Meet Greg Griffis, senior horticulturist at Longwood Gardens and the only staff member dedicated to its collection of more than 5,500 orchids.
On science, God, and orchids: “The fingerprints of the creativity of God are totally evident in orchids, which is wonderful because when science looks at them and says, ‘This is the pinnacle of evolution,’ I go, ‘Yes!’"
Changing his tune: Griffis majored in music education at West Chester University with dreams of becoming a chorus teacher. Then orchids caught his eye and led him down a different path. Today, he can be caught singing folk songs, spirituals, and hymns while working at Longwood: “I have a tendency to sing while I water,” he said.
Longwood Gardens’ orchid grower Greg Griffis is usually out of the Orchid House well before the crowds arrive, but every so often he’ll still be tending to the flowers when a visitor wanders into the room for the first time.
If they say “Wow!” — and they usually do — Griffis knows he’s done his job right.
“Seeing other people excited about them ... that, to me, is a really wonderful thing,” he said.
Griffis’ official title at Longwood is senior horticulturist, but he prefers to be known as just “the orchid grower.”
While he works with a team of 14 volunteers, Griffis, 29, is the only employee solely dedicated to the collection of 5,500 orchids in 2,000 varieties at Longwood, a public botanical garden on the former estate of Pierre S. du Pont in Kennett Square.
During Longwood’s Orchid Extravaganza — which runs through March 24 — the garden’s orchid collection swells to more than 10,000 flowers as imports from Taiwan as well as Hawaii and other parts of the United States are brought in to supplement the existing flowers.
“I think people come to see orchids to be inspired or to be wowed by beauty,” Griffis said. “I think there’s just sort of a natural appreciation there, something that is deeply soulful about engaging with the beauty that’s around us."
A Doylestown native, Griffis first became enamored of orchids when he visited Longwood while attending West Chester University and learned that orchids grow on trees.
“I had no concept that such diversity existed in nature or such complexity,” he said. “That totally enthralled me.”
» MORE WE THE PEOPLE: Japanese House head gardener Sandi Polyakov got his start as a forager
The visit prompted Griffis to get a part-time job at an orchid nursery in Bucks County, where he was hired on full time when he graduated from West Chester in 2012.
After a year, Griffis took a job in Hawaii at a wholesale orchid farm that supplied the Bucks County nursery. There, he helped produce a quarter of a million orchids annually.
“When you’re growing that many of the same thing it allows you to observe the fine details," he said. "You can see the differences between the plant that is really amazing and the plant that is just average.”
While in Hawaii, a group called Youth With a Mission visited Griffis’ church and prayed over him, asking God to reveal something about his intentions for Griffis’ life.
Griffis said it was clear to him and those praying that he was being called to pastoral ministry.
“It wasn’t like it was something new," he said. “It was sort of like pulling the cover off of something that had already been there all along.”
But with no seminaries in Hawaii, Griffis had to look elsewhere. Around the same time, he stumbled upon a classified ad in the back of the American Orchid Society’s Orchids magazine for a job at Longwood Gardens and applied.
His purpose and his dream job had presented themselves at the same time.
“The day I was interviewing for seminaries was the day that Longwood called me to ask me to interview for this job,” he said. “So literally everything just lined up perfectly to bring me back here.”
In December 2014, Griffis started as an orchid grower at Longwood and the following January, he began pursuing his master’s in divinity at Missio Seminary in Hatfield, a Christian graduate school of theology. He will graduate in June and is interested in the possibility of mission fieldwork.
» MORE WE THE PEOPLE: “Philly Plant Guy” Nakia Maples has 200 plants in his South Philly rowhome
For Griffis, his love of orchids and his love of God go “hand in hand." He said he sees God’s work in the strange and beautiful flowers he’s devoted to caring for at Longwood.
“This is a God who is creative in his process and who is manifesting beauty in everything,” Griffis said. “I think the spirit has equipped me with the sensitivity ... to listen to people and orchids as well.”
Want more We the People?
Jess McCall is a superhero expert and the front woman for her steel-drum-led band, Jess and the Mansplainers.
He never took an art class but Kambel Smith, who has autism, is gaining the art world’s attention for his cardboard sculptures of Philly buildings.
Check out the full We the People archive here.