Flower power: Santa Barbara International Orchid Show

Current show president Lauris Rose first remembers coming to this show as a little girl, when she snapped countless photos of the displays. The Santa Barbara native returned year after year, developing such a passion that she and her husband James eventually purchased the renowned Cal-Orchid Inc. Joining Lauris is Olivia Sorgman, who is taking over the reigns as the new show manager this year. Together, they’re bringing fresh ideas to engage the next generation of orchid lovers.

But you don’t need to know your Cymbidium from your Dendrobium, or your Chocolates from Lady Slippers, to enjoy the many things to see and experience at the show. In the immersive display area, local, regional, and international floral artisans create unique, themed floral arrangements and corsages. Many local orchid societies have display booths as well. Walking through the display area, “You feel like you are in a fairytale. It is a place to find peace,” said show manager, Olivia. The theme this year is “Floral Gems of Nature,” and organizers are anxiously waiting to see how the show participants will interpret the theme. Elaborate orchid displays will be located indoors in the main Exhibit Pavilion, with vendors in the adjacent building. While you can’t touch any of the plants, you are encouraged to take pictures — and bring your pocketbook, because thousands of blooming orchid plants will be available for purchase at the show, at a wide range of prices. There is a Plant Hotel provided free of charge for visitors, where you can keep your plants safe while you explore all the exhibits. There is also a juried exhibition of orchid-themed fine art and photography, highlighting the work of local and regional artists. Some exhibitors hail from as far away as Japan, Ecuador, and Thailand. Part of the allure for show participants is the prestige that comes from the awards, ribbons, and trophies given in a wide variety of categories, from “Best Display” to my personal favorite, the “Best Boldly Spotted Cymbidium.”

To be considered for a prize, plants must be nursery grown. The orchids are judged on a variety of qualifications such as color, shape, and breeding. Many regional exhibitors, such as Cal-Orchid, Westerlay, Orchids Royale, and Zuma Orchids, have been participating in the show for many years. If you do happen to be a gardener — or just aspire to be one — this show has you covered, too. While they are certainly stunning, it’s not exactly easy to grow orchids. “People love the challenge — it’s an accomplishment to grow orchids,” Olivia said. Healthy orchids bloom every eight months, and blooms last much longer than cut flowers.

Each day you’ll find demonstrations on how to raise healthy orchids, and how to repot orchids, too, because the plants can have trouble thriving when not in the proper pot. They’ll even have an “Orchid Doctor” on hand to answer any questions you have on orchid care. From a scientific standpoint, with all of the hybrid possibilities, there are always new orchids to discover. Show president Lauris noted that orchids are “Constantly evolving … if you are into breeding orchids, you keep going. It is an investment of time to see them go from seed to flower — but it keeps propelling you.” So why Santa Barbara for an international orchid show? As it turns out, Santa Barbara has an ideal climate for pretty much everything — including growing orchids. The region is an especially big market for cymbidiums, and there are a number of well-established growers in the area. The camaraderie in the orchid community is infectious, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by both professionals and windowsill warriors here at the Santa Barbara International Orchid Show.

If you really want to dive into the world of orchids, you can sign up for the Show’s newsletter, join a local orchid society to meet fellow orchid enthusiasts, and check out the California Orchid Trail (californiaorchidtrail.com). You can visit the nurseries on the trail, which run from Santa Barbara to Carpinteria to Malibu. Some are open by appointment only, but many open their doors on Show weekends to welcome the influx of orchid fans.

When I asked whether an orchid novice like me would enjoy the show, Olivia answered, “It just feels magical to experience all of the flowers in bloom at the same time … it’s very meditative.” Lauris responded without hesitation, “This show will restore your equilibrium.” I’m sold! You will find me at the show in March – desperately seeking answers to how to keep my orchids alive. Join me and soak up the orchid vibes in Santa Barbara this March. Tickets are available online or at the box office during show hours. Come for one day or purchase a three-day pass for just $10 more. I suggest making a weekend out of it, as the event is sure to be fun for the whole family! There are plenty of convenient hotels near the Earl Warren Showgrounds including Hotel Santa Barbara, Hotel Californian, Hilton Santa Barbara, and the Lemon Tree Inn.

If taking the train to Santa Barbara, the Showgrounds are a little over three miles from the Santa Barbara Amtrak Station. When you get hungry after the show, Mike’s Diner is adjacent to the Exhibit Hall. Not too far from the Earl Warren Showgrounds, you can find a number of other great restaurants such as the Santa Barbara Public Market, Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach, and The Daisy, just to name a few. For tickets, orchid resources, and additional information, see sborchidshow.com.

Flower fans, rejoice! The Santa Barbara International Orchid Show is returning to the Earl Warren Showgrounds March 8 through 10. For the 76th year, this “Disneyland for gardeners” will attract thousands of orchid aficionados for a truly extraordinary experience. And as the largest and longest-running orchid show in the United States, one would expect nothing less. This iconic Santa Barbara event has hosted celebrity patrons over the years including the likes of Barbra Streisand, Meryl Streep, and even Mamie Eisenhower back in the day.