A Tropical Paradise in Appalachia

| By Rosalyn Wasserman |

“Dendrobium, Phalaenopsis, Cattleya… :” The scientific names for orchids flow easily for Appalachian Tropicals owner, Demelza Smyth Kittles. She speaks gently as she lovingly caresses the orchids, as if touching a baby. In some ways, Demelza thinks of the plants as her children. She is quick to relay that orchids are easy to care for and grow. “It is so rewarding to empower people that they can grow orchids easily. Orchids are not as fussy as most people are led to believe. I enjoy giving my customers an educational experience so they can include these beautiful things in their lives,” she says.

Owner/Designer Demelza Smyth Kittles

Owner/Designer Demelza Smyth Kittles

What started as a hobby of cultivating Tillandsias, commonly known as Air Plants, in Demelza’s home kitchen and garage has “grown” from a cottage industry, while her children were small, to a multi-faceted business with retail, wholesale and online retail. Demelza is part of each business aspect, from propagating, planting and arrangement design to shipping. Most days will find Demelza at her retail/greenhouse nursery and shipping center, located off Charlotte Highway in Fairview. Husband Damon and teenagers – Samuel, Victor, and Nitara – all help out in this thriving family business.

Additionally, Demelza employs four full-time and part-time employees. It is important to her that her employees are treated well by earning a fair wage and working flexible hours. As Cheryl Morrison, Appalachian Tropicals Manager says, “Although I’ve worked with Demelza for five years, I’ve known her for much longer as a mother, sister and friend here in Asheville. As a result, our relationship goes much deeper than the average work relationship. I appreciate that we can work together in a very professional way yet still be able to drop into an intimate heart-space together. Demelza is very real in this way and is very present. She has been both supportive and flexible with my work schedule – knowing that we are both mothers first and that those responsibilities are paramount. Instead of hindering workplace production, to me this strengthens it. I feel personally respected for the work that I do, the energy that I bring and am more invested in my work than I might otherwise be. I know that if one of my children is sick and I need to stay home with them, that I can; and she knows that I will get the work done, even if it means coming in after hours or on my day off. Demelza really loves the plants – and her enthusiasm and passion for them is infectious. Everyone who works at Appalachian Tropicals shares this love of the plants. We are all friends and have a good time at work!”

Inside the greenhouse

Inside the greenhouse

Another employee, Jorge Londono, adds, “I’ve worked part time on and off for Demelza and her husband Damon for over a decade. I thank God every day that I work here at Appalachian Tropicals with Demelza and all the orchids. Demelza is passionate about her business, her family and her entire life. She is attuned to the energetics of her life, from every orchid she touches, to each family member, employees included, because we are all a family at Appalachian Tropicals. Witnessing Demelza express such passion and compassion in everything she does inspires me every single day.”

Demelza manages to keep a sunny outlook despite living with a genetic connective tissue disorder called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which results in joints that often dislocate, and chronic pain. She credits daily exercise, family support, great medical care, physical therapy, frequent body-work and an overall positive state of mind to keep going. And she is always on the go with a houseful of busy teenagers, even intermittently home schooling her sons over the years. She comments, “I never want to be defined by the health challenges that I face. The truth is, we all have things that we struggle with. To some extent it is simply part of the human experience. Some things we can control and other things we cannot: I cannot control the genetic hand I was dealt but I can control the way I think and feel about it. These days, EDS is a manageable challenge that helps keep me inspired to improve myself.”

Flower1When not being full-time business owner and mom, Demelza finds creative expression in her paintings and carves out time to be in her art studio. “When I paint, I feel as if I’m expressing something that I don’t have the words for: something that is unseen yet feels real. When I paint, I step out of my head. I am not reliving my day, remembering yesterday or fretting about tomorrow. When I paint, I feel alive and free – like a kid again, experimenting and making new discoveries. I feel completely captivated by the unseen,” she explains. She has even sold a couple dozen of her paintings. “I have several collectors and have painted commissioned pieces,” she adds. Her artistic side is reflected in the setup of her retail store, greenhouse and custom plant arrangements done for special occasions like weddings.

Demelza also finds nourishment for her soul with music and can blast on the didgeridoo, among other instruments, although her first love is singing. Travel, usually to tropical locales such as Mexico and Costa Rica, inevitably leads her to find unusual species of orchids and air plants, which she finds inspirational.

Flower3She has innovated the orchid market by blending a special orchid potting mix, creating an orchid “spa” section at the retail greenhouse location, where orchid owners bring their plants for repotting and special care, and offering a fun “Bloom Exchange” program. She is looking forward to the American Orchid Society meeting and show in April 2016. This event is sponsored by the WNC Orchid Society and will be here in Asheville at the NC Arboretum and Biltmore Park Hilton. Appalachian Tropicals is one of the top-tier sponsors of this event.

Demelza is a firm believer in the power of plant energy, sharing that she even dreams of orchids. “Civilizations such as the Greeks and Japanese have long revered orchids, which have always been associated with royalty and luxury,” she says. Science is exploring the impact of phytoncides, which are plant chemicals that have antibacterial and antifungal qualities. Research shows that being in greenery reduces anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue. Demelza muses, “I think it is super important to have these beautiful things in our lives. Every orchid I’ve ever met fills me with curiosity and awe at its beauty. I don’t fully understand the chemical science behind why I feel so good in their presence, but I know that I do – and so do my customers.”

Rosalyn Wasserman, PT, DPT, is a freelance writer, physical therapist and continuing education planner for healthcare providers. Her orchids thrive on benign neglect and the occasional “spa” time at Appalachian Tropicals.

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