A Stroll Down Orchid Alley

Neill Sams creates many of his hybrid orchid varieties via cross-pollination. Coco Zickos photos

By Neill and Fely Sams
Owners of Orchid Alley

Please tell us about your business. Orchid Alley Kaua’i is Kapa’a’s hidden treasure. It truly is a destination. It started out as a greenhouse, and it’s transformed itself into a beautiful garden with spots to linger and enjoy the orchids firsthand. It’s also an educational place where people can learn to be an expert or beginner grower. It’s a family place and family-owned. Established 15 years ago, it has at least 50,000 plants here and at the farm in Kapa’a, including one-ofa-kind hybrids like “Fely’s Sunshine.”

What inspired you to create your new garden area? Neill: It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Having our 15-year celebration gave me the motivation to do it.

How did you get started in this business? Neill: We bought this property in Kapa’a soon after Hurricane ‘Iniki. I used to do an architectural design business back here, and we had this leftover alley and thought selling orchids would be a creative way to use it. We started with two tables, two umbrellas and some orchids in the alley up front, and the business just expanded from there.

Why did you get started in this business? Neill: I used to always grow. I’d grow little pansies or petunias and other flowers as a child on the Mainland. When I bought a house in California, I had a tropical garden. When I moved to Kaua’i, it was just a natural transition, and orchids are so much easier to grow here.

Sams creates a new orchid by hybridization

What kind of person can grow orchids? Neill: Anyone can grow an orchid if they’re willing to listen. They’re very easy to care for and require less pampering than most plants, less watering and less fertilizing. You want to get the lighting right and you want to know what type of orchid you have.

Are orchids best grown indoors or outdoors? Neill: Both. Some are low light and better suited for indoors and some are high light and are wonderful for outdoor landscaping like we do here.

Do you offer professional landscaping services to customers as well? Neill: Yes, we do a lot of landscaping jobs where we use orchids. Koi ponds also are something we can do outside. The landscaping aspect of the business has picked up quite a bit recently.

What other changeshave been made recently?

Fely: We rearranged the shop itself so it’s more inviting for the customers. Now they can walk around and enjoy the orchids and linger in a garden. We’ve also started doing living centerpieces, where people can actually rent orchids for their wedding or for conventions at hotels.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of this business?

Fely: I really do enjoy the customers. They make my day. We get people from all over the world. They can’t bring anything back, but we can talk about it and take pictures. Everyone is so friendly and they ask questions, and it’s educational for them.

Fely Sams loves bright-colored blooms

Where can you ship?

Neill: Because we’re a certified nursery with the Department of Agriculture, we can ship to 49 states (excluding Arizona because of extra certifications), Puerto Rico and Guam.

What sets your business apart from others? Fely: Our customer service and knowledge. People ask a lot of questions, and we’re able to answer them. We’re more than happy to help them. We like to give back to the community by educating them.

What makes you get up and go to work every day? Neill: The orchids. Seeing what’s blooming and watching the healthy plants grow. That’s my joy.

Fely: This place is very calming and not stressful.

Who is your mentor? Neill: Mr. Tadao Nishio. We met through the orchid society, and he passed away last year. He taught me how to grow certain orchids and shared his knowledge. We would go to shows together. The garden is dedicated to him and the knowledge he was willing to share with me. I knew him since we opened Orchid Alley.

What is your favorite kind of orchid? Fely: I love them all, but I love orchids with bright colors. I’m not particular as long as the colors are bright.

Neill: It varies, but right now my favorite orchid is the Bulbo Phylum Medusas. It blooms four to five days twice a year. To catch it in a blooming state is very rare. Generally I like orchids with unusual shapes.

Orchid Alley 4-1383 Kuhio Hwy., Kapa’a

Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

822-0486 orchidalleykauai.com