By Léo Azambuja
In Old Kapa‘a Town, a heavy iron door with a sign that reads Orchid Alley Kaua‘i hides a matchless kaleidoscope of exotic flowers, butterflies and local art.
“Anybody who comes here is going to guaranteed see something they’ve never seen,” Neill Sams said. “You can’t say that about every store.”
Some 18 years ago, Neill and his wife, Fely, opened Orchid Alley Kaua‘i, initially a tiny orchid shop under two umbrellas. Over the years, they added more space and a gift shop.
A couple months ago, they opened an enclosure filled with swallowtail and monarch butterflies, swirling over an idyllic koi pond and around award-winning orchids, some worth thousands of dollars.
Walking into Orchid Alley is a unique experience. A narrow corridor filled with colorful orchids greets you. The space then opens up to some sort of green house, with several different varieties of orchids strategically placed to maximize their potential.
In the back, a charming cottage designed by Neill houses Fely’s gift shop, which is actually a gallery representing about 10 local artists who work with all kinds of media.
Next to the gift shop is the butterfly and koi garden, accessible by an entry fee or by purchasing a certain amount of products.
“This is just a very small percentage of our operation, we have a green house that is almost half an acre,” Neill said of the Kapa‘a store, adding that in his Kapahi nursery he grows more than 1,000 different varieties of orchids.
About 10 percent of his orchids are what growers call “species,” which are orchids originally found in nature. The other 90 percent are hybrids — the type of plants orchid growers froth about — crossbred by humans to display beautiful color combinations.
In nature, there are more than 20,000 thousands different species of orchids. These plants, which have been around since dinosaurs roamed the Earth, belong to the biggest flowering family and second biggest plant category in world, according to Neill.
“Orchids in nature are very prevalent, they’re one of the oldest plants,” he said.
Neill also specializes is designing and building orchid landscapes, utilizing driftwood and other organic materials.
A couple years ago, he participated in the Philadelphia Flower Show, which he said is the world’s oldest and largest indoor flower expo in the world, with 275,000 visitors. He came back home with the Best Hawaiian Landscape award for his especially designed driftwood waterfall display covered with orchids.
Asked how he felt compared to Mainland orchid growers in the Philadelphia show, Neill said, “superior,” laughing. There were good growers at the show, he said, but a lot of their products were brought from Hawai‘i and resold there.
Neill is also the president of the Kaua‘i Orchid Society and a member of the Garden Island Orchid Society. Several of his orchids have won local and national awards. And once the American Orchid Society issues an award, the grower is allowed to name the orchid.
“This is called Fely Sunshine … it doesn’t exist anywhere in the world,” Neill proudly said of one of his award-winning orchids, named after his wife.
The orchids that have snatched important awards are worth thousands of dollars. If it’s the “brother” of the plant, he said, it could be much less, about $100 or more.
But there is an orchid for every budget at Orchid Alley. A blooming orchid starts at $15, and some of the most expensive ones are about $95. And then after that, you get into the award-winning plants.
They also specialize into orchid baskets that can be delivered anywhere on the island and to the Mainland.
Orchid Alley Kaua‘i is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Visit www.orchidalleyKauai.com or call 822-0486 for more information.