Tag Archives: orchids

Dr. Delphinium Open House – 9

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house
Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium Open House – 8

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium Open House – 7

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium Open House – 6

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium Open House – 5

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium Open House – 4

Dr. Delphinium open houseDr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium Open House – 3

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium Open House – 2

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium open house

Dr. Delphinium Open House – 1

Dr. Delphinium open house
Dr. Delphinium open house

Going back through the accumulated detritus and verdigris from the past year, one of the things that was bumped far back was a regular update schedule on the blog. Well, considering both the need to share and the need to make time to update the full site (that was promised in May, and we’re running out of May), expect a lot of pictorials through the last week. This includes photos from March’s open house at the Dr. Delphinium Flower and Orchid House in Richardson. Most years, I had to miss this because it coincided with the first big Triffid Ranch show at All-Con, but the hiatus meant having a free weekend, and that free weekend required stalking through the orchids.

Dr. Delphinium open house

For those unfamiliar with backstory, the Richardson Dr. Delphinium used to be Gunter’s Orchids, until the owners decided that it was time to retire. The new management has done a grand job at keeping up Gunter’s quality and variety, and the only problem the open house had involved the massive freak snowstorm that hit the Dallas area the weekend before. That meant that a lot of showcase orchids weren’t quite ready with full blooms for the open house, but this also meant getting the opportunity to appreciate many species for their foliage as much as for their blooms.

Dr. Delphinium open house

In any case, over the next few days, please enjoy the pictorials, and should you be in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, please visit the orchid greenhouse at your convenience. Right now should be a perfect time to see many species, hybrids, and cultivars that otherwise most people never get a chance to view.

To be continued…

Things To Do In Richardson When You’re Dead: Dr. Delphinium orchid open house

A quick signal interrupt, and an excuse for my fellow Dallasites to stay as far away from the Greenville Avenue St. Patrick’s Day parade as possible. (Dallas is particularly good at turning ethnic Catholic holidays of celebration and glee into excuses for Anglo Protestants to feed vast rivers of booze vomit running through our streets, which is why you avoid Greenville Avenue at all costs on St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo.) For the last several years, I’ve had to skip out on the legendary Gunter’s Orchids open houses in Richardson because the open houses coincided with my first spring show at All-Con. Not that I’d tell you to skip out on All-Con for any reason (especially since the dealers, particularly Tawanda Jewelry, will appreciate the attention), but my not having a booth means that I’m free to head out for the open house. Much to its credit, when the florist company Dr. Delphinium bought out Gunter’s two years ago, the old traditions remain, and Dr. Delphinium hosts its open house this Friday through Sunday at its Richardson location. This means lots and lots of freshly-blooming orchids, and you might even luck out and see the revived Tahitian vanilla orchid in full bloom.

Me, I’ll be out there on Saturday at around noon, so anyone who wants to join me is welcome to do so. If you can’t, well, I’ll get plenty of pictures. One way or another, see you then.

There’s always time for orchids

It’s always amazing what shows up at Gunter’s Orchids in February. (This is why the Czarina doesn’t worry about me when she goes out of town. Other wives take off on a week-long vacation in San Francisco and worry about their husbands doing things that require delousing, castration, or deportation afterward. Me, I go straight for the nurseries as soon as she’s on the plane, and usually in search of things to surprise her when she gets back. This Valentine’s Day, it was a beautiful Cattleya that she spotted as soon as she walked in the door.)

Orchids at Gunter's

Orchids

Orchids

Orchids

Orchids

Orchids

Orchids

Orchids

Orchids

And should I mention that Gunter’s has a regular orchid gazing event in the middle of March that’s worth the trip to Dallas?

Review: Vanilla Orchids by Ken Cameron

(A bit of context. This blog features regular reviews of books, horticultural products, and interesting related items, under this proviso. All items reviewed will be purchased by the reviewer in advance, at full retail price, in order to prevent any conflict of interest. Information about upcoming releases is greatly appreciated, but receipt of advance copies or samples will be announced well in advance and will not influence the final review. The world has enough Jeff Craigs and Maria Salases as it is.)

Vanilla Orchids: Natural History and Cultivation by Ken Cameron
ISBN-10: 0881929891
ISBN-13: 9780881929898
Published: Timber Press (OR), 06/01/2011
Pages: 212
Language: English

Many writers have particular phrases or literary misuses that drive them insane. Using the word “penultimate” to mean “even bigger than ultimate,” for instance, or the word “hater” used for any commentary on a person or subject that’s anything but utterly sycophantic. I have two. The most obvious, considering my background, is the description of any old, obsolete, or hidebound person or concept as a “dinosaur”. It’s not because I’m one of those humorless pedants who nerks “Well, you know, dinosaurs were dominant lifeforms on this planet for 130 million years,” but because it’s simplistic. Sadly, my suggestions on expanding our vocabularies by comparing anachronisms to arsinoitheres, anomalocarids, or arthrodires go over about as well as my recipes for venison sorbet.

The other? Describing any bland, blah, boring, or blase item as “vanilla”. Vanilla: the one flavor in Neopolitan ice cream packages that’s left for last, because it’s supposed to be “plain”. Artificial vanilla extract in cupcakes and bad supermarket bakery cookies. Nilla Wafers. George Romero’s second movie. All of which are revealed as blatant lies the moment you smell a properly cured vanilla bean for the first time and realize exactly how subtle yet complex real vanilla can be.

And while we’re at it, let’s talk about the difference between vanilla and vanillin. Vanillin, while one of the main aromatic components in vanilla extract, is actually a compound found in many plants. To give an example of how common vanillin is, you may or may not remember the Ig Nobel Prize in chemistry given to Mayu Yamamoto for his method of extracting vanillin from cow dung. Vanillin production is also a first-year organic chemistry stunt, thus inadvertently contributing to the stigma against vanilla proper.

It’s bad enough that vanilla as a flavoring is now downplayed as mundane and wallflowerish. We forget how this spice became one of the most valuable and important spices on the planet. Never mind that chocolate as we know it today would be far too bitter without the proper and precise application of vanilla. Walk through any perfume counter in any department store after smelling a well-cured vanilla bean and note how most of the world’s most popular and successful perfumes depend upon vanilla’s long-lasting notes. The real stuff pops, but we’re so overwhelmed with cheap imitations that we barely notice unless we take the time.

And then there’s the orchid that produces this miracle. All commercial vanilla production comes from one species (Vanilla planiflora) and one natural hybrid (Vanilla x. tahitiensis). With the exception of salep, vanilla is the only commercially produced orchid food product, and about all that’s shared is a vague picture of an orchid on “French Vanilla” ice cream and the like. Most people are in shock when they discover that vanilla comes from an orchid, and even orchid enthusiasts have rarely seen members of the genus Vanilla. Most orchid books include Vanilla planiflora as an afterthought, mentioning vaguely that it produces vines a bit like Vanda orchids, and that “if they bloom, pollinate the blooms by hand to produce your own vanilla.”

A few months back, I saw a collection of rather ratty Vanilla orchids on sale in a Dallas garden center with that advice, and I scared several potential customers with my laughter. (Of course, I’d been laughing for a while, especially since this same garden center was advising Venus flytrap owners that they could remove minerals from Dallas tap water by letting it stand out overnight. If my smile makes people suddenly regret leaving Ripley and Parker to look for the ship’s cat, what does my laughter do, I wonder?) If you want to see vanilla orchids in action, go to Gunter’s Greenhouse in Richardson, Texas especially when the store hosts its spring open house and the orchids are in bloom. The back greenhouse has a big V. x tahitiensis on display, and the vines are as big around as a man’s leg. Very seriously, this beast is supported with repurposed cable racks previously used for lugging telephone cables, and I don’t think anything less could support the mass. To Gunter’s credit (and I say this as someone in perpetual awe and jealousy of the greenhouse’s crew of orchid geniuses), this one blooms prodigiously and extensively, but the idea of the average Park Cities gardening dilletante growing one, much less getting it to bloom, is just silly.

Again, at this point, this is where most orchid books and references stop. Outside of V. planiflora, all discussion on Vanilla orchids just stops. Nobody discusses the other species found in the Americas, or the wideranging ones from the Old World. Nobody discusses how the genus Vanilla contains some of the only vining orchids known. Nobody talks about relationships with other orchids, or how V. planiflora may have been domesticated in the first place, or the tremendous debt our culture owes this undeservedly obscure genus.

This is where Ken Cameron walks in. This isn’t a popular account of the history of vanilla, as in the case of Tim Ecott’s Vanilla: Travels in Search of the Ice Cream Orchid. This is precisely what orchid enthusiasts and researchers need: a good, thorough view of the natural history of the entire genus, from a writer with an obvious enthusiasm for discovery but who also doesn’t go overboard. Discovering, for instance, that Vanilla is related to basal orchids suggests, as Professor Cameron notes herein, that the whole group may have been much more extensive in the distant past than today. Considering that orchids were almost definitely a component in Cretaceous flora, then this gives a whole new aspect to palaeontological art, as well as to anyone designing prehistoric gardens. I don’t think we’re going to see the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta adding Vanilla orchids to its Cretaceous Garden, but this news might influence someone else to give Vanilla and close cousins from New Caledonia a good shot.

I know this is getting tiring, but more kudos to Timber Press for offering this book. Considering how Vanilla information is neglected by both orchid references and food guides, the cliche “essential reading” actually applies in this case. The Czarina has been hinting at starting a Tahitian vanilla vine for a while, and finally I feel confident enough in knowing the plant’s needs that it might not be a complete pipe dream. Some day this year, I’m going to walk into Gunter’s, walk up to that monstrous V. x tahitiensis, and give them the magic request of “Give me three feet.” (Now, if you buy this book, you’ll know that growing most Vanilla from seed is extremely difficult, and that the vines usually reproduce themselves when they fall from trees and break apart. We’re talking orchids that might actually require machetes to keep under control. How could you go back to raising Cattleya orchids after learning that?)

Dream of the Blue Orchids

After hearing for months about the new Blue Mystique Phalaenopsis orchids and the outrage over the lack of permanence of said color, I’ll finally say it. Talk about a tempest in a shot glass.

Blue Mystique orchids

As most of the kvetching and moaning discusses, these aren’t marvels of breeding or gene manipulation, comparable to the black orchid or the elusive blue daylily. Instead, the Blue Mystique is a standard white Phalaenopsis orchid treated with a “special process” that leaves its blooms stained blue. This process only stains existing flowers and buds, so when that phal blooms next year, the blooms will be a standard white. Other than that, according to the promotional literature, this treatment doesn’t affect the plant itself in any way.

More Blue Mystique orchids

Personally, I don’t see the inherent issue with the “Blue Mystique” orchids. I guess some people are so obsessed with blue flora that they have no problems with blooms that look like they belong in the Ty-D-Bowl Man‘s girlfriend’s wedding corsage. At the same time, white phal orchids are about as good a beginner orchid as you can find. But are you willing to pay that much extra for a beginner orchid with a major selling point that’s temporary?

Review: Bizarre Botanicals by Larry Mellichamp and Paula Gross

(A bit of context. This blog features regular reviews of books, horticultural products, and interesting related items, under this proviso. All items reviewed will be purchased by the reviewer in advance, at full retail price, in order to prevent any conflict of interest. Information about upcoming releases is greatly appreciated, but receipt of advance copies or samples will be announced well in advance and will not influence the final review. The world has enough Jeff Craigs and Maria Salases as it is.)

Bizarre Botanicals: How to Grow String-Of-Hearts, Jack-In-The-Pulpit, Panda Ginger, and Other Weird and Wonderful Plants by Larry Mellichamp and Paula Gross,. Timber Press, 2010. 283 pp., $24.95 US. ISBN-13: 9781604690767

Lists of odd plants are such subjective things. The local weeds in Capetown are horrendously exotic in New York, and the perspectives of casual browsers in the local grocery store floral section are a bit lacking compared to those of professional botanists and horticulturalists. It also depends upon personal tastes. I could make the argument that tumbleweeds (Salsola spp.) are just as odd as the corpse flower Amorphophallus, but the question is whether I could back it up. Equally importantly, if I were asked to come up with a similar list, would I merely be copying someone else’s, or working from my own personal experience?

As far as Bizarre Botanicals is concerned, it’s a good start on a decent odd plant listing. Problem is, anything other than “a good start” would come in about eighteen volumes and arrive at the door via forklift. The most impressive aspect of this book isn’t that authors Larry Mellichamp and Paula Gross managed to find at least 77 suitably odd plants to include in their listing. It’s that they managed to stop at only this many, and I can only imagine how many they left out.

As the introduction states, the original focus was on carnivores, and the first tip that you’re looking at a Timber Press book is the beautiful photography. For serious carnivore junkies, it’s interesting but not loaded with surprises. And that, Officer, is when the book shifted into ferns. That’s when our authors dropped the blue oil fern (Microsorum thailandicum) into my lap. It veered over into the passionflowers (Passiflora), the Czarina’s favorites, and then skipping to her new love, the bat plant (Tacca chantrieri.

Again, personal tastes intrude. While the chapter on “Hearts-a-Burstin'” and heart-shaped flowers was intriguing, I personally would have gone in the direction of edible oddballs, such as the miracle fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum) or the fruit of Monstera deliciosa. (Of the latter, I love the fruit-salad flavor of the flower spike, but the immature spike itself always brought to mind sex toys for Silurians.) Even so, the whole hearts chapter is a great subject for goth gardening, and my only regret is that many aren’t suitable for Texas heat.

And then we’re back in the running with a thumbnail guide to odd orchids. Again, the surprise was that the authors were able to stop before turning in a 5000-page manuscript. Of particular note is that they recognized the singular wonder of the trigger orchid Catasetum saccatum: in an odd way, if not for my knowing about C. saccatum and misunderstanding an Australian friend’s comment, I never would have been introduced to the whole triggerplant (Stylidium) family. Personal tastes intruding again: I would have dedicated at least one section to the triggerplants, but I can understand why they were left out. They’re still remarkably poorly known in the US and Europe, and they’d make a great subject for a sequel.

If there’s anything approximating a disappointment in the listings, it’s with the succulents section. Quite seriously, how the hell could anybody do justice to your personal list? Arguing about the merits of true cactus versus the euphorbias is reason to pull out chainsaws and rubbing alcohol at twenty paces, and somehow our authors managed to include a few very good examples and mention the stapeliads as well. You can almost hear the authors whimpering about the three or four they wanted to squeeze in before the editor said “Anything more, and we sell you for body parts.”

I’ll also mention on caveat, which also impinges upon the length of the book. The title reads “How to Grow String-of-Hearts, et al“, but the growing instructions are generally limited to growing zones in the US and some basics on soil quality and light requirements. Still, it’s a lot better than the truncated guides on most plant tags, and if there was an argument for a book augmented with 2-D barcodes and a very large online library, this is it.

I’m regularly asked by friends about books that might make gardening appealing to teenagers. I’d put this one right at the top of the list. Sure, they may get overly enthusiastic about growing difficult species. And?

Orchid roulette

Right now, half of the garden centers around are offering severe discounts on their current plants, either to clear out overstock before the worst of the heat hits, or to make room for fall stock. Because there’s not a whole lot to do before September down here, now’s the time to play a game I developed a few years back. The game is “Orchid roulette”, and it’s remarkably cheap and quite a bit of fun.

Anyone spending any time researching commercial horticulture notes that there’s a lot of waste in the trade. You get plants that die or get sick before they’re ready to be sold, and they usually get composted long before they reach market. You get others that get damaged or infested before they’re put out for sale, and they’re usually pulled from sale as soon as it’s noticed. Others, though, outlive their shelf life: Christmas chrysanthemums and rosemary “Christmas trees” get pulled right after the season is over, even though the plants are still good, because nobody wants to buy flowering plants without flowers. And nowhere is this more evident than with orchids.

The game of orchid roulette requires finding a venue that has lots of relatively inexpensive orchids for sale, and waiting until about now, when the big rush for orchids is starting to lapse. At this time, most of these venues will have discount sales on the orchids that have already bloomed and returned to focusing on photosynthesis. They may still have the remnants of their bloom spikes, but the flowers are gone, so take the time to focus on everything else about the plant. Take a look at the shape of the leaves, the form of the pseudobulbs (if the variety has pseudobulbs), the presence or absence of aerial roots, or any other factor about the plant that really attracts your fancy. Once you’ve found one that catches your interest, buy it: when I started doing this, I paid a whole $10 US for my first orchid, and I had absolutely no idea as to what its flowers looked like.

Most commercially sold orchids come with some sort of identification, usually a Latin name and the cultivar name, and you’ll use this afterwards to find out about the basic husbandry of your new orchid. Does it need a bark mix for a potting medium, or is it happy with good old-fashioned dirt? Does it need full or partial sun? Most of your popular groups, such as Cattleya or Dendrobium, have similar care regardless of species, so do a touch of research. In my case, I picked up that $10 orchid and realized that the potting medium was an absolute joke, with it suffocating its roots and preventing it from growing. I repotted it with a standard Cattleya blend of pine bark and charcoal, and it rewarded me with an explosion of roots and two new pseudobulbs. All the time, though, I didn’t know anything about the blooms, and I held off for nearly a year until it started growing bloom spikes.

The best part of orchid roulette is that the incredible variety of cultivars and hybrids means that you have no idea of what you’re going to get as far as blooms are concerned until the next year, and this means that you focus on everything else about the plant beforehand. In my case, I purchased an Iwanagara Apple Blossom ‘Golden Elf’, and it’s currently blooming in my greenhouse as I write this. Oh, the blooms are interesting, if nonscented, but I’m waiting for the blooms to fade so I can repot it. It’s been doing very well in a standard plastic orchid pot, but I managed to find a beautiful tall Chinese orchid pot a few years back, and I want to see instead how well it takes to that pot before next year’s blooming.

Poached Orchids and Vaporware Wollemi Pines

There’s a particular pretend customer that comes to every retail business who’s best known as “YouShouldJust”. This is the character who looks over inventory or selection and then chirps “You know, you should just…” This is immediately followed with an insistence that the business carry something impractical, implausible, expensive, or even illegal. In bookstores, YouShouldJust wants the store to carry Kindles, even though those are sold only through Amazon. In restaurants, YouShouldJust nags about how the menu needs pomegranate margaritas or abalone steaks. At the Triffid Ranch, this involves YouShouldJust holding his breath until he turns blue or until I start offering Cephalotus and other extremely rare species. With some businesses, YouShouldJust wanders about, hitting up every venue and insisting that everyone carry the one item or follow the same idea. The smart ones ignore YouShouldJust unless s/he puts down money up front. The rest of us learn, the hard way, that as soon as you inform YouShouldJust that the item is in or the idea is implemented, that’s the last you’ll ever see of the character. It’s not malicious and it’s not fraudulent: it’s a weird power play that’s intensely annoying, especially when eight or nine YouShouldJusts come by in successive order.

(To be fair, a lot of businesses ignore requests from customers because, usually, “I’ve been doing this for 20 billion years, and we tried that once and it didn’t work.” I was once told that the big science fiction magazines tend to stick to digest format because Analog once went to a standard magazine format in the 1960s and fans still complain that this was too extreme a change. In 1965. Considering that at this time, my main activities in life circled around gulping down amniotic fluid and kicking the hell out of the inside of my mother’s uterus, I’m glad that I’m a bit more amenable to change in the last 45-odd years than most science fiction magazine readers.)

A lot of this boiled up after a friend pointed out an article on orchid poaching. Much like the flood in fad pets after a movie or television show makes Dalmatians or turtles or owls popular, any announcement of a new species gets YouShouldJusts racing to exotic plant dealers, asking about getting hold of a specimen of Nepenthes attenboroughii. They don’t really want it: they want to be able to say “Look: I convinced this dealer to carry it, and there it is.” For all of the understandable growling over the collectors who somehow think that clones produced by sterile tissue propagation are inferior to wild-gathered specimens (a growling that extends to this attitude among reptile and amphibian keepers, I might add), I also have to wonder “How much of this poaching trade is fueled by YouShouldJusts making noises about buying rare specimens and then flaking out when they arrive?”

I’m not saying that YouShouldJusts encouraging poaching should be shot. Mandatory spaying and neutering is enough: Weed-Eaters for the boys and Roto-Rooters for the girls, and anybody who complains doesn’t get anaesthesia.

(An interesting corrollary to the YouShouldJust phenomenon involves the Wollemi Pine, Wollemia nobilis. I could go on for days about this fascinating plant, but I’ll leave that for the experts. Let’s just say that the Czarina bought me one in 2006 for my birthday, and it did quite well before an unknown affliction hit it at the beginning of 2008. Trying to get a replacement has been interesting, as another gentleman discovered the hard way, because of YouShouldJust. The initial reports on the Wollemi pine were followed by so many YouShouldJusts demanding specimens at any cost, for bonsai and ancient gardens for example, that a gigantic captive breeding program started to protect the last remaining wild specimens from being poached. As with the endangered orchids mentioned earlier, it’s a pain for those wanting legitimate specimens in the States, as the one authorized breeder shut down all sales two years ago, allegedly because of an inability to fill orders. Meanwhile, the nurseries and garden centers that carried Wollemia during the first big rush wouldn’t order new ones even with money up front, as almost to an individual, they complain that YouShouldJusts made noises and then refused to buy when the plants were available. The search continues.)

Be nice. Be considerate. Be responsible. Don’t be a YouShouldJust.

EDIT: I almost forgot to mention that the worst YouShouldJusts are the ones who tell entertaining friends “You should write a book,” and who nag about it all the way up to where the book has a publication date. Just sayin’.