There they sit, row after row – the boarders whose owners have put them under the care of Mark Pendleton, manager of Brookside Orchids Boarding Department. “We have about 250 boarding customers,” says Pendleton. “We take care of the plants year round, delivering them to their owners when they bloom. How much of the year they’re in our care depends on the plant and the customer.”
Brookside Orchids is a Menlo Park enterprise that’s been hiding in plain sight for almost 30 years. Its seven greenhouses, packed with every orchid variety imaginable, sits on an acre of land behind the Webb Ranch produce market on Alpine Road. The business, founded by Jim Heierle in 1981, was the main supplier to Smith & Hawken, the specialty garden store that recently went out of business. That prompted Brookside to put on a more public face, including a new sign on Alpine Road welcoming visitors (Monday-Friday from 7:30 am to 3:00 pm and Saturday from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm). An e-commerce website is also in the works.
Brookside grows popular orchid species as well as a few rare flowers outside of the orchid family, including Bat Lily and Ornamental Ginger. Every flower is hand-cultivated, and special care goes into ensuring the plants receive the perfect balance of water, fresh air, and indirect sunlight. Orchids are grown in a mixture of fir bark, charcoal, and perlite and treated with a synthetic fertilizer.
In addition to his boarding manager duties, Pendleton is Brookside’s hybridizer – there are currently a half dozen or so hybrids on display – and resident orchid expert (with a caveat). “There are a lot of orchid experts,” he notes with a smile.
He lends his service to orchids in distress, brought in by their worried and anxious owners. “I can resuscitate an orchid but I can’t resurrect one!” he says.
Photos by Chris Gulker