Q&A with HOS Member Brent Arnspiger

We asked HOS member Brent Arnspiger a dozen questions about his passion for growing orchids.

How and when did you become interested in growing orchids?

I bought my first orchid 28 years ago. It was a yellow Oncidium, but I don’t know which species. It didn’t grow well indoors. Then, I moved to New York City and saw some Paphiopedilums in a flower shop in Chinatown. That began my obsession, and I started attending New York Orchid Society meetings. I even built an indoor growing area with racks and lights, but I still wasn’t a very successful grower.

When I moved back to Houston 16 years ago I joined Houston Orchid Society and went to the Newcomers and Intermediate orchid groups, where I learned a lot. I began collecting more plants, especially Paphs and Cattleyas. Three years later, with lots of advice from longer-term HOS members, I built an 8-foot-by-20-foot greenhouse. It has 2-foot-wide benches all around, a concrete path in the middle, and crushed granite under the benches and around the outside to deter slugs. The outside is a double-layer poly with a 1.5R value that helps diffuse the light to 60 or 70 percent. I have different growing sections in the greenhouse, with the shady side next to my house for the Paphs and the sunnier side away from the house for the Catts.

Are you happy with your current growing conditions or growing space? Or is there something you would like to change?

I recently upgraded all the climate-control equipment. I added an Aquajet humidifier and hydrometer to control the level of humidity. It’s a very efficient system and provides a stable environment for orchids.

Someone told me long ago that no matter how big you build your greenhouse you’ll wish you built it bigger, and not matter how big you build it, you’ll fill it. So true!

How much time per week would you say you devote to caring for your orchids? Any tips for others on efficiencies?

I go out to the greenhouse several times every day, so I would say 5 to 10 hours per week. I enjoy just being out there with the orchids to see what’s growing, what’s putting out buds. I’m a heavy waterer, so I use a very porous media. I recently repotted everything (currently 286 orchids) in the greenhouse, which took a week of evenings and a full weekend.

If you had to evacuate and could take only three orchids from your collection, which three would you take? Why?
Since April I have received five AOS awards, so I would have to choose the Paph. Fred’s Triumph ‘Arnspiger’ (AM 81) first, then two of the HCCs, and smuggle the other two in my pocket. (Paph. Odette’s Adoration, HCC 75; Paph. Majestic Fred ‘Arnspiger,’ HCC 76; Paph. Hawaiian Joy ‘Arnspiger,’ HCC 75; Paph. Macabre Pleasure, ‘Arnspiger,’ HCC 78).

What species or hybrid is your next planned acquisition?

I received several just recently, so miraculously I am not thinking about the next one so much. But these are on my list: C. milleri and an Epidendrum schumannianum, which is very fragrant. I love orchids that have fragrance. I have four Encyclia cordigera var. rosea, which have a rose-type fragrance that I can smell as I approach the door of the greenhouse.

I get orchids from different vendors. I try to stick with vendors who have a good breeding program, who are trying to improve the current standard of the type of orchids they’re hybridizing. Years ago a long-term member told me that a poor-quality orchid takes up just as much space as a good-quality orchid. I always keep that in mind when I’m shopping.

Are you active in hybridizing or cloning?

No. I’ve thought about it, but I need to learn more before I start doing that. Down the road I would be interested.

What is your biggest fear regarding your orchids?

That the electricity will go out. My next purchase is a generator.

Is there an orchid destination on your bucket list? It could be somewhere you have never been or somewhere you enjoyed and would like to visit again.
Hawaii. Most of the Paphs I have are from Hawaii, and I would love to visit the nurseries there. I also want to go to the Taiwan Orchid Show.

Have any of your orchids won awards? If yes, were you ever disappointed or elated over a score given to your orchid?

I was ecstatic just to get my first award—an HCC 75. I got two awards on the same day! I named them ‘Arnspiger’ to leave a legacy for my family.

Do you collect other items related to orchids, such as artwork or special display items?

I started purchasing some books to help with being a student judge, but those other things would cut into my budget for buying orchids.

What would you tell a person who is not an orchid grower about your passion for growing orchids?

It all starts with your first orchid. If you buy an orchid, come to a meeting so you can learn how to keep it alive. My co-workers are always asking about me how to keep them alive. A group I was working with from Washington, DC, bought me a t-shirt that says “Orchid Whisperer” on it with seven types of orchids pictured—such a thoughtful gift although I don’t think of myself as an “orchid whisperer.”

Tell us about your most exciting orchid moment.

My first AOS award, topped by the second, with both awarded on the same day! It was a very good day!

Is there anything else you’d like to tell our members?

I have found that attending the Culture Club meetings is a great way to get to visit other members’ growing environments. I pick up tips and tricks from other growers, and it’s such a good venue for getting your questions answered.

My other advice to members is to come to the judgings. You’ll learn the qualities the judges are looking for, and that can be very helpful for deciding what you might want to purchase. You’ll learn how the judges measure flowers and how to do the research. And it’s a lot of fun hanging out with other orchid enthusiasts. I got to participate at the June judging as a tentative student judge. I am very excited to begin the judging program and to have new opportunities to see orchids that I’ve never seen before, to learn all about what makes an orchid a higher quality that will get an award. I encourage other members to consider joining in the training. It is a fun, enjoyable experience.

Brent with his first awards, each received on the same day in April 2022.

The top two flowers are Phalaenopsis schilleriana. The bottom inflorescence is Phal. Friend’s Princess. With their similarities, you might assume that they share a parent. That’s the kind of information you would learn through the research process followed by the judges.

Encyclia cordigera var. rosea (very fragrant).

Prosthechea cochleata (has a spicy fragrance).

Group of Paphs growing in Brent’s greenhouse.