A number of the cultural series on this site had their origin in cultural guides produced in association with the Wellington Orchid Society. The story of that publication effort is an interesting piece of history, and the following is an article I wrote for the Society Journal when I stopped editing the Journal after a period of 10 years.


The production of cultural guides were one of the important aims of the Society, following on from the production of   a Journal.   The cultural guides have certainly been a factor in earning our Society both a national and international reputation.   We know copies of the publications have been sent to the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Recently, mail has been received from France, Germany, Italy, Thailand and Singapore, all requesting details of the publications produced.

The start of the publications derived from a series of articles produced in the Journal.  In view of the long term aims of local relevant cultural guides, and with the material available, the guides were produced. The typesetting of Daphne Williams,    and plate making skills of Danny Nel allowed the professional and economic production of the initial guides.

The possibilities of cultural guides had been confirmed to some degree when Dot Cooper and the Society jointly published (but commercially produced) the Native Orchid Field Guide, the compilation of all the native orchid articles that had appeared in the Journal from 1978.    This publication was issued in 1981, and enjoyed considerable popularity, quickly selling out.

But perhaps one should start at the beginning.   The late Tom Grant-Taylor sowed the seeds of the cultural guides during many conversations over a period of time while we were both involved in the production of the Journal. When I commenced Editorship of the Journal, I commenced research into a number of orchid groups that I was interested in, and from 1976 was able to build up a considerable store of relevant material on some plant groups. This material was initially designed for the production of Journal articles, but eventually formed the essential basis for the larger works.

It was apparent that if we were to produce anything it would be a guide on Cymbidiums that would have the greatest chance of success -and success was not something that was obvious that we could achieve.   No other Society in the country has attempted such a project

As editor of the Journal I produced a number of articles on cymbidium culture, and these appeared suitable for inclusion in a cultural guide, with other material added.   I approached the committee to secure their agreement, and it is fair to say that there was not full agreement, as a number of members did not feel that it was financially feasible. However, after a full discussion, there was agreement to continue with a limited printing.

Right from the start it was clearly stated  that the publications must be financially separate and self-supporting and funding once established. It was also agreed that it was important that the Society itself must finance and support its own activities without recourse to the Printing Account.   Financial assistance to the Society from the Printing Account would be for special projects; anything else would distort the true costs etc. of running the Society that would not be in anyone's interests.

The Society committee agreed that $1, 000 would be available to allow the printing of   1, 000 copies of the Cymbidium Guide, and in due course this was completed.   Initially, however, the design of the cover had to be settled.   I finally decided that the basic design of the Journal  cover  should  be followed, but with an illustration of  a cymbidium flower.  The late Frank Askin stated that his daughter in law, Elizabeth Askin, was an artist, and would be able to produce a satisfactory design.    In due course Frank provided a flower, and subsequently a most satisfactory flower picture was produced which gave an eye catching cover.

A   number off local orchid nurseries were approached to ascertain if they would advertise in the guide, and most did so. It was always believed that the guides were provided as a service to encourage the growing of orchids.   The advertisements were provided basically at printing and production costs, but the nurseries involved were encouraged to stock the guide for resale to their clients.  Such a policy seems to have been very successful.

All the orchid societies in New Zealand were approached to sell the guide. It was priced in such a way that they were able to also secure funds for their own use. When copies of that first edition became available we had 700 for sale, reserving 300 for free distribution to members of the Society by way of a supplement to the Journal. The demand was far in excess of what we could have expected, given even the most optimistic of estimates. The guide was available in June 1983, and all available copies were sold in 3 weeks, with payment received before we had even received the account for printing from the printer.   This support also meant that we did not have to avail ourselves of the $1, 000 initial establishment loan from the main Society, and the funds were immediately repaid.

With the aim to reduce costs, Society members collated the publication, quite a large job. At all stages, with this and all subsequent guides, our intention was to   produce inexpensive publications  providing   excellent value for money, and certainly much of their popularity must derive from this aspect.

With the strong support from both many orchid nurseries and orchid societies, the next printing included advertisements from right around the country. 3750 copies were produced in August 1983, and even this number only lasted 3 months. Further advertising was sought for the next reprinting which became available the following year This third printing was 7, 200 copies, and lasted less than a year; a total of 12, 000 copies sold in   2   years. Because of the delay between the second and third printings, there had been a build up in orders, to the extent that when this edition became available, it took me a whole weekend to make up the orders, and they filled the entire back of my Cortina station wagon.    The Post Office was not very pleased on Monday morning, but it did boost their turnover that day!

With the Second International Orchid Conference  in Wellington (jointly sponsored by the Society) it was decided to revise this guide. With the cooperation of Daphne Williams with typesetting, and Danny Nel   with plates and his contacts in. the printing industry, this major project was embarked upon.    With Danny's encouragement we decided that color was important, and this was introduced.  Our problem was obtaining colour photographs; I had some but insufficient for the number required, but Norm Porter made available his slides so that we could include a good range of plants.    With the conference coming up, advertising was forthcoming, but our finances were stretched with this and a number of other projects.  Wes Ross Taylor, of South Pacific Orchids decided to take a 4 page 'centerfold', including 2 pages of colour. In addition, he had developed the habit, (as had a   number of other orchid nurseries) of including a copy of the guide with larger orders, and he placed a large order for the new printing.  With this assured sale in particular, the financial viability of the project was assured.   10, 000 copies of this new edition were produced, and supplies lasted from August 1985 to December 1988.

I believe that the sale of 22, 000 copies of this guide to be an amazing achievement.   Sales at this level were far beyond even our most optimistic estimates. Interestingly, the inclusion of the monthly calendar of operations, not seen in many books, seems to   have been a   significant feature in its popularity. Obviously they have gone far beyond the orchid    society members, a result that can only be positive. All copies include a list of all orchid societies in New Zealand, as well as a plug for Conzed and Orchids in New Zealand magazine as part of our encouragement of orchid growing in this country.   It would be interesting to know how many members in. societies right throughout the country joined, as a result of reading this book.

Just after the first Cymbidium Guide was published, Lew Wyatt produced a good article on Odontoglossums.     This was published in the Journal, but a number of intentional printers over-runs were bound and put out as a small guide. Reprinted three times,   this modest little publication has sold 3500 copies.

Commercial books were not always the aim.   1 completed articles on Oncidiums, and also Lycaste and Anguloas.   With the 1985 International Orchid Conference coming up, these Journal articles were also re­written and issued as separate guides.  The Oncidium Guide in particular set a concept and has been very popular - especially overseas.   Recently guides on Paphiopedilums and the Cattleya Alliance have been added, the last in particular covering an extensive field being a major effort.   Literally hundreds of hours of work are involved in their production, with in some cases the research extending over 10 years.   They were certainly long term projects!!!

With Danny Nel's encouragement, we also produced a number of orchid postcards, notelets and greeting cards.  Produced in full colour they have been very successful, most of the 44, 000   cards printed having been sold since 1984.   They replaced a small series of monochrome cards that had been produced by Tom Grant-Taylor.

Prior to the 1985 Conference, the Society assisted in the production of the Registration Guide.  I decided that our own publication efforts precluded me from a major role in that conference, but close to the conference I was called upon to assist with the formal Conference Proceedings, including the provision of most of the illustrations.

John Addison was Secretary to the conference, and early on he asked if I would be able to produce on behalf of the conference a   suitable set of posters. I came up with a design concept, and a graphic artist refined the placing of the text, and 4 different posters were finally produced. To spread costs, and with the consent of the Conference committee, it was decided to incorporate the poster printing and design in to a special Conferences calendar.     While visually successful, this calendar only broke even financially as calendars are a very difficult field, but they certainly achieved their other aims.

One of the most satisfying aspects of the    publications activities has been the 'marketing' of the material.  Initially it was through the orchid societies and orchid nurseries, especially those who had taken advertising in the Cymbidium Guides. The Auckland region has been a very important market, and Societies like North Shore have been responsible for the sale of many items. The use of the computer has allowed the production of advertising material and personalised order forms, which alone have repaid their cost.  To all those who have been involved, I must express my thanks. One of the most rewarding aspects has been the honesty of those growing orchids, we virtually have had no bad debts.    The very friendly correspondence has always made the job that much easier. It is interesting to receive correspondence from growers who are obviously not connected with societies, who often seek cultural advice. While time consuming I have always tried to assist as far as I can to repay the pleasure I have. Received from this hobby.

While the original intention was for guides for New Zealand orchid growers, over the last year or so there has been an increasing international interest in the publications, to the extent that now over half of all sales are to overseas growers.    The opportunity has always been grasped to take advantage of any overseas contacts, and that with Twin Oak Orchids in the United States has been most beneficial.    Currently orders of several   hundred books worth over $1, 000 are regularly received,  and his advertisements in The American Orchid Society Bulletin for example have helped spread the word. It is the individual requests from overseas that are often puzzling - how did they find out about the publications in the first place?

A   while ago we sent advertising to    Australian societies, and were somewhat disappointed with the resulting orders.  We always had volume requirements to qualify for bulk discounts in order to reduce the administrative workload. With a number of publications now available, we introduced a system where provided the total order exceeded $100 at the bulk price, for mixed title orders we would sell at the appropriate bulk price. This, and contacting many Australian orchid nurseries, has now resulted in a pleasing flow of orders from over the Tasman Sea.

The Publications activities have been largely run by only a small group of enthusiasts.   Daphne Williams, Danny Nel, and myself (and also my family who have also been called in to assist on many occasions). There is still a considerable demand for this type of publication, and I hope that we will be able to continue for some years yet.   All we want is more authors!   It is worth noting, however, that the, changing demands may require a rethink of how we do some things if we are not to abuse the     considerable     voluntary contributions from some members who have made all this possible.

It is surprising the amount of time this all takes, and that is not just the writing of the guides.   There is a considerable amount of mail to handle, and the banking, accounts, with lots of miscellaneous running around with stock, posting and so on. I have been fortunate to have an understanding family, as on many, many occasions they have been called on to assist in many varying ways.    During this period of involvement with the Journal and Publications I also had 6 years on the Committee of the Society, as well as being Vice President for a period.    It made easier communications but did take up a lot of time.

One associated benefit of this association with orchid growers and booksellers, and one which may not be readily appreciated by some members, is that at times we have been able to obtain publications which fit in with our aims for resale to members.   In the main these have been resold at little or no profit, but members have received benefits.   Even other Societies have taken advantage of this service.  It may be that one member of the society would like to take on this job, it is not a very big one but takes some organization and correspondence etc.     The    principal    books introduced have    been on Masdevallias by Joe Kelliher, the Australian Native Orchid Hybrid Guide by John Kavulak (the Australian author who incidentally unexpectedly turned up on my doorstep one day to talk about his book), the small Golden Orchid Guide, and    the    important Handbook of Nomenclature and Registration.

It- is perhaps appropriate to record the publishing history of the guides that have been produced to date.







Cymbidiums 1st edition

June 83



August 83



July 84


2nd edition

August 85




July 83



October 83



May 84


Lycaste & Anguloa

March 85



July 85



January 89



May 87


Cattleya Alliance

June 88


Greeting cards*












* sets of 8 different.







For the International conference a colour-advertising brochure was also produced included with one postcard in all registration packs.

In just over 5 years, a total of 30, 000 culture guides have been distributed, plus calendars and a like number of individual cards and notelets, all in all a remarkable effort. The amazing thing is that there have been relatively few problems over the years, Enid McSweeney has been responsible for many of the local orders, working quietly behind the scenes but always getting on with the job in hand.   Without her valuable assistance much of this would not have been possible.  The support of the various Society committees and presidents (Frank Askin, Roger Cooper, Janet Mendoza and Helen O'Hara) have been invaluable at all times.

The question can rightly be asked, "What do the members of the Wellington Orchid Society get from all this activity?"   To start with they have had available cultural information that would not otherwise have been seen.  Members have either been given the guides free with the Journal, or had them made available at a reduced price for an initial period.   They have, however, received much more indirect benefit.   The computer equipment used for the production of the guides has been used for the Journal and the maintenance of the membership register. Without the publications support much of the Journal production would be much more difficult. Many "extras" have also been provided -   much of    the photographic illustration cost, letraset,    headliner and like facilities, maintenance and so on, have only been possible because there have been funds available from this source. It is difficult to quantify this contribution, but over the years it would amount to a quite considerable sum.

I am very proud of what we have achieved with the publications, and look forward to continuing future success, as I am sure we have only really just started. There is still a demand for the Guides, and there are a lot of genera not covered!!!

It is unfortunate in some ways that I leave at this time when the Society is   experiencing difficulties.   However, as Roger Cooper noted in February,   a challenge was taken up and we made some real progress.  There is absolutely no reason why this cannot    be   repeated again.

Published April 1989

No longer associated with the Society, I do not know if the books are still available.


Societies change with changing members and changing interests, and this was certainly true of this society.

The Publications activity was always run as a ‘Society’ activity with full involvement of members, but with the changing interests of members, interest in publication activities waned.
It is perhaps unique in orchid publication in this country and even overseas, but the activity was never set up for personal profit, but for the wider good of orchid growing. This in effect was a small business activity, and needed to be run as such.  With both Committee and society members not able to appreciate this aspect, and with members generally not able or interested in books or publisshing activities, I withdrew from the activity and the Society.

From nothing a significant asset had been created separate from the ordinary society activities, and it is unfortunate that the publications activity could not have been continued, as the circumstances under which the fund was established is unlikely ever to be repeated again.
  There is still a significant demand for basic cultural information, and further publications could have been produced,  but this was not practicable under the circumstances.

Since this publication activity, I have become involved in web publishing. . From a very small start an extensive web site on orchids has been established, receiving some 20,000 to 25,000 hits a month; over half a million hits since it was established.

Regularly I receive requests from people growing orchids around the world for cultural assistance. I am happy to assist in any way I can, but this to me seems to be something societies should be involved in, or even the national orchid bodies. The american Orchid Society offers such a service, but perhaps more should. while many will not become involved in orchid organisations, some will, and this is one way of faciliting the interest of orchid growing.

Site established 9th May 1998