Athol Lavis of Goonellabah with some of his prize-winning orchids. Photo Cathy Adams / The Northern Star
Athol Lavis of Goonellabah with some of his prize-winning orchids. Photo Cathy Adams / The Northern Star Cathy Adams

Lismore truckie’s long-haul orchid obsession

HE'S the former long-haul truckie who likes to grow pretty flowers in his spare time.

Goonellabah green thumb Athol Lavis has had a love affair with orchids for more than 40 years, and is now an undisputed master.

Last year Mr Lavis won an astonishing five Australian Orchid Society and NSW Orchid Society awards for the standout specimens from his 1500-strong collection he has painstakingly nurtured over years.

His best flower, lovingly named Laylah Izabella after one of his grandaughters, has twice won an Award of Merit - the highest award - one in 2012, and one last year.

Getting an "AM" is no easy feat: the flower is graded by a panel of six judges, before being recommended for an award to the Australian and NSW Orchid Societies. They can veto the award if it doesn't pass their high standards.

Asked about the root of his success, Mr Lavis said it was down to decades of trial and error and "you never stop learning".

And with 110 sqm of greenhouse space on his Goonellabah block - taking up half the back garden -he has plenty of space to experiment.


The 74-year-old also admits to having discovered the exotic flowers in his late teens when most blokes were chasing girls.

"I was at an orchid show down at the Square... and these beautiful things had come from Indonesia, and I said to a mate of mine 'can I buy a couple of those', and it's been a passion ever since," he said.

"I gave it away for a little while but them I came back."

"I used to play bagpipes too. And my best mate, his son reckoned I was the only truck driver he knew he grew flowers and wore a skirt," he laughed.

It can be painstaking at times: "You can buy 50 seedlings and (only) get one good orchid."

But worth it in the end.

President of the City of Lismore Orchid Society Kevin Foster said Mr Lavis was well deserving of his accolades.

"Athol has been growing plants for many years and grows his plants beautifully. He's meticulous in the culture of his orchids and that shows in his flowers.

"You get out what you put in."

Mr Lavis's flowers are expected to make an appearance at the City of Lismore Orchid Society Autumn Show, from next Thursday at Lismore Central.

Growing Orchids: Where to start

ORCHIDS are an ancient, wondrous flower, evidence of which dates back to the time of the dinosaurs.

There are 30,000 native species of orchid found on every continent except Antarctica and an astonishing 150,000 human-bred hybrids, testament to our obsessive love affair with these multi-coloured plants.

Their delicate exotic appearance belies the fact they are actually simple for a casual green thumb to care for - of course perfecting them is another thing all together.

Light: Orchids need bright light, but no direct sun.

Water: They usually need it twice a week, with fertiliser very second water. Never leave the roots in damp conditions - which is why they are best paired with an easy-draining medium. Orchids DO NOT grow in soil!

Humidity: A humid environment is good. Most orchids don't like dry conditions. However, they also like gentle air circulation, so orchid buffs will often use fans in greenhouses.

Temperatures: Can range anywhere from 18-40°C depending on humidity and the variety. For inland growers, a frost resistant species is appropriate.

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