Advice on how to handle an orchid situation.
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”.