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John Bridges

John Bridges is this week’s Picayune Item Super Senior. He is strong inside and genteel in demeanor. He is a loving husband who can recite the date he met his wife, Janet; their engagement date and anniversary as easily as he can tell you his name. He is also a member of the Gulf Coast Orchid Society (GCOS) and celebrated for growing orchids.

John has actually named a few of these varieties to date. They are: Aunt Alma, Janet Bridges and Taylor Swift. Yes, it is that Taylor Swift; they are friends on Facebook.

John and Janet began their love affair with orchids in 2000 when Janet’s sister-in-law, Alma, gave them one saying “I don’t know what type of orchid this is, but it loses its leaves and you can have it. Maybe you can make it grow.”

John says, “We really didn’t know what it was either and didn’t for quite some time after so the family referred to it as ‘Aunt Alma’s orchid.’ In time, we saw its beauty and we found out that it is very rare, especially here in the south.”

It turned out the dendrobium pierardii that Alma had given them was stunning in bloom and won an American Orchid Society (AOS) Certificate of Cultural Merit (CCM) award in 2008. This is the second highest award that the AOS can give and Bridges was only six points away from the highest award. The award certificate showed judges counted five hundred and seven flowers on the plant as well as thirty-eight buds. It was literally a cascade of beauty. It was “Best in Show” for its category.

Once an orchid has won an award in this manner it is able to be officially named by its grower. Bridges took this opportunity to give his winning orchid species a clonal name, “Aunt Alma”, after his sister-in-law.

The real Alma passed away, but not before knowing she officially had a namesake that would live on. The plant was placed by her casket at her funeral.

“It takes time for an orchid to mature and bloom,” Bridges says, “but I always remember a sign I saw at work that read ‘It takes 22 months to grow an elephant and 21 days for mouse. You can’t get an elephant in 21 days.’ The same holds true for an orchid. You will not get a beautiful bloom overnight and bloom times are not always convenient, even with the green house and the full spectrum lighting system I have installed to help them bloom before shows. It’s a gamble. Sometimes, they just don’t bloom when I would like them too; but then again, you can’t make an elephant in 21 days.”

This thought seems to set the tone for Bridges in all of his endeavors. He is quite the trail blazer and eagerly pursues avenues of cloning and hybridization. Clones of ‘Taylor Swift’ have already been produced and should be ready in May. The flower stem of ‘Janet Bridges’ has been sent  to the Orchid Tissue Lab for processing. The new plants of ‘Janet Bridges’ should be ready in about 12-15 months.

The couple travel from Louisiana to Florida showing orchids. The  job of showing is not for the faint of heart. Bridges says, “I normally show my orchids in the GCOS display, last  year I set up my own 25 square foot display area. There are some who show in much larger areas. The GCOS display area is generally 50 square feet and requires between 50 to 75 orchids plants plus additional greenery as filler.”

Bridges had 22 plants in his display last year  and received a total combination of 28 awards, trophies, and ribbons.

All of the greenery on the plants (including filler) must be cleaned and staked to promote the best presentation of the orchids. Each plant must be tagged with an entry form with its name and parent plant names. The displays usually have themes and must be set up by a certain time on Friday so judging can begin early Saturday morning.

“The plants have to be displayed in groupings of color to help with the judging process. Each judging team has three judges and three clerks. One clerk goes in advance to find the plant to be judged to speed up the process. Another person takes notes for the judges and the third clerk places the ribbons on the plants. At the end of the show on Sunday, it all has to be taken down and reloaded to bring home.”

There is no hint of complaint in his tone while he describes the process. Bridges is very matter of fact and precise in things like this. It is hard work that must be done to share his beautiful orchids. On the other hand, he absolutely beams when he shows his award  certificates, trophies, and ribbons.

When asked what his secret is to growing such beautiful orchids he says, “In all honesty it is placing them in the right environment, staking them correctly early in their development and leaving the rest to nature. The first couple of years we tried this, we killed about everything we touched. We tried too hard. Now we know better and the results are better.”

To others who have thought about a particular subject or interest but not yet acted on it he says, “Go for it! Learn about it; it is never too late. Now that I am retired, growing and showing orchids provide my wife and  me opportunities to get out of the house and meet new people that share the same love for orchids that we have. Find you a hobby that you like and pursue it with all vigor. Don’t let the failures get you down. Thomas Edison failed 10,000 times before he was able to invent the light bulb. So enjoy your hobby in whatever capacity you can and keep at it.”

[Editor’s note: Is there someone you would like for us to consider for our Super Senior feature? Send us an email or fax with details, including your contact information to: jmarze@picayuneitem.com or fax 601-798-8602.]