A field of pink/purple flowers on a sunny day stand in front of a blurred background of similar purples/pinks and greenery.

The Orchid Whisperer

Amanda Daflos and Randy TanIt all started with one single pseudobulb, 31 years ago. Today, this single division is now an award-winning Cymbidium Pauwelsiii ‘Kessander’ orchid spanning 7 feet in diameter and 8 feet in height when in bloom, and it proudly sits in The Huntington’s orchid collections, thanks to a generous donation from Jerry Kessler and Susan Anderson.

In 2018, Jerry and Susan were awarded the prestigious Certificate of Cultural Excellence from the American Orchid Society for their ‘Kessander’. The award is the organization’s highest honor to a grower or collector for the cultivation and flowering of a plant.

The name ‘Kessander’ is a hybrid of Jerry’s and Susan’s last names, exemplifying the couple’s joint effort to grow this magnificent orchid. Over the last three decades, they have carefully cared for the orchid in their Massachusetts home. To shelter the plant from the harsh East Coast winters, the couple housed the orchid in their basement, with an elaborate setup of fluorescent lights and mirrors to capture every bit of light.

This past June, the couple drove 3,021 miles across the country to personally deliver the orchid to Brandon Tam, The Huntington’s orchid collection specialist. “This specimen is so fantastic,” Brandon says, “because rarely do you find a plant of its age and size that has grown this incredibly well.” The ‘Kessander’ is one of the largest known orchids in the United States. This past spring, during peak bloom, the orchid had 1,170 flowers and 43 spikes. “It puts on a great spectacle when in bloom,” Brandon adds.

The couple wanted The Huntington to be the recipient of their prized orchid because of the institution’s long history and commitment with Cymbidiums. “The Huntington’s expertise channeled our confidence that our orchid would have a multifaceted caring and growing environment,” Jerry explains. “We are honored that ‘Kessander’ has become part of The Huntington’s history and that we’re connected to the institution’s Cymbidium story.”

The Huntington has one of the largest orchid collections in the United States, with more than 10,000 plants and over 3,600 unique varieties. The collection represents 280 genera, including, but not limited to, Paphiopedilum, Phragmipedium, Cymbidium, Cattleya, Stanhopea, and Lycaste.

The Huntington is grateful to have been chosen as the permanent home for the ‘Kessander’. After a few months of care and recovery in the Botanical Collection nursery, the orchid will be exhibited at the Reflections in the Stream and Fragrance of Orchids Pavilion 映水蘭香 in the Chinese Garden. Shaded by large California oaks near a gently flowing stream, this delicate pavilion is a place to pause, meditate, and be poetically inspired. The pavilion’s name refers to the legendary gathering of poets at the Orchid Pavilion in Shaoxing, China, in 353, immortalized by the great calligrapher Wang Xizhi 王羲之 (ca. 303–361), who wrote the preface to the collected poems of these poets.

Gifts in kind play a vital role in expanding The Huntington’s collections. For more information, please contact Amanda Greenberger, associate director of major gifts, at 626-405-2263 or agreenberger@huntington.org.