Richard Mach and Julius Bianchi were newlyweds when they moved to Fort Lauderdale in 2014. They had visited here off and on for ten years before deciding to retire here so they could be closer to their families who live on the East Coast.

They were also attracted to a different lifestyle near the beach, and the gay-friendly community was a definite plus. 

While they had been growing orchids in the desert landscape of their Los Angeles home, they wanted to learn how to cultivate orchids here in the tropical climate of South Florida. They heard about the Bonnet House Orchid Festival and decided to attend. “It was like a little utopia,” says Richard. They were mesmerized by this 35-acre jewel of an estate which will turn 100 years old in 2020. “It was filled with hundreds of orchids in two grow houses, the courtyard and display house, with orchids mounted naturally in trees throughout the property,” says Julius. “Every day you can see ospreys and hawks soaring overhead, Anahingas and swans in the slough, and wild monkeys chattering in the trees,” says Richard. They decided to become Bonnet House orchid care volunteers in 2015 under the direction of Linda Schaller, the dedicated director of Education and Volunteer Programs who manages over 300 volunteers with a delightful sense of humor that inspires everyone. 

The orchid program got its start from Evelyn Bartlett, who owned the Bonnet House before donating it to the Florida Trust in 1983. An art lover and artist like her husband Frederic Clay Bartlett, Evelyn was an avid orchid enthusiast and used to bring her orchid collection with her to the estate each winter and display them in the drawing rooms where she entertained friends and family in small, warm gatherings.

This year, the Bonnet House International Orchid and Garden Festival (April 6-7, 2019, Saturday and Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) has branched out under the guidance of Jose Exposito, who became the curator of the orchid collection in March 2018. Originally from Cuba and owner of Soroa Orchids in Homestead, Jose has brought a new vitality to the orchid program and to the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens. For the first time this year, international growers from Malaysia, Thailand, Ecuador as well as Hawaii will sell their exquisite flowers at the 12Annual Orchid Festival. 

The event will have something for everyone to enjoy, including food vendors, live music, and garden art. Education is also central to the mission of Bonnet House, and there will be lectures each day in the Island Theater. Internationally renowned orchid expert and grower, Dr. Martin Motes, will be signing his book, “.” Paul Craft will also conduct a book signing and lecture on his newly released work, “.” Dr. Jason Downing, orchid biologist from Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, will give a lecture on The Million Orchid Project. Alex Lamazares, president of Orchid Mania, will speak about general orchid growing.

Richard and Julius will be on hand for the Bonnet House International Orchid and Garden Festival. After falling in love with Bonnet and volunteering, they were asked to join the staff and became part of a closely-knit community, conducting tours and interacting with visitors from around the world. Their love of orchids has also grown exponentially over the past few years, and they have become avid cultivators with their own artfully-crafted grow houses on their property. “Growing orchids has become an obsession,” says Julius. “We have learned an incredible amount at Bonnet House about how to grow top-quality orchids here in South Florida,” says Richard. They have become regular ribbon-winners at the Fort Lauderdale Orchid Society shows. But there is a deeper level to their involvement. “Being part of the Bonnet House has given us a gratifying way to give back to the community,” says Julius. They encourage anyone who is interested to contact Linda Schaller at the Bonnet House to find their own gratifying path to community involvement.