Orchid Growing Information > Kevin Wilson

Kevin Wilson

In 1956 a group of keen orchid growers from the Sutherland area met and formed the Sutherland Shire Orchid Society. A few months later, as one of the many new members joining at that time, was Kevin “Grouchy” Wilson.

Kevin is still with us today as an active member of the society as he has been for the last fifty years. We are happy to honour his involvement with and contribution to the society in those fifty years tonight.

I would like to pick up the story in the 1970s. At that time Sutherland was a thriving society holding its meetings at the Gymea Community Hall and its shows there as well. Shows then, were quite different to todays. Shows were open, that is any member of any orchid society could show in them, and many people, particularly the leading growers, entered plants in shows all round the city.

A number of members put on large floor displays. Les Peaty, president at the time usually staged a six by four floor display. Four by four displays were put on by people such Col Brandon, Barbara Roper and Murray Aldridge. Prominent amongst these were six by four floor displays by Kevin Wilson and Ron Turtle.

Not only has Kevin been growing orchids for a long time and showing them he has been displaying them to their best advantage for a long time. Kevin was a keen and enthusiastic member of the society at that time. He was on the committee for many, many years and his wife Pat was secretary for a long time. Orchid societies, in those days, weren’t looked on as money making ventures and all proceeds from the winter and spring shows went to a charity dear to Kevin’s heart — the Sutherland Handicapped Children’s Association for which he was also a tireless worker.

I first met Kevin when I was fourteen. He wasn’t quite as grouchy then, at least as far as I can recall. He was in fact very kind to me as he has been to all those who sought out his help over the years. I still have plants growing that Kevin gave me in the ‘70s.

At that time the growing of native orchids was still in its infancy. Although at the NSW shows large societies such as Sutherland and North Shore put on large native displays in addition to the large mixed displays that have always been put on the native displays consisted mainly of the common species of dendrobiums, and generally just a couple of hybrids – Dendrobium Bardo Rose. Shows were far too early for sarcochilus but generally Sarcochilus hartmannii or falcata were the only ones commonly seen or grown. Classes for these orchids at shows were very few in number.

Yet that time was a time of the great re-awakening of Australia’s own orchids. Kevin was one of those who were right at the forefront of this. Kevin participated in and led many trips to the bush with groups and society members — the collection of wild orchids wasn’t the problem it is today. Kevin and the others weren’t out there to strip the bush, they were there to discover orchids to see how they grow and bring back pieces. These pieces were of only choice orchids to improve the quality of their collections. They then set about learning how to grow these orchids better, how to develop select clones of them and start breeding hybrids from them. In a real sense they were pioneers. Nobody had done this sort of work before.

Kevin Wilson was right at the centre of the birth of the interest of Australian native orchids. He developed a special interest in sarcochilus. These orchids are now amazingly popular in Australia, and have become very much more popular around the world. Kevin was amongst the first to seek out high quality clones of these orchids and to start breeding with them. Development of shapely clones of Sarcochilus hartmannii was the first success with these pioneers. Their progress for a while, with the hybrids was slow. Yet they persevered and the results of their work can be enjoyed by all of us now.

It is not always easy to step outside the mainstream when you try and develop something new and different. The mainstream was very much concerned with much larger and showier orchids. It is amazing how things change over time.

Kevin is responsible for growing a number of awarded clones including Paph. Venustum var. pardinium “June”, Sarcochilus hartmannii “Slyvanvale”, “Red Cloud” and “Red Cap”. He registered a number of grexes of which his most famous are Sarcochilus Dove, Jeanne and Orange Glow.

Kevin has always had a mixed collection but as an orchid grower he has had a strong preference for Paphs (especially white slippers), Phragmipediums, Coelogynes, Promineas and Scotch – preferably other peoples.

Sutherland Orchid Society always prides itself on the number of members it has had accredited to the Orchid Society of NSW and Australian Orchid Council as judges. Even back in the 1970’s then there were half a dozen. Then, as now, one of them was the Registrar of the Judging Panel. Kevin has been a long standing judge – widely respected and prepared to travel very far. He has encouraged others to follow in his steps to maintain the strong judging tradition Sutherland has. It is a great asset to our society when many, many orchid societies do not train judges at all let alone any accredited ones as members.

Kevin is currently still heavily involved in judging, conducting beginner’s classes, guest speaking, editing (in a wonderful and interesting way, our current bulletin),

hybridising, buying seedlings, continuing to park on the footpath in front of the meeting hall and general “wheeling and dealing” in orchids.

Kevin has made long standing friendships in Melbourne, Brisbane and New South Wales South Coast orchid societies; he is in constant search of finding something new and a good bargain. One of the phrases I have heard him use over many years “You’ve got to go out and look for something new - you’ve got to get off your own dung hill.”

Kevin, as I have said has a mixed collection of orchids and has grown many different kinds including oncidiums, masdavellias, odontoglossums, phalenanopsis, cattleyas, dendrochilums and goodness knows what else – even spuds (terrestrials) but now he is probably our largest cymbidium grower.

Some highlights and quotes from Kevin’s orchid career – Show Marshall at the Dungog Orchid Shows, burning down his own kitchen while Pat was in hospital, cutting a developing seed pod off one of Ken Russell’s prize plants when “preparing for the show bench”. Arriving at a NSW Orchid Society Meeting with Wal Chapman to find they had gone on the wrong night.

Orchid growing is a strange past time but it is one I love. People such as Kevin Wilson have directly helped and supported me in following and pursuing this wonderful interest. He has done the same for many, many people. His hybridizing, his talks have spiked the interest in many people – all he has done has greatly enriched the lives of many, many people. Kevin thanks you and congratulations for the last fifty years.


Murray Aldridge