Q&A with Burnham Nurseries

A few weeks ago I asked you, my readers, to send in any questions you had for me to put to an orchid nursery. That orchid nursery is Burnham Nurseries, and the owner, Sara Rittershausen, has kindly taken the time to answer your questions.


“Chelsea Gold-Medal-Winning Orchid Specialists Burnham Nurseries are now in their 3rd generation of an orchid-growing family. Chelsea exhibitors for over 50 years with 20 golds, the nursery has always specialised in the more unusual orchids as well as supplying the more popular varieties that hook people into loving these fascinating plants. Now run by Sara Rittershausen, the business has the widest range of orchids in the UK and also provides an excellent mail order service from their nursery in South Devon which is open to the public with hundreds of orchids to see in flower at any time of the year. Add to this successful authors of many orchid books for the beginner, an information-packed website and a calendar of events all around the British Isles and you have a nursery which is proud to be growing orchids for over 60 years. “


1. What first interested you in growing orchids?

My grandfather started growing orchids in the 1930’s and started the nursery in the late 1940’s, so I was brought up with orchids as the family business. Always thought that is what I would do.

2. Are there any varieties / species of orchid that you have grown yourselves from seed / mericloning?

Yes we grow many orchids from seed in our laboratory, mostly species with a few hybrids, not much mericloning but occasionally.

3. If so, what specific traits do you try and aim for?

We concentrate on strong growing, free flowering species that are popular and will grow well for our customers.

4. How do you manage pests?

We do have a programme of pesticide treatment that we use throughout the year to keep pests such as mealy bug, scale and red spider mite at bay. We will also treat individual plants that show any signs of pests with methylated spirits.

5. How do you manage to care for the variety of orchids you have with their different requirements?

We have different temperature zones in our nursery for cool, intermediate and warm growing orchids. All plants are watered by hand so they can be assessed as to if they need watering or not. Generally most of the orchids we grow need similar conditions with regards to shade in summer and high humidity so they can grow happily together in the same greenhouse.

6. Is there a type of growing media that you prefer to use?

We use chipped bark for most of our orchids as it is natural and free draining and this is what we recommend for our customers to use as well. Their roots like to dry out well in between waterings so by using bark this allows air movement through the pot to dry them out.

7. Is there a particular orchid you would recommend to beginners?
The most popular choice is the Phalaenopsis as they are free flowering and like to be in the warmth of the home. They are not seasonal so can flower at any time of the year. These do very well in the average home.

8. Do you lose many orchids whilst you are growing them, and what are the losses due to?

With such a large collection there are always going to be a few plants that don’t succeed. This can be because they are not a strong growing variety, or maybe if their roots kept too wet without realising it. Thankfully we don’t lose many plants as hopefully we have the conditions right.

9. Do you have a “Top 5” orchid list i.e. the ones that you really couldn’t be without?

We grow many different types of orchids and we are especially keen on species so I would choose my top 5 species…

  • Coelogyne ochracea – beautiful white flowers which are sweetly scented in the spring.
  • Lepanthopsis astrophorea – our smallest orchid with tiny purple star-shaped flowers only a few millimetres across! An exquisite miniature.
  • Cymbidium erythrostylum – the most beautiful of the cymbidium species which doesn’t really look like a regular cymbidium hybrid. White flowers with a red striped lip.
  • Dendrobium densiflorum – a large bunch of bright yellow flowers hang like a bunch of grapes from the top of the cane. Fragrant too.
  • Brassia verrucosa – exotic spidery pale green flowers with long petals and scent.


One last thing…if you do get the chance to visit this nursery, make sure you drop in on their Orchid Paradise display. They have some really stunning orchids in their collection, which are regularly rotated throughout the year. Some of their specimen orchids are just fantastic!

You can visit their website here. If you make enquiries with Burnham Nurseries, please mention that you are contacting them in response to this post, so they know where people are finding out about them.

Happy growing!



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