Contrary to popular opinion, orchids aren’t difficult to take care of — they’re just different from other plants.
So says Michael Rogers, a Colorado Springs native who last year purchased a longtime orchid store and blended it with his backyard birding supply business, Songbird Supplies.
Rogers recently changed the sign outside the Old Colorado City dwelling that once housed Island Orchids to reflect the name of the integrated business, Songbird and the Orchid.
“Orchids get a bad rap. What I say is a little advice goes a long way when it comes to orchids,” said Rogers, a Mitchell High School graduate who bought Island Orchids from Mary Cohagan in 2017. “Orchids are actually really tough and adaptable. They’re extremely resilient, but people just don’t get good advice.”
There are more than 100,000 orchids and hybrids, and between 25,000 and 30,000 species, Rogers said. Songbird and the Orchid carries about 250 orchid plants across 40 species. The store offers many colors of spider orchids, rarer slipper orchids, Cattleyas, Phalaenopsis and many more.
The plants are rumored to be difficult to take care of because they might bloom only once a year, and can be difficult to coax back to blooming. It can take months to get an orchid to rebloom, Rogers said, but some stay in continuous bloom for several months.
The “secret” to successful orchid care, Rogers shared, is not to overwater, and, although many people subscribe to the practice, “never put ice cubes on the soil. These are tropical plants. They like to stay warm.”
Many are familiar with the Phalaenopsis orchid, which is readily available at grocery outlets and large retailers.
“It gets people hooked. I call it the gateway orchid,” Rogers said. “Similarly, hummingbird feeders are the gateway to backyard birding.”
His goal with his shop is for the business be 50/50 — half orchids, half birding supplies.
“We aren’t orchid growers. We get them in from small family farms in Hawaii or from a Colorado grower and sell them blooming,” Rogers said.
Pot after pot of the tropical blooms line the tables and shelves. Most plants in Rogers’ store are 3 to 5 years old with multiple blooms, where plants you might find in chain stores are younger and likely have fewer blooms, he said.
Rogers also has a return program, where customers can bring back orchids that already have bloomed in return for a store discount. The previously loved orchid plants are for sale for as little as $4 to $5, and Rogers is happy to provide advice to the new owner on how to keep the plants happy and coax them back into bloom.
“A lot of people will keep the orchids just for a couple of months and then bring them back in,” Rogers said. “People who have greenhouses come in and buy them by the box.”
He said he learned a lot about orchid types and species from the Colorado Springs Orchid Society, whose members supported the succession of Island Orchids.
“One thing that drives me in both the orchid and backyard birding businesses is that I’ll never know everything,” he said.
Previously, Rogers spent 15 years in the nonprofit sector, working with conservation group Wild Connections for most of that time.
As a boy, he loved to watch birds flock to a feeder in his grandmother’s Manitou Springs home.
“I’d thought about opening up a backyard birding store my whole life,” he said. When the economic downturn in 2008 dried up nonprofit funding, Rogers hung on for a few more lean years before pursuing his dream.
In 2013, he opened Songbird Supplies, partnering with Summerland Gardens in Colorado Springs. He operated from an outbuilding at the Cheyenne Road business for two-and-a-half years.
His interest was piqued when he learned last year that Cohagan was thinking of retiring and selling her orchid business of 30 years.
“So Mary and I went out and had coffee one day, and within half an hour we had shook hands on the deal,” he said. “We developed a friendship. After the sale, she wasn’t ready to fully retire and became my employee. But what better employee can you get than one with 30 years of experience?”
Cohagan worked for Rogers for 10 months, teaching him the ins and outs of the orchid business.
“At first my friends were like, ‘You bought an orchid store … WHAT?’ But as I learned more about them I found that most orchids come from the places where songbirds go for the winter, South America, where there’s a push to conserve native orchids,” Rogers said.
The conservationist in him loved the connection.
“I thought, ‘OK, let’s do this,’” he said.
Since moving the two businesses under the same Colorado Avenue roof, Rogers has been able to expand his inventory of birding supplies and is looking to expand further.
Songbird and the Orchid stocks orchid plants — most priced in the $30-$40 range — pots, accessories and supplies as well as nature-themed gifts including Oaxacan animal carvings and Tagua nut art from Mexico. Birding supplies include a “seed buffet,” bird and squirrel feeders, bird houses, bird seed bells and bird baths. Gift items include ornaments, jewelry, windchimes, yard decorations and cat toys, sales of which support the Snow Leopard Trust.
“I make all my own seed blends that are higher quality than can be found in any big-box store,” Rogers said, “The seed is 100 percent non-GMO, and part of it is Colorado grown. Cutting out the transportation costs, I can sell it at prices lower than anyone in town.”
Business has been pretty brisk, especially with the holidays approaching.
“Backyard birding is really popular here. When you add a bird feeder to your garden, nothing makes it come alive like birds. It brings life to your backyard,” Rogers said. “Even one little feeder really does make a difference. It’s something you can see every morning and evening in your yard.”
Contact the writer, 476-1602