Meet the Member

Submitted By: Norma Raiff

​Do you know this about Sheila? Take the pop quiz by filling in the blanks.  Then check them against the answers below!

She’s a long-time ardent opera fan who traveled to ( _____ ) to attend this year’s Wagner Festival.
She loves dogs and currently has ( ______ ) adorable dogs of her own: a Shiba Inu (a small, affectionate Japanese breed considered a natural treasure), a Kai Ken (also a native Japanese breed), a really sweet pug, and her newest addition, a German Shepard puppy affectionately called “Izzie” (short for “Isolde” – as in Tristan and Isolde, a famed three act Wagnerian Opera).
She’s an avid gardener and her home was recently featured on the ( _____ ) Garden Tour.
She’s OSWP’s ( _____ ) and is in charge of ( _____ ).


1 = Germany           2 = 4     3 =Pittsburgh Botanic Garden 2018 Town and Country Garden Tour

4 = Second Vice President; Mini Classes

How long have you been growing orchids? Sheila’s orchid journey started out as an unplanned venture that grew out of her general love of plants. And as we’ve probably all experienced, her casual interest eventually morphed into a much more multifaceted involvement. Sheila identifies herself as being a “serious” orchid grower for about 15 years. As her collection thrived and successes mounted, so did her skill and confidence.

When did you join the society & why? Sheila’s involvement with OSWP began with a visit to our Spring Show. She then traveled down the familiar path of purchasing plants, attending meetings, and in 2010 she became an OSWP member. Sheila credits her current OSWP involvement to the fact that she felt our meetings were informative and, perhaps as importantly, to the friends she made. She eventually became a Pfun at Phipps volunteer. “It was so nice to do hands-on things. It was tailor made for my talents and I so benefitted from it.”

And her extracurricular commitments didn’t stop there. For the past two years, Sheila has partnered with Gary VanGelder to serve as Co-Chair of the Spring Orchid Show. “The second time was much easier” she recalls, “since I started to know what I was doing.” To top it off, Sheila was recently elected to the position of OSWP’s second Vice President.

Current collection and growing environment: As she admits, “I grow a lot of different types of orchids.” As a start-out grower, Sheila tried to grow everything, but now she’s “really into dendrobiums.” “They’re easy to grow and I grow them well, especially the Dendrobium Nobile types. “You can ignore them all winter when they are dormant…they don’t bother me...they take a nice rest and then they bloom!”

Her other favorites include Cattleya skinneri, which reliably blooms for her in April, and the beautiful purple-lipped Miltonia binotii - a natural miltonia hybrid found in southeastern Brazil. Says Sheila of the latter: “It’s simple to grow and I think it smells like cilantro”.  Her orchids thrive in her greenhouse for most of the year but she summers almost all of them outdoors. And here’s where her creativity comes in: her beautiful and extensive back garden has a fenced-off small, to-the-side division: it’s her combination orchid growing area and dog run! (In case you’re concerned about dog poo-poo, the orchids are on really nice raised black plastic tables which she disassembles and brings back into the greenhouse after the summer.) Other orchids are grown throughout the garden, depending on their specific light needs.

Funniest/weirdest mistake or experience: Have you ever experienced this? As a newish grower, Sheila didn’t pay too must attention to tool cleanliness. So she didn’t clean out her pump sprayer a lot. And all of a sudden she discovered that she was killing a lot of plants. Uh-oh, “The leaves were rotting and covered with fungus.” She finally looked in her sprayer and the inside was covered with slime and mold. So this is a cautionary tale: check your water source and its condition!

You might also be interested to know this about me: Sheila, a former nurse, is originally from Rhode Island but moved to Pittsburgh when her husband, Michael, a cardiologist, joined a practice here. They both love gardening and Michael’s 40-year-old staghorn fern was one of the highlights of the Botanical Garden Tour. Together they’ve raised four, now adult, children. Sheila has this to say about our town: “It’s a really nice place to live…it’s a right-sized city, by which I mean it has everything you might need and so many wonderful things.”  

Sheila Nathanson