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Home for the Holidays

Nine years after Wisner House was built at 165 Hobart Avenue in Summit, New Jersey, two enterprising plant collectors and growers purchased land less than two miles away. Their names were John Lager and George Hurrell, and they had just taken the first step towards turning Summit into the de facto orchid capital of the United States.

For 81 years, the owners and staff of Lager and Hurrell collected, grew, and sold an astonishing variety of orchids. The company trained and sent forth orchid experts across the country and the world – in fact, my first exposure to orchids was in Kensington, Maryland, where Lager & Hurrell alumnus Merritt Huntington worked at, and later owned, Kensington Orchids.

Kensington Orchids, alas, closed its doors in 2002. Lager and Hurrell moved out of Summit in 1977, just three years after the founding of Reeves-Reed Arboretum. The playing fields of Summit High School now occupy the space once filled with greenhouses and exotic orchids.

But the legacy of Lager and Hurrell lives on, despite the death of its founders and their heirs, despite the closure and destruction of its facilities. How is that possible?

In a 1909 Lager and Hurrell catalog, one of the offerings is described this way: "Sepals and petals pale, delicate pink; lip typical. This is a very fine form of exceptional beauty." The name of this exceptional beauty? Cattleya percivaliana summitensis. (That's "summitensis" as in Summit, New Jersey). One of many Lager and Hurrell introductions, this outstanding form of Cattleya percivaliana was awarded by the American Orchid Society, and is still in cultivation today. In fact, it's in cultivation here at Reeves-Reed Arboretum: just in time for Christmas, our modest little division put out its first bloom. We hope it has a very long and happy life here, and that it continues to charm visitors as it has charmed orchidists for the last century. For as long as human beings care to propagate and care for it, Cattleya percivaliana 'Summit' is functionally immortal. I certainly hope it will outlive me. For now, I could ask for no nicer Christmas gift than this "exceptional beauty," bringing light and color to our little greenhouse at the darkest time of year.