SEASIDE - Dorothy Nimtz bought her first orchid for her husband, Bill, when he was sick in the hospital.

Bill recovered. The orchid died. Dorothy was hooked.

"It's been about 12 years since I bought my first plant," she said. "It was a white dendrobium."

Since then, the retired nurse has created a collection of several hundred orchids that she keeps in a heated greenhouse. The couple owns and operates a second-hand shop called the Auction Barn, off of U.S. Highway 101, and when you don't see Dorothy selling goods to loyal customers, she can be found tending to her plants.

Nimtz is one of the dozens of Sunset Empire Orchid Society members who are planning the organization's annual show, slated for Saturday and Sunday at Broadway Middle School. The event runs 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, and features hundreds of orchids on display and more than two dozen vendors and club booths. Entry costs $2 for general admission, $1 for seniors, and children under age 12 are free. Proceeds from the event go to local service groups.

"There will be lots of different plants, with different scents, shapes and colors," Nimtz said. "There will be lots of eye candy."

Accredited judges will review the show Friday and Saturday, awarding ribbons to top plants. Once the show opens to the public, growers can get their orchids repotted for a small fee and enjoy free refreshments as they take in the plants at the group's 10th annual show. Members from Oregon and Washington orchid societies will exhibit their plants and answer questions about orchids.

In a nod to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the theme for the event is "Orchids in View."

Nimtz and the other local orchid fanciers aren't alone. Worldwide, more than 30,000 people have joined the American Orchid Society, a group so devoted to orchids that it calls its members a "fellowship." And orchidmania spans the generations. Nimtz knows several preteens who are avid collectors.

"We have a couple of 12-year-olds starting their own collections," she said.

And what's not to like? There are 20,000 species of orchids that grow around the world. Every country in the world and every state in the United States, including Alaska, has orchids, according to the American Orchid Society. After all, the orchid family is the largest plant family, occupying almost all possible environments. Some orchids produce blossoms no larger than a mosquito; other orchid flowers are as large as a dinner plate.

"They're not hard to grow," Nimtz said. "If you have an east or south facing window, you have a place to grow an orchid."

In fact, she doesn't even bother with soil for most of her plants. Nimtz is one of those orchid fanciers who prefers "mounts," or plants that are fixed onto sticks or small logs.

"Those are my favorites," she said. "They grow on sticks in the air, with misting or a dunk in the water. They just fascinate me."

Nimtz started growing her orchids on sticks when she discovered a potted orchid in her greenhouse that was failing to thrive. She mounted it, spritzed the plant with water and it took off.

"Now, whenever I have an orchid that isn't looking well in a pot, I warn that I'll put it on a stick, or on a burning pyre," she said with a laugh. "They take it as a threat."

Cathy Peterson belongs to the Clatsop County Master Gardener Association. "In the Garden" runs weekly in Coast Weekend. Please send comments and gardening news to "In the Garden," The Daily Astorian, P.O. Box 210, Astoria, OR 97103 or online at peterson@pacifier.com

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