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In memory of

Neville Roper

24-02-1952 ~ 06-11-2015

Neville was an esteemed member of the Sutherland Shire Orchid Society and was awarded a life membership in 2002. By profession he was a school teacher with teaching positions within the general area of the Sutherland Shire.

He joined the Sutherland Shire Orchid Society in the early 1980’s and was fortunate to be able to mix with several well-known orchid growers who were his early mentors.  These members, including Col Brandon, Kevin Wilson, Ken Russell, Denis Wood and Ken Hodges, were active in breeding and advancing the attributes of Australian native orchids, both for the orchid enthusiast and the commercial market.

From these mentors he gained first-hand knowledge of Australian Dendrobium and later on Sarcochilus. It was with this latter genus his achievements were of the highest order.  

While his early interest was mainly natives he also grew numerous exotic species, including Oncidium, Restrepia and Promenaea   As with most new orchid growers his initial interest was centred on growing a wide variety of orchids and to the surprise of many he also included a few miniature exotic Cymbidiums.  But with the influence of those mentioned he developed an interest in both growing and breeding natives. This began with Dendrobiums but was later focussed on Sarcochilus and it is here he excelled.

Neville also became a judge with the Australian Orchid Council and participated in judging for many years.  He was also a popular speaker and was generous in providing details of his successful breeding program and giving advice and help to others.  He had several strategies which contributed to the success of this program and these were presented in an article he wrote for Orchids Australia in August 2015.

First was to set an objective/s regarding what you wished to achieve. In regard to the flowers, these should be qualities that produce improved flower shape, increased flower size, new, intense or clearer colours and stronger racemes with more flowers.  Substance was important to increase flower life and resistance to damage. Stronger racemes with improved flower arrangement were important.

Plant qualities were critical especially increased plant vigour, greater resistance to pests/diseases, reduction of plant/foliage size, improved fertility and an increase in temperature tolerance.

His general principles were to select parents to achieve these objectives.  This was a combination of observation, experience, intuition and patience.  He often said there was no silver bullet but the skills mentioned were those he learned and applied so successfully throughout his career. With these skills he produced a number of excellent Sarcochilus hybrids in both red and yellow colours.  However, the same attributes also produced many excellent Dendrobium hybrids.

His breeding program produced approximately 100 native hybrids with 75% being his favourite Sarcochilus.  It is for this body of quality orchids he will be remembered, aside from his ability to interact with all interested orchid people. The result of this program was 121 Australian Orchid Council Awards comprising 35 Awards of Merit (AM), 17 Awards of Distinction (AD), mainly for colour, and one of only three First Class Certificates awarded to Sarcochilus at this time.  These awards began only a few years after his beginnings with orchids and such achievements are more than just notable.

In his more than 30 year breeding program he developed good quality white Sarcochilus hybrids with Sarco. Cherie’s Snow and Sarco. Snowhart. He progressed to reds and yellows, with Sarco. Zoe, in particular, beginning a line of quality colours including Sarco. Magic.  This line was the most successful Sarcochilus grex to receive the Australian Orchid Council Award of Special Recognition, producing the largest number of quality awards to date.

Not wishing to rest on his laurels Neville had in mind a yellow Sarcochilus.  These began with Sarco. Cherie’s Snow and Sarco. Snowhart, both of which were yellow centred flowers.  The breeding continued to increase the size of the yellow component to produce several with the clonal name of ‘Roberta’, his wife and supporter from start to finish.  Some of the “all yellow” hybrids were Sarco. Myola ‘Sunbeam’, Sarco. Nugget ‘Nice One’, Sarco. Tathra, Sarco. Tuross, Sarco. Xanthina and Sarco. Woollamia, named after the locality to which he retired after finishing his teaching career.

Apart from breeding top quality orchids, Neville also showed his culture to best effect with displays at The Southern Orchid Spectacular each year. These comprised a range of native species and hybrids, featuring the best in Sarcochilus. However, not content with Dendrobiums and Sarcochilus, Neville also created an impact with a very large and extremely well grown specimen of Dockrillia striolata ‘Ruffles’, a plant with which many would be familiar. 

There is no doubt Neville will be missed by many orchid people with interests in all facets of orchids. His 30 plus years legacy in breeding quality orchids will be remembered by many other than those with whom he had personal interaction.

In addition to the breeding interest, Neville also enjoyed a walk in the bush. This varied from the Royal National Park to areas around Dungog and the Hunter Region to several national parks and forest areas in the Shoalhaven. These gave him an insight into the cultural requirements of the species he used for his program and no doubt was part of the success he enjoyed.

‘YOU LEFT US FAR TOO EARLY’

Tribute by: Alan Stephenson

A donation has been made to the Australian Orchid Trust Fund by the Sutherland Shire Orchid Society, New South Wales.

AOTF: 3676