Peter Cun­dall:

Ad­vice on how to han­dle an orchid sit­u­a­tion.

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - LIVING -

I’ve al­ways been re­luc­tant to write about or­chids, partly be­cause I don’t know enough, but to be hon­est, be­cause there are far too many ded­i­cated ex­perts around.

Some, espe­cially blokes, are such sin­gle-minded per­fec­tion­ists they’re ready to pounce on the slight­est er­rors made by ca­sual grow­ers like my­self.

I used to think it was just me un­til I at­tended a meet­ing of ded­i­cated, orchid grow­ing fa­nat­ics and lis­tened amazed to pas­sion­ate de­bates and fe­ro­cious ar­gu­ments about pot­ting mixes and fer­tilis­ers. Never be­fore have I come across so many friendly but sin­gle­minded peo­ple dis­agree­ing with each other.

Many years ago I went into Tas­ma­nia’s Tarkine rain­for­est with a cam­era crew to help make a gar­den­ing tele­vi­sion pro­gram. I spot­ted a tiny But­ter­fly orchid (Sar­cochilus aus­tralis) part way up a small a tree.

De­spite the small size of the flower, this na­tive orchid de­vel­oped me­tre-long, pen­cil-thick roots which were wrapped around the trunk and prob­a­bly feed­ing

I’ve been very cau­tious about my orchid ad­vice since that time ... too many ad­dicts

off or­ganic de­bris lodged in bark crevices.

Glanc­ing around I was as­ton­ished to find al­most every other tree in the area fes­tooned with more But­ter­fly or­chids. As we filmed this won­der­ful, un­ex­pected phe­nom­e­non and for the pro­gram I naively re­marked how eas­ily these wild plants could be hy­bridised if skilled am­a­teurs col­lected a lit­tle pollen to ap­ply to other, closely-re­lated or­chids.

Within days of the pro­gram go­ing to air I was bom­barded with an­gry mes­sages from orchid lovers, warn­ing me about se­vere penal­ties in­flicted upon any­one dar­ing to re­move pre­cious pollen from the wild.

I’ve been very cau­tious about my orchid ad­vice since that time – too many ad­dicts.

A long time ago I came across a rather odd dairy farmer in a lovely, high­lyfer­tile part of Tas­ma­nia. I soon dis­cov­ered why he had such a strange, far­away look in his eyes. Ap­par­ently some­one had once pre­sented him a cym­bid­ium orchid that had yet to

pro­duce a flower.

He told me how frus­trated he was when it per­sis­tently failed to bloom, no mat­ter how des­per­ately he fed and wa­tered it. One day he add fully de­com­posed cow ma­nure to the pot­ting com­post and tried a new lo­ca­tion. A few months later it pro­duced blooms of spec­tac­u­lar beauty.

He had at last dis­cov­ered the se­cret of grow­ing cym­bid­ium or­chids. It was the com­bi­na­tion of cow ma­nure and the hu­mid­ity of a milk­ing shed that did the trick. He then ac­quired more or­chids and learned how to di­vide and prop­a­gate them, while adding and ex­per­i­ment­ing with other species and hy­brids. Spe­cial shelves were con­structed in the milk­ing shed so he could ad­mire and tend them while he milked his 50 cows.

Grad­u­ally he ran out of shelf space, so some of his pre­cious or­chids were placed tem­po­rar­ily into one of the milk­ing stalls. These were added to un­til there was no longer enough space for a cow. That was no big deal – af­ter all there were five other stalls. How­ever his col­lec­tion re­lent­lessly ex­panded into an­other stall and then an­other.

“Come and see my or­chids” he said when I called in. We am­bled across an empty pad­dock to the most as­ton­ish­ing, bizarre milk­ing shed I’ve ever seen. It was crammed with an ex­tra­or­di­nary range of or­chids in pots of all shapes and sizes. They were perched on shelves and even on di­vid­ing walls between stalls. Even the room where cream was once sep­a­rated was also packed full of or­chids, pots, pul­verised bark and pot­ting soils.

Dur­ing the tour, he ex­pertly named each plant, de­tail­ing its his­tory and flow­er­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics. Fi­nally asked the ob­vi­ous ques­tion - where did he milk his cows now? He looked be­wil­dered. “Cows?” he said. “There’s no place for them here mate. I just had to get rid of them” He told me how grad­u­ally he had run out of milk­ing space, then re­alised that look­ing af­ter cows was stop­ping him from giv­ing his adored or­chids the full at­ten­tion they de­served.

I glanced over the empty, ne­glected pad­docks and long, rank, un­cut grass. Ten­ta­tively I asked if per­haps he’d made a mis­take. He gazed around sadly. “Yes, Peter,” he an­swered. “You see, I now have to get my cow ma­nure from an ad­join­ing dairy farm and there could be a real short­age in the fu­ture. I made the stupid blun­der of giv­ing him a cou­ple of my or­chids, now he’s got this strange, far­away look in his eyes”.

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