You'd never know from the building's modest façade that more than 9,000 varieties of the delicate flowering plant have been created and cloned here to be delivered to retailers and recreational collectors around the world.
Now in its 69th year, Carter & Holmes Orchids has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a flower shop. In the early years, Owen Holmes and his cousin Bill Carter sold cut orchids for corsages. When pinned flowers went out of vogue, they began producing hybrid orchids for home growing.
"They placed a small classified ad in Southern Living for their ‘Bow Bells' and overnight became a mail-order nursery," said Holmes' son, Mac, who now runs the business.
Today, Carter & Holmes features 18 greenhouses filled with an extraordinary variety of orchids in white, black and every shade in between. There are some that smell like chocolate, others like vanilla, coconut, Mentholatum and even Dr. Pepper. The blooms can be as small as a pencil eraser and as large as a turkey platter.
Visitors are welcome to tour the facility year-round and wander through the greenhouses where the plants are kept at various stages of growth. The laboratory where the orchids are created is closed to the public to keep it as clean as possible.
One of the first growers in the country to clone orchids, Carter & Holmes uses cross-pollination to create new plants from tissue and seeds. The orchids are grown in flasks kept on shelves in the lab. As many as 1,000 seeds can fit in one flask. At any given time, there are some 80,000 plants in the lab's "growing room."
As they mature, the seedlings are separated and replanted into larger flasks. It takes one to three years before the plants are large enough to be transplanted into a pot and moved into a greenhouse.
The orchids are for sale on-site, online or by catalog. Most sell for $35 or less. Carter & Holmes also sells houseplants, starting at $6. The selection includes ferns, begonias, peperomias, fittonias and club mosses.
Carter & Holmes is open to visitors from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information and directions, visit carterandholmes.com or call 803.276.0579.