbons for his orchids. He received a third place ribbon at the Fall ASMOS meeting for a buttery yellow Phalaenopsis and a blue ribbon at last year’s annual society meeting with a royal purple Vanda, which he said is his favorite species.

"They’ll bloom one right after the other," he said of pruning the blooms once they begin to fade after a month. "That’s why I like them."

Past a rocky goldfish pond on the side of Gadilhe’s historic home, where he lives with his wife Elizabeth, a small greenhouse sits in the back yard. The greenhouse boasts a number of species in various stages of life — including a meristem, or cutting, of his blue ribbon Vanda —and an evaporative cooler. Gadilhe said he keeps the greenhouse warmer than 55 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and cooler than 80 in the summer.

Gadilhe’s Vandas hang from the top of the greenhouse because they enjoy heat and having their roots exposed. He visits his orchids at least once a day to mist or water them or simply to admire them.

Having once grown orchids in the ’70s, Gadilhe took up the hobby again about a year and a half ago. He said he enjoys the challenge of caring for notoriously difficult orchids as well as the surprise.

"I find it really exciting to have a plant and not know what it looks like when it blooms," he said.

He most recently purchased an infant crossbreed that will likely not bloom for three to five years. While most gardeners like instant gratification with their seedlings, 84-year-old Gadilhe likes the wait.

"What it means to me," he said, "is that I’ll be here to see it."