Jon Lorence – Custodian

The Orchid Man


Jon Lorence holds one of his many orchids in the greenhouse behind his home. (photo by Stephen Schmidt)


article by Stephen Schmidt, reprinted from the Northern Johnson County (NoJoCo) News

Solon Economist


SOLON– Jon Lorence caught the orchid -growing bug almost 20 years ago, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down.

“Growing orchids is like an addiction,” Lorence said with a knowing smile one sunny Friday evening, sitting near the small, orchid-filled greenhouse behind his home. “Once you get started growing, you just want to do more and more.”

In early March, one of Lorence’s Phragmipedium orchids, featuring bright orange, slipper-like petals, won an award of high commendation at a competition in Wisconsin. It was one of many awards he and his wife, Joan, have received for their orchids as they compete with the Eastern Iowa Orchid Society, an orchid-growing club based out of Iowa City. Members of the group participate in Midwest competitions in cities such as Minneapolis and Chicago.

Lorence appreciates the awards as a recognition of the skill it takes to raise orchids over the long period it takes them to bloom. The club’s orchids, placed together on a table in a bright rainbow of color, gradating from yellow to orange to purple, are judged based on the standards set by the American Orchid Society, developed by generations of previous orchid growers.

“It’s nice to know that you’re able to grow something that someone else feels is of a high quality,” Lorence said.

Although he enjoys the awards, the most gratifying part of his hobby is the process of nurturing the plant into bloom. This particular orchid, given to him in plant form, took three years to bloom, while an orchid started in seed form can take five years.

With a buildup that long, it’s no surprise that the biggest award for an orchid grower is seeing the plant through this process, and, finally, after years of work, watching it bloom into a beautiful reward.

“It’s quite challenging to be able to get them growing,” Lorence said. “There’s a satisfaction of knowing that you are able to get them to grow successfully.”

The process of growing an orchid includes providing the right soil, he said, and then rotating three key elements in a balanced triangle: moisture, sunlight and airflow. Each variety of plant has different needs when it comes to these elements, and it is vital to know that when one of them is adjusted, the other two must be as well.

Sound hard to learn? Lorence would agree.

“I’ve killed quite a few orchids over the years,” he said with a laugh. “You learn what you can and cannot grow based on your conditions.”

The hobby for Jon and Joan began in 1992 with a few orchids in the dining room. Later, they added more and more, until the room was the dining room in name only.

“We had so many plants growing there wasn’t any room to eat,” he said.

This necessitated the addition of a small greenhouse in 1995, so they bought two smaller structures (one glass, one not) and merged them together into the workable greenhouse they have used to grow plants to this day.

Although Lorence said he and his wife both enjoy the hobby of growing orchids in addition to other plants, he admits that maybe he’s a little bit more extreme in the hobby.

“It takes both of us to make it work, and we both enjoy it very much,” he explained. “But I think I got (the addiction) a little bit more than she did.”

He and his wife continue to experiment with new orchids, exploring the vast world of growing that includes more than 30,000 different species and 100,000 different hybrids of plant. Right now, the pair are preparing the outside of their home to grow new varieties of orchids for the first time outside of the greenhouse.

“It’s a new project,” he noted. “It’s exciting to see if it will work.”

The hobby of orchid growing is a rewarding one that he would recommend to everyone, whether they grow one or two plants on their windowsill or a greenhouse full of orchids. He said there is always something you can do better, and always something to explore, which is what makes the process an endless joy he would like to share with others.

“We’re looking for anybody who wants to get started,” Lorence said. “Just let me know when and I’ll help you out.”