Before every presidential election, we all start placing bets. Our guesses are often just hopeful predictions: Nothing is certain. A few things are guaranteed, though. Art Chadwick Jr. bets on the fact that when we elect a new president, we will also elect a first lady. And long before the polls close, he's named a flower after the first-lady-to-be.
First, he registers an orchid hybrid in the name of all possible candidates. Each one is a first-of-its-kind hybrid cattleya, Chadwick's specialty.
It takes seven years to breed and grow a new orchid variety, which is why he gets an early start. Once the hybrid blooms, Chadwick is able to register the name. Julian Shaw, the senior registrar of plant names for the Royal Horticultural Society, has registered each of Chadwick's orchids since 2001. Including his first lady orchids, Chadwick and his father Art Chadwick Sr. have registered 175 orchids with the society in total, Shaw says.
There isn't much competition to name orchids after first lady candidates. Shaw watches name requests roll in from around the globe every day. Chadwick saves the best hybrids for the first ladies. The hybrid he's created and named for Melania Trump was recently awarded a highly commended certificate by the American Orchid Society.
"It is burgundy with a little yellow veining in the throat," Chadwick says describing his Melania Trump cattleya. "It has ruffles. Its leaves are flat."
He sits it next to other hybrids in his store and explains how each one has its own personality. "This one is not for the public," he says, "It's made for the White House."
Seven years may seem a long time to nurture a flower. Chadwick's near comical patience and fastidiousness doesn't end in the perfect bloom. He has more work to do. He wants Melania Trump to see her flower and he wants to show her in person. He's been working for two years to make that happen.
First he'll start with a letter addressed directly to the first lady. ("I'm just one of thousands of letters she receives, though," he says). Sometimes his loyal and well- connected customers step in to help. He also works with local politicians to pass the message along. Republican Rep. Dave Brat recently passed along the message for him [a representative for Brat said his office "has liased with a member of the First Lady's team, providing Art's contact and a description of his quest."] "It helps when it's the same political party," Chadwick says.
Chadwick presented Brat with clippings of the Melania Trump flower. He's got 20 more plants where that came from. No sign, yet, if the first lady has received Brat's memo.
Every administration is a little different, Chadwick says. To present Michelle Obama her cattleya, Chadwick had to attend a fundraiser where she was a speaker. He paid the additional $1,000 ticket to have the opportunity to meet with her. They inspected his potted plant and, afraid it was a bomb, had him clip the flowers to present them to her. The memorable photo evidence joins other enlarged photos behind the register at his Chadwick & Son Orchids at 203 N. Belmont Ave. in the Fan.
"It's really exciting," Chadwick says. "But then it's all over in minutes,"
Not all interactions are so brief. Chadwick has developed a relationship with Laura Bush, who grows her own orchids. Since she moved back to Dallas, he personally sends her orchids to her home. He flew down to hang out with her in person last year.
Once Chadwick presents Melania Trump her cattleya, he will donate the remaining plants named for her to the United States Botanic Garden to be displayed with the rest of the first lady orchids. It's a tradition, Chadwick says.
"First ladies have their own legacy: their wedding dresses, their causes, their own roses, their wedding dresses are preserved as a part of history," he explains.
The first cattleya was named in honor of a first lady by a grower in New Jersey in 1929. Then, women donned orchids regularly as corsages and adornments on hats. As it went out of style, so did the tradition. By the 1980s, the Chadwick family was one of the few orchid producers in the country. Chadwick and his father took over the botanical custom. Chadwick spoke on the topic in Ecuador last year.
He hasn't missed an orchid presentation to a first lady yet. Sometimes it happens after a new president has been elected.
"I never give up," Chadwick says. "I'm infinitely patient." S