A reader, Sarah Ruane, wrote to ask a really good question: where do those in the know go to get their orchid fix in the New York City area? When I started writing her back I thought, why not make it part of the blog? So here is the first edition of the New York City Orchid Growers' Guide, your one-stop site for all the spots in the metro area where you can see orchids, buy orchids (and orchid supplies) and learn more about orchids.
In Brooklyn, here are my top picks (hey, it's my home borough, so it has to go first!):
Brooklyn Botanical Gardens: their selection is mostly phals and paphs, true, but 1. the plants are usually labelled, so you actually know what hybrid you're getting; 2. they frequently carry decent cattleya hybrids as well as oncidium intergenerics, and 3. prices aren't always cheap, but are usually marked down for orchids that are finished blooming. Plus, they have one of the best selections of orchid supplies (pots, baskets, hangers, potting mixes, etc.) in the city.
Liberty Sunset Garden Center: down in Red Hook near Fairway (and in the same warehouse as Steve's Key Lime Pies). They have a huge outdoor nursery, but also a big indoor space in the warehouse, complete with indoor waterfall. Their selection is very limited, it's probably a good idea to call ahead to find out what's around, but it's such a cool space in a dramatic location that it's worth a visit (Full disclosure: I worked for them 3 summers ago). Chelsea Garden Center has a branch a block away, and they usually stock some orchids inside their store.
Fort Hamilton Flower Market: a wholesale market at 3380 Ft. Hamilton Parkway with some retail stores, I've never been myself but I understand this is a big place for finding annuals and perennials that don't make it to the retail nurseries, so it might be worth checking to see if any of them carry orchids.
Union Square Greenmarket: During the summer and fall, one of the most respected New Jersey growers Silva Orchids) will be at the market every Wednesday and every other Saturday, starting 7/11. A good selection, mainly of hybrids but also some species, all in excellent shape. These guys are pros and are happy to talk to you about orchids and how to grow them, so please stop by and check them out! Some other plant dealers have orchids from time to time, mostly generic phals.
The 28th st. flower district on 6th ave. is smaller than it used to be; but reports of its demise have been exaggerated! There are a number of stores on the avenue and on 28th west of 6th, and on a recent visit seemed to be doing brisk business. Some carry a large stock of orchids, they're mainly selling wholesale, so what they have is 100 of the same kind of phal, 100 of the same kind of paph, etc., and retail prices aren't cheap, though the plants are blooming and very well-cared for. They have a wide variety of non-orchid houseplant also, for those with multiple interests.
Chinatown plant stores: Garden City Flower Arts at 222 Centre St. between Canal and Grand; they not only have phals and oncidiums, but asian cymbidum species and sometimes dendrobium and neofinettia cultivars. Really nice folks, the only catch is plants aren't usually labelled. Another store is Manhattan Florist at 87b Bayard between Mott and Mulberry; they're smaller and don't have as many orchids.
Plantworks on E. 4th st., and Plant Shed on W. 96th off Broadway, are two good indoor stores that will probably have orchids as well as unusual houseplants, but selection will likely be small.
If you're looking for a quick orchid fix, Trader Joe's has better quality plants than the big box stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn, though you'll find mostly phals, phal-type dendrobiums, and the occasional oncidium type.
The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx always carries orchids, and they have some great classic Cattleya plants and unusual hybrids during their big Spring Orchid Show (I'll be doing a lecture on miniature orchids there this spring), but expect to pay premium prices; the garden store is perhaps slanted toward the more well-heeled visitors. ;>)
Wave Hill, also in the Bronx, is a smaller but beautiful public garden, I have seen a few orchids in their shop, but nothing you couldn't get elsewhere. I have not been to the Queens Botanical Garden yet (shame on me!) but I would guess they would stock some orchids as well.
Local Orchid Societies:
this may be the closest thing to the Big NYC Orchid Secret -- at most meetings, not only do you get a lecture/presentation from a grower, they usually bring plants for sale with them! We're talking the unusual and choice items that you usually have to mail order and pay $$$ for shipping. Plus, societies usually have a raffle table where orchids are raffled off, you can get some great plants for a few bucks. Their websites will announce topics ahead of time, so if the speaker is talking about,say, Australian terrestrial orchids, and that's not your thing, you can skip it. Of course, attending or joining an orchid society means admitting that you're an addict/otaku/geek (I joined the Manhattan Orchid Society a few years back, and now I'm on the board, go figure), but hey, there are worse addictions! Here's a slightly outdated list of societies and their websites:
NY Area Orchid Societies
Best Wishes for the New Year, and Happy Orchid Hunting!!