Joseph Chamberlain, who was Great Britian’s Secretary of State for the colonies in 1895, had a love of orchids- they provided solace from the highly public, often stressful life he lived.  Mr. Chamberlain was never seen in public without an orchid in his lapel buttonhole.  On a daily basis, orchids were shipped from London to his Highbury estate near Birmingham to ensure he always had the finest flowers available.  Mr. Chamberlain’s son, Austen Chamberlain, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925, and Neville Chamberlain had 13 greenhouses solely devoted to growing orchids.

In 1898, at the ripe age of 14, Oliver Lines began growing orchid plants at Joseph Chamberlain’s estate.  Oliver’s first job at the Chamberlain estate was to polish glass day in and day out.  And, after serving in this role for some time, he was transferred to the greenhouse to serve as a water boy. After a period of apprenticeship, Oliver was promoted to be a grower assistant, a role where he found much joy and success.

The head grower at the time, Mr. Smith, was transferred from Chamberlain’s estate to R.I. Measures’ estate just outside of London. Along with Mr. Smith, Oliver Lines was invited to work for R.I. Measures’ greenhouses.  For the first time, Oliver left the comfort and familiarity of his family and friends in hopes of improving his orchid growing skills.

The new job offer was full of opportunity as Mr. Measures, who manufactured steel for the construction of bridges, held one of the oldest and most respected orchid collections in England. Although it was a a good opportunity to work for the Measures family, orchid growing proved quite difficult under the industrial conditions Oliver was in outside of London.  Winter fog and pollution were less than desirable conditions for growing orchids, not to mention personal satisfaction.

In 1906, Oliver happily returned to his roots in favor of a more peaceful and rural atmosphere. Oliver left Measures to work at the Westonbirt estate of Sir George Holford.  At the time, Holford’s orchid collection was overseen by H.G. Alexander, who is now revered as the most celebrated British orchid grower for the first half of the 20th century.

In a 1957 letter, Mr. Alexander wrote, “Oliver is an old and valued friend of mine. I well remember his joining the staff at Westonbirt- a position for which there was always a waiting list of ambitious young men- at a time when we were opening up and developing the collection towards its later peak of worldwide reputation. A range of new houses were erected away from the existing ones. Oliver was put in charge of this department as other houses were added to the block. It was here that he showed his aptitude and developing skills as a grower. He loved his plants and never stinted care and time on them. His intelligence and imaginative approach methods were evolving and his constant adherence to the highest standards of culture have made the sound basis of his successful career. I recall that at one of the Royal Horticultural Societies a few years ago, an American visitor remarked to me that Oliver Lines’ cattleyas were among the best, if not the best, grown in the United States.”

In 1910, Oliver was approached by a visiting American who offered him the opportunity to come to the United States to grow orchids.  Oliver jumped at the opportunity and arrived at Ellis Island on February 13, 1910.  He was only 25 years old.

In the states, Oliver was hired as an orchid grower by John Sloane of W&J Sloane Company in NYC, one of the largest exclusive home furnishings businesses in the U.S. at the time.

In 1914, Oliver moved to neighboring Pittsfield, Massachusetts to become a grower for Arthur N. Cooley who had a long time interest in horticulture.  Cooley had the financial means to cultivate orchids on an extended scale which brought about exciting opportunities for Oliver’s career. With Oliver’s contacts in England and Cooley’s financial backing, the Cooley collection of plants and greenhouses flourished.

It was an exciting time of growth and experimentation– Oliver had the resources he needed to make his hybridizing successful.

In 1921, the American Orchid Society was formed and Oliver was named a trustee. He was the only estate grower that was chosen as a trustee on the board.  And, in September 1921, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society held its first important orchid show and Oliver was awarded a gold medal for his superior cultivation of orchids.  His hard work and creativity started to pay off.

During difficult economic times, the Cooley collection of orchids were being sold off and eventually Oliver found himself without a job.  Luckily, new doors opened in Larchmont, NY and Oliver moved with his wife and 2 children to serve with John J. Murdock, also an AOS (American Orchid Society) trustee, who was general manager for the B.F. Keith Vaudeville organization.

Only a year after Oliver and his family moved to Larchmont, Murdock moved from NY to Beverly Hills and his orchid holdings were sold to none other than Jospeh P. Kennedy– father of John, Bobby and Ted.

Again in need of a job, Mrs. W.K. Dupont asks Oliver to become her grower at Wilmington, but, only after six months time, Eleanor and Fitz Eugene Dixon were recruiting Oliver to rejoin his original Cooley collection which they had purchased in 1925 for their Ronaele Manor estate in Elkins Park, PA.

Oliver eagerly jumped at the opportunity because he could return to the original collection he had been so instrumental in building.

At the World’s Fair in 1939, Oliver won three golds for Mrs. Dixon.  He was even referred to as “The Dean” by many growers who sought his advise and counsel.

In 1845, he was awarded the AOS gold medal of achievement for his skill in orchid culture.

Harold Patterson, a well known orchidist at the time, wrote “Many fine hybrids were produced at the Dixon estate by the hands and thinking of Oliver Lines.  Many of these varieties were great and still are.  They are components of countless fine new hybrids unfolding year after year.”

While working in Mrs. Dixon’s greenhouses, Oliver was not alone.  He had a bright eyed, curious young son, John, who followed him around– helping him water and pot the orchids, stoking the furnace when necessary.  John was like a sponge, absorbing all the orchid knowledge he could from his father.

During WWII, Oliver began selling the Dixon orchids commercially so the collection could survive the struggling economy.  And in 1946, Mrs. Dixon decided to sell her large estate and consequently her fine collection of plants were sold off.

Yet again, change was in the future for Oliver and his family.

As a thank you for all of his hard work and success at the Dixon estate, Mrs. Dixon graciously gifted Oliver with plants from the Cooley collection as well as two greenhouses to use in the future establishment of Lines Orchids, which would be located in Signal Mountain, TN.

Following in his father’s footsteps, John too had a passion for orchids and spending his days under glass- watering, potting and hybridizing orchids.

John’s first job after high school graduation was with Frank and George Off’s greenhouses of Brighton Hotel in Atlantic City, NJ.  And, in 1943, Clint McDade, who was an AOS (American Orchid Society) trustee with Oliver asked him if he had any recommendations for a grower to help his expanding greenhouses on Signal Mountain, TN. Oliver recommended his son.  And John got the job.

Timing was everything and John’s new job at Rivermont Orchids on Signal Mountain provided him with a great opportunity to join a new firm, helping influence its future growth and development.  Many great orchid  crosses were made during John’s time at Rivermont.

Due to some family conflicts at Rivermont, John approached his father, who was recently retired and living in New Jersey, to see if he would consider opening their own orchid business on Signal Mountain.  Never seeming to outgrow change and opportunity, Oliver said yes.  And, with a retirement check in hand, Oliver and John purchased a home with property on Signal Mountain in 1947.

Two of the original greenhouses from Mrs. Dixson’s estate were dismantled and brought down to Signal Mountain.In 1947, Lines Orchids was established.  Originally, Lines Orchids began as a cut flower business supplemented by plant sales to walk-in customers.  During the hard early years, the two worked closely together to ensure the companies success.  There were difficult times but happily the business began to pick up and eventually it was flourishing thanks to the fashionable cattleya corsage that adorned women’s outfits to special outings, events and Sunday church.  The cut cattleya was the cornerstone of the business for many years.

In 1962, John and his wife, Gladys, were given a private tour of the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri after naming an orchid for Mrs. Truman, C. Bess Truman.  The orchid was originally meant to be names after President Truman but John asked if it could rather be named for Bess as President Truman had lots of things named for him.  And so it was.

John and Gladys kept themselves quite busy raising four children, tending to greenhouses, traveling the world to see various orchid collections and participating in orchid shows across the country.  John and his father Oliver found much success at the shows for their beautiful hybridizations.  Even today, the greenhouse shelves are filled with stacks of sliver pieces– trays, candelabras, serving dishes that were awarded to Lines Orchids for their orchid crosses and hybridizations.

After serving as an active trustee on the AOS for 31 years, longer than any other member, Oliver retired and was named a honorary vice president.  Until his final days, Oliver joined John in the greenhouses, continuing to faithfully tend to the orchids he loved so dearly.

Upon Oliver’s passing in 1965, John continued to run and expand the business, buying his former employer, Rivermont Orchids, in 1972.

In the early 1980’s the cut flower business began to fade and potted phaleanopsis orchid sales began to pick up dramatically.  John adapted to the change in the industry, even though his true love always was for the cattleya.

John’s phalaenopsis collection was an attractive potted plant available to the general public market.  As the phalaenopsis plants bloomed, he hand selected some for his own hybridizing.  Although white phalaeonopsis plants account for the majority of the sales at Lines Orchids, a number of John’s hybrids of  other colors have been awarded AOS awards of merit.

In the IPA (International Phalaenopsis Association) Journal, Tom Harper wrote ” John grows one of the biggest and strongest plants in the business.  Many have commented on the quality of Lines Orchids plants upon visiting their greenhouses.”