R. K. Gems, Orchids & Tropicals

Welcome to R. K. Gems, Orchids and Tropicals, located in Central Minnesota, just above the banks of the Mississippi River. Why R.K. Gems? That's because for a while I operated a gemstone business and cut faceted stones, so when the orchid "hobby" grew completely out of control, It just got added to the gemstone business, and there have always been a variety of interesting tropical plants coming and going from the greenhouses, since 1970 when we were located in Lawrence, Kansas. I began casting orchids in solid gold in 1970 when I was attending The University of Kansas, and became good friends with a master enameller and jeweler who taught at the university. But the orchids have always been an obsession since age seven. I have been growing orchids since 1956 when a wonderful elderly Southern lady who operated an ancient hotel in a small Alabama town,  gave me my first Cattleya.  Then I visited Rivermont Orchids on Signal Mountain, Tennessee, just above Chattanooga and every summer between age seven and eighteen, I "loiterid" in their greenouses at every opportunity. After attending Peabody College and playing oboe in the Nashville Symphony for two years, I moved to Lawrence Kansas in 1967 to attend The University of Kansas, and by chance moved two houses away from John and Audra Brand who had just built a new greenhouse there, filled with loads of Cattleyas, and Cymbidums, mostly from Paul Snyder's collection before he moved to California. While attending school I also operated a photography business, and in 1970 had built a 1400 sq. ft. greenouse myslef - onto the back of our newly built house, and began hybridizing Phalaenopsis. in 1976 I moved to Brainerd Minnesota to work at a psychiatric hospital and ostensibly continue working on a college degree from KU via adjunct faculty who had also moved to Minnesota.  The plan was to head to the West Coast within two years where I had traveled many times and pestered every orchid nurseryman I could find. I hauled every plant in the greenhouse from Kansas to Minnesota in April, without the slightest clue that I would need to get a greenhouse built and functioning within 6 months. I was very lucky. We had a very unusually mild fall and late winter that first year. Obviously there was no move to the west coast, and I ended up eventually finishing a M.S. in Minnesota - but it took a LONG time while working full time and eventually expanding the greenhouse in What began as a hobby before age ten, has eventually expanded to include a wide assortment of many high quality stud plants of svral genera. While RKG is primarily a "one man" operation, I do rely on several part-time helpers. We currently maintain a stock of over 5,000 seedlings and mature plants. Some plants have remained in the collection for almost fifty years, and  we have a good number of “classic” Cattleyas and Paphiopedilums/ Some are truly huge plants but we do sell divisions of these when we repot and divide them. I infrequently show or submit plants for judging, but several of our Phragmipedium offspring that were purchased by customers have received AOS awards. When I first started growing orchids, I often visited Rivermont Orchids, Signal Mountain, Tennessee. In those days, Rivermont rarely submitted plants for judging, preferring to sell high quality plants to customers and have them take the awards. They even offered customers a free plant it they got an award on a plant they purchased from them.  

We are stil breeding Phragmipediums, and  Paphiopedilums. but the greatest concentration over the past four or five years has been the breeding of coerulea Cattleya alliance plants.  After spending considerable time in Costa Rica over almost twenty years, and visiting Panama and Ecuador, I became quite fond of Sobralias, Stanhopeas, Gongoras, and Acinetas. I am starting to breed these and hope to have some seedlings available within the next three years.

I think it is very important to provide customers with plants that I know are in healthy condition, and come from proven and reliable breeding lines. Therefore, the majority of the seedlings I grow and sell are raised from my own seed. Over the past four or five years, I have swapped pollen, seed and plants with members of the Coerulea Cattleya Hybridizing Project, and from time to time there will be very limited offerings from coerulea Cattleya crosses that come from the collaboration of the project members.

I do also grow and sell some orchids from flask, or in seedling stages, which are obtained from other quality hybridizers. I rarely offer or "broker" plants that have not been growing in my greenhouse for months or years, and when I do, this is clearly indicated. I prefer to hold plants from other sources, and grow them on to ensure they are well established and healthy. I try to offer a range of plants which are suited for a range of budgets and growing expertise, from novice to connoisseur. Plant prices and shipping are based on an effort to provide high quality plants at a fair price, given that overhead expenses for greenhouses are soaring, and growing orchids from seed into large seedlings or blooming size is a long and labor intensive process. It can take almost a year for some seed capsules to mature, and then some might only yield a handful of plants, given the genetic of the cross and their subsequent mortality.

We also try to carry a range of very affordable cloned plants that are easy for novice growers. We do not operate our own seed sowing laboratory, and our hybrid production is somewhat “at the mercy of” other lab services. Although I sowed my first flask of seed in 1962, I do not have room for a lab, nor am I likely to begin sowing seed for serious production, despite having some unfortunate experiences with two seed sowing labs who lost all of my Paph and Phrag flasks from about three years of seed production. I will happily make recommendations to anyone trying to find a lab to sow their seed - and how to be cautious. I am happy to say that the current lab we are using is doing a fine job. Some of the crosses I make are made out of pure curiosity and not intended for sale,  but I hope to offer flasks again very soon. In 2014 we produced about 20 Cattleya seed pods, mostly coerulea type, and a half dozen Paph and Phrag crosses.  In 2015 I expect there will be more coerulea Cattleya crosses, and hopefully more Phragmipediums, now that I have again found a reliable lab to sow Phrag seed. After dabbling with “miniature” Paphs, I have begun making crosses of multifloral type Paphs, and hope that we will soon be able to offer some of those seedlings too.  Unless something remarkable happens, like winning the Lottery, it is unlikely that we will expand greenhouse space, and therefore, we will be offering more compots and small seedlings, as it is impossible to grow more than a few of any particular hybrid cross to maturity and flowering in two thousand square feet of greenhouse space, while maintaining a breeding collection of plants, some of them quite large. It would be nice to relocate the whole operation to a less “intense” climate, but at age 68, that is a daunting prospect.

Many of photographs on this site are actual photographs of RKG plants. If someone else’s photograph is displayed, it is only with their permission and the photographer/copyright holders are designated on the images. Feel free to download any images for your personal use, but please do not distribute the images or use them commercially or for any other reason without my permission. That means don’t use them on auction sites or forums, or any other venue without permission directly from us. I have never declined permission to use a photo for educational purposes, but I prefer that you ask before using a photo.

The greenhouse is open by appointment only and not open for "walk-in" sales to the general public, but you are certainly welcome to call ahead and arrange an appointment to visit. We are located in the beautiful lake country of Minnesota, where you would undoubtedly enjoy staying at any number of the many resorts nearby with some fantastic golf courses - between May and October of course, unless you are fond of snow and cold. If you are already familiar with our area, by all means consider combining a vacation visit here with an appointment to visit and shop for orchids and unusual tropicals. Shipping from this part of the country is a challenge, and we usually shut down shipping between November and April, except for overnight insured shipments via Fed Ex. It is possible sometimes to bring plants to a customer at a show or conference that we are attending, or drop plants off if we are on a road trip and traveling through customers’ home towns or very near them during winter months. We usually attend the Slipper Symposium in Florida in November, and many of the AOS members’ meetings.

Give us a call or send an email if you have any questions. You may have to leave a message on the phone, but I promise someone will be back in touch within minutes or hours in any case.

Thank you for visiting the  R. K G Orchids website, and HAPPY ORCHID GROWING!