Tucked away down a rural road in Smithfield is a tropical oasis, overflowing with gorgeous orchids and talking macaws.
The hidden oasis is actually John Zukosky’s greenhouse. It’s 5,000 square feet of pure beauty.
Zukosky owns Smithfield Orchid and Nature Co., a company he started in 1996. He purchased his first orchid in 1978, and ever since then has had a love affair with the flowering plants.
“I just wanted a houseplant that bloomed in the winter,” he says of his first orchid. He then moved to Panama and his orchid adoration bloomed even more.
He sells his orchids at farmer’s markets, online and to other orchid enthusiasts who find him.
An architect by trade and now retired, Zukosky designed his greenhouse. It’s solar powered and every inch is home to an orchid. Being in the glass-roofed greenhouse is like being in a tropical paradise. He is proud of the design and spends most of his days out with the orchids, pruning, watering, replanting and tweaking them.
“It mimics a tropical environment,” he says.
Zukosky has all types of orchids, most displaying vibrantly colored blooms. He says that he was drawn to the plants because of his love of architecture and art.
“I appreciate color and design,” he says. “When you grow orchids, you turn light into flowers. It’s amazing.”
There is not much about orchids Zukosky doesn’t know. He is the “go-to” person when it comes to the plants, although he is modest and says, “I’m just a grower, not an expert.” He speaks to orchid and garden clubs and is always willing to help a fellow orchid enthusiast. Zukosky babysits orchids when their owners go out of town. He also keeps people’s orchids cozy in his greenhouse until they bloom and then returns them to their owners so they can enjoy the beautiful flowers.
One of his orchids looks like a dove inside. He has orchids that produce vanilla. And some that are striped, some that are bold, some that are delicate.
Zukosky can force an orchid to bloom, knowing exactly the condition needed to do so, and he knows how to hand pollinate them. Usually, orchids bloom just once a year, he says.
“An orchid only lives to be pollinated,” he says.
Orchids can double in size every three years and should never be planted in dirt, he says. Instead, they do best when they are planted in bark.
“They don’t know how to handle the microbes in dirt,” he says.
Once people realize what the proper growing techniques are for orchids, the plants are not hard to grow, he says.
“It’s actually easy. They just have to know a handful of things,” he says. “Green thumbs are made, people are not born with them.”
In addition to the orchids, Zukosky breeds and sells macaws.
“Orchids reward you, but birds actually like you,” he says with a smile.
One of Zukosky’s biggest fans is Bob Kessler, also an orchid lover and collector. Kessler, like Zukosky, was hooked after received his first orchid as a gift several years ago. Kessler, who lives in Newport News, says he has learned so much from Zukosky over the years.
The two men met at a farmer’s market in City Center and Zukosky invited Kessler to his greenhouse to teach him more about orchids. “That’s how it all started,” Kessler says.
Kessler bought a couple of orchids and then some more. He received a small greenhouse as a retirement gift and that was all he needed to “kick his orchid fancy into high gear.” Now, he spends much of his time caring for his orchids. He plays classical music in the greenhouse and talks to the plants. The orchids are his pride and joy.
“I love the peacefulness of the whole process,” Kessler says. “I love watching them. They are living things… and I treat them as living things.”
Zukosky helped Kessler learn the ins and outs of growing orchids.
Sometimes Kessler takes his orchids to Zukosky when he goes out of town.
“He charges a nickel a day for each orchid,” he says with a smile.
Kessler’s greenhouse is smaller than Zukosky’s, but he shares the same love and passion for growing orchids.
“I smile when I walk in the greenhouse. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s very therapeutic. The stress of the world is gone,” Kessler says. “I’m hooked. It’s my habit. I just love it.”
Growing orchids is a learning process, and Zukosky enjoys showing people just how to do it.
“I get to meet some great people doing this,” he says. “I have helped a lot of nice people.”
TO THE POINT
Smithfield Orchid & Nature Co.
Address: 17126 Longview Dr., Smithfield, VA 23430
Contact: John Zukosky, owner