Share your experiences of Sanders Orchids

If you have a story to tell or photographs to share, please email me and I'll add them here.

Peter Sander

Brassavola David Sander

a plant of Mr. John Gay

photo courtesy of Dr. Henry Oakley

Brassavola David Sander

a plant of Mr. John Gay

photo courtesy of Dr. Henry Oakley

Latest posts:

Jo Kelleher from Orpington, 4. October 2011

Dear Peter,

my apologies for so long to reply to you. We were at sixes and sevens with decorators in and Pat going into hospital for a hip replacement. He came back on Monday and things are getting back to normal, if you can call Pat learning to with two sticks normal!

How I wish I could recall boozy stories! Alas, when I knew your father I was encumbered with a husband, two small children and six assorted pets, so I missed out.

Minus the pets, we all went to his auction at Caxton Hall run by Prothero and Co. Whenever I bid for plants, the children egged me on " Go on Mum, go on". I still have labels on plants in the greenhouse from that occasion.

One sunny day we all went to a Symposium jointly run by David and Brian Rittershausen. The lecture room in the upstairs hall at the RHS, Vincent Square, was packed with people eager to hear the lectures and buy plants. I still have a large Oncidium flexuosum bought from David that day. I was surprised to see him making his way towards us through the throng and was very touched when he gave each of the children a bar of chocolate.

Another example of his kindness was after an OSGB visit to his nursery. A few days later we received a roll containing a print for the children and a letter apologising to them for not having given them anything at the nursery.

I remember him as a man in a hurry. Once I managed to catch him mid flight tearing down the RHS Hall to enquire the provenance of an Oncidium. With his trademark glasses on a ribbon and arms gesticulating he hurled "Central America" as he continued on his way.

Probably none of my reminiscences will be of use to you but I treasure my memories of a kind man.

With best wishes,





Clive Halls, 11. August 2011

When I was sixteen I applied for a job at David Sander's Orchids in Selsfield, Sussex. There was one other applicant for the job with similar experience & training to me. We both wanted the job as it seemed very glamorous to work among orchids. After some consideration David asked where we lived. I lived closer, the other lad living in Essex. So I got the job. How could I realise at the time it was a life changing & life directing decision. 48 years later I am still growing Orchids for a living & still have a strong connection to the Sander family.

It wasn't long after starting work at work at that beautiful, if not always idyllic nursery, that I realised the enormous history involved with the Sander Nursery. One of my many regrets is not to have had the sense to keep recorod of all that happened in those 7 exiting years that were the last years of one of histories amazing horticultural stories.

I have long said that I was the last apprentice of the Sander dynasty something which I am very proud of. Being an apprentice was an interesting experience. Sydney Farnes was the head grower, who himself had been an apprentice with David's grandfather, The Orchid King, some 70 years back. While David was trying to be modern progressive grower Farnes was living in the ways of the past. I was stuck between the two with no knowledgt to understand what was what. No doubt I learnt a lot from both sides but the tensions were difficult to deal with.

Working for David was a lot more than an 8 to 5 working day. You were expected to join in with family functions, Birthdays, Weddings, 21st's, trips to the theatre, the Opera, whatever was going. In fact you just became part of the family and that was that. Customers too often got an impromptu invitation to the family evening meal. Usually David forgot to tell his long suffering wife Barbara of the extra guest or two before we all rolled up late, slightly inebriated & ravenous. Barbara of course always hat it all under contro but David used to get some 'looks to kill' when the guests were not looking.

You were never sure just who might turn up at the nursery. David quite frequently was in London for RHS judging or other business bommitments. When Farnes went home at lunch time I was on my own. This being still in my first 2 years. One day a big limmo pulled up at the door. A strange man introduced himself as Lafayette Ron Hubbard. He didn't say who he was but we soon found out he was the originator of Scientology. He needed orchids for some of the work he was doing. (talking to plants). I sold him some & not knowing the price of some plants just charged about double what I thought was about right. I was ectremely nervous over David's reaction perhaps over charging was bad or maybe the plants were worth far more than I thought. When David arrived next day & heard the story he was so happy we took the day off & went to the Cricket.

One of the first things David ever told me to do on the nursery was try to turn up on time. The other was spend the first half hour of the day just walking round & looking at the plants & flowers. Tell me what interests you when I come in later. Don't think this is not working it's invaluable. He gave me a lot of responsibility quite early in my time. In fact he went on an Orchid hunting trip in South America & left me in charge for over a month. Babara used to come up to the nursery to sort out the finance but as I remember that was about it. I really didn't think it was all that odd at the time but I don't think I would like to leave my nursery with a young me.

I was also in charge of the heating system. This was a coal fired boiler that required much attention. Leaving it without sufficient fuel overnight could be catastrophic in winter. This happened on one very cold night & it was very cold in the green houses. I expected the worst from David as he had a volatile temper at times. On that occasion he just said try not to let it happen again. On another occasion I hadn't swept the main corridor of leaves & got the biggest bollocking of all time.

What do I remember the most? His amazing knowledge. I have never to this day met anyone who knew more about orchid species than David, quite extraordinary. He valued plants for the plants sake, there monetary value was secondary, not a good business plan. He was generous with all he did but never had a penny to his name, the bank never stopped hounding him. He had some mighty fine conversations on the phone in full hearing of whoever was at the nursery. The closing of the nursery that contained one of the most valuable species collections of the time was a sorry event. For me it was just the beginning. How lucky was I that I lived closer than the other lad, wonder how he ended up?

Cheers, Clive.

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