It’s Not Hawaii, but It’s Like Paradise: John Tyler
By: Pam Horter-Moore
Family, tropical plants, and ham radio play an important part in John Tyler’s life. A retired locomotive designer with 37 years at General Electric, the Erie native and his wife Patti celebrated their 50th anniversary last August, a week after his second grandson was born, and the day after their older daughter’s birthday.
John’s interest in tropical plants took new meaning when he and Patti went to Hawaii to visit their older daughter in 2005. “The trip was certainly worth it. The hotel staff upgraded our reservation to an ocean-front suite when they learned that it was our 35th wedding anniversary.
“I was impressed to see orchids everywhere – the hotels, the restaurants, the lobbies, the shopping malls. The people just took them for granted.”
John and Patti returned to Hawaii a few times to visit their daughter and to see the island. On their third trip, they discovered an orchid nursery, where John purchased and shipped home some orchids. Since he was given little instruction regarding their care, they didn’t last long.
On their next trip, they discovered another nursery further up in the mountains, and saw how cooler temperatures affected the types of orchids that were displayed. The owners were award-winning growers, and John had greater success with the orchids he ordered from there.
“I’ve read many books about orchid care, but I’ve had much more success talking with people. You can’t ask a book questions, and you can beat your head against a wall looking for answers. The tweaks you get from other people add to your success,” John says. There were few opportunities to connect with orchid enthusiasts in Erie.
In the meantime, John’s and Patti’s daughter was offered a good job opportunity and moved to Mt. Lebanon, where she attended the March 2019 OSWP Orchid Show at Artsmith and purchased some orchids. When she couldn’t maintain them, she gave them to John, but it was too late to save them.
Remembering that experience, John attended the next OSWP Orchid Show at the Crown Plaza in Mt. Lebanon right before the 2020 Covid-19 shutdown. While there, he talked with other orchid enthusiasts and vendors like Edgar of Windswept in Time Orchids. He found that talking face-to-face with those who also had a passion for growing was much more productive than trying to find answers in books. John became a member just as the Covid pandemic forced face-to-face meetings towards online alternatives. “I learned a lot from the members I talked with, and I got a free orchid,” he jokes when asked about his inducement to join OSWP.
The Zoom meetings have been a boon to John, since he has the opportunity to interact personally and visually with orchid enthusiasts from the tri-state area. By getting involved with the Society online, he finds it easy to ask questions directly from people with a common interest.
John doesn’t have a greenhouse, and most of his orchids are indoors. When he has put orchids outside, even a fence didn’t stop the dogs from destroying them, but he’s had more success with the vandas hanging in his dogwood trees.
He has around thirty orchids that share space with poinsettias and other tropical plants on plant stands with adjustable shelves, and hanging from the dining-room curtain rods. Most are Dendrobiums, but he also has a few Cattleyas and Cymbidiums.
He uses humidity trays to retain moisture, and full-spectrum grow-lights, and he is beginning to see success. Getting advice about supplies for orchid care is another advantage to talking with other orchid enthusiasts.
Orchids are a passion. “You don’t want them to fail; you want to see them bloom,” John says. “It’s like a child growing; you want to see it succeed.”
He was most recently interested in Cymbidiums, but Peter Lin’s presentation in January spurred his interest in mini-orchids. Windswept in Time Orchids has been very helpful in making suggestions. “There is so much trust here,” John remarks. “Everyone is so friendly and helpful.”
His participation in the OSWP has helped him to evolve as a collector. He wants to upgrade from white Dendrobiums and is looking for color. Mostly, though, he’s looking for results.
“You don’t know the impact these Zoom meetings have had on my collection,” John says.
“In Hawaii, there is less trouble growing orchids, but having tropical plants around here in Erie is much cheaper than moving to Hawaii,” John jokes. It’s too far away from his 3-year-old and 7-month-old grandsons. Both daughters now live in the Greater Pittsburgh area, which is good for this close-knit family.
“Having been to Hawaii, I can say that it’s an unbelievable experience to hike to a waterfall and see the orchids in the wild. You can grow tropical plants successfully in your home; you just have to provide the climate to meet their needs.”
John affirms his continued love for tropical plants. “I have Birds of Paradise, and I get a flower every year. I also collect and grow Plumerias, the flowers that are associated with Hawaiian leis. I’ve had success with difficult flowers for my growing conditions in Erie, so I think I can conquer these orchids.
My advice to novices is to join an organization where orchids are a passion. You learn much more from people than from books, and you find that they are willing to share their experiences – the good and the bad.”