A Man of Mystery, Grace, Good Eats, and Splendid Orchids: Steven Christopher
By: Norma Raiff
Back in the mid 1940’s Brenda Star – a popular comic strip character that appeared in numerous weekly and Sunday newspapers -- discovered the love of her life. Known as the “the mystery man with the black eye-patch and affinity for black orchids,” readers were enthralled by their tragedy-plagued relationship. And while media interest peaked in the 50’s, many orchid growers are still fixated on growing a true black orchid.
I mention this because OSWP has our own mystery man: Steven Christopher. Many of us are aware of Steven through his signature photos of stunning blooming orchids featured on Jim Yamber’s Show and Tell emails. These spectacular photos have prompted some members ask, “Who is that guy? Why don’t we know more about him?” And what about his email alias: dessertsbysteven? Desserts and orchids? – Heavenly!
Recently I had the extraordinary pleasure of interviewing Steven to find some answers.
Steven Christopher is a long time orchid grower and plant fanatic who lives in Clarksburg, West Virginia, about 40 miles from Morgantown. He and his partner, Gary Alan, live in a 1914 Arts and Craft style home listed in US National Register of Historic Places. The property features English and French inspired gardens and a Japanese garden. Follow their stunning seasonal changes on Instagram @edgewoodmanor1914.
Steven is both a pastry chef and a freelance landscape architect/garden designer. His desserts, cheesecakes, and chocolates are available by special order by phone. You can drool over these delicacies by viewing them on Steven’s Facebook or Instagram account, or by searching orchids@stevenchristopherj.
As for his orchids, Steven’s interests are varied. Of Indian descent, Steven grew up in the U.K and has lived in Thailand, Australia, and the United Arab Emirates. A visit to a relative in Wheeling, West Virginia resulted in Steven’s enrolling in WV Northern Community College’s culinary program.
Steven’s journey to orchid growing took a while. While one of his friend’s mother grew orchids, which he admired, it was not until he lived in Thailand and saw orchids in the wild that he was truly “mesmerized and became captive.”
His interest in orchids remained passive until he received his first plant, some 23 years ago. “Once I got that plant, I started getting hooked. I still have my first phalaenopsis, a huge white one.” How’s that for a track record!
Steven initially used the AOS to learn about orchid culture; then joined the OSWP in 2007. Although he recognized that his complex work schedule would interfere with his ability to come to our monthly meetings, “It was my way of supporting you and something that I loved and cherished…I need to be part of something, even if I can’t be directly involved.”
A regular attendee at our Spring Shows, Steven makes sure to leave time on his calendar. “You have the best shows; the vendors are terrific. Take it from me your exhibits are beautiful. I always walk around and marvel at the displays and the beautiful plants.” While he has visited other out-of-state shows, he grades OSWP as #1.
As for his favorite orchids, well it’s hard to tell. His extensive collection includes Phalaenopsis, Vandas, Cattleyas and Lepanthes, but he’s especially attracted to “the weirdos.” Take Epidendrum kockii: “Their flowers are weird, not pretty.” As for the Lepanthes, “their flowers are very tiny. When I buy something new, I look at how the leaf looks, what is the flower’s shape and texture.”
Steven declines to name his favorite. “I am a person who likes to dabble in everything. I enjoy the weirdos, the unusual, and those that are different. I purchase them to challenge myself.”
Side note: Steven’s love of plants is extensively eclectic. In addition some 350 orchids, he also grows Aroids, Alocasias, Anthuriums, Dischidias and Tillandsia. Some 50 houseplants, including tropical, Citrus, Hoyas, Cycads and many Caudiciforms, are displayed throughout his home. “I always say I suffer from CPS (cool Plant Syndrome). It’s so cool. I have to have it.”
However, his interests don’t stop there: birds are yet another of Steven and Gary’s passions. Their collection features about 80 chickens of different species, beautiful Chinese pheasants, Japanese Coturnix Quail, and a spectacular pair of Indian Blue Peacocks.
And speaking of greenhouses, here’s something unique: About 14 years ago, while summering his plants outside, Steven went to check on his orchids’ wellbeing. Suddenly, a frightened tree frog jumped onto Steven’s face, clinging for dear life. You can easily imagine what happened next: Steven‘s automatic hard swipe, his contrite reaction to seeing the frog lying on the ground, guilt and remorse. So on the off chance that it was still alive, Steve carried the tree frog inside … where it recovered and lived as a cherished greenhouse resident for another decade.
Mr. Krooks (a.k.a Mr. Froggy), even he had his own Instagram account…. @ mr.Krooks. “He was so tame. He would come to the sink when he was hungry to let me feed him by hand. He loved having his belly rubbed on the sides…I miss him so much.”
However, the story does not end there. A few years later, “two new Frogs actually snuck into the greenhouse on the orchids unbeknownst to me. They startled me too. I had no idea they were in there.” While he has not yet officially named these newest guests (he refers to them as little Krooks and other Krooks), I can report that they also are greenhouse-trained. “I’ve taught them to come to the counter when they want to be fed.”
So who is the OSWP’s mystery man? Steven Christopher: Chef, garden designer, orchid aficionado, rescuer of wild life. Mystery Solved!