Orchids stand apart. At flower shows these movie stars of the plant world gather under the lights, their jewel-tone speckled faces shining. But I confess— Orchidaceae’s astonishing allure has always passed me by. However, that changed last month, when my friend Ann Murphy, Director of Marketing for the Oregon Association of Nurseries, invited me to tour member nurseries with her around Eugene, Oregon.
On a cold gray afternoon, Ann and I stepped into the bright greenhouse of Briggs Hill Orchids, swept into a golden circle by the enthusiasm of owners, Helane and Bart Gandel. Tables were loaded with shining leaf forms and flower colors. Overhead, air roots dangled out of containers suspended from the greenhouse roof. Bart reminded me that most orchids in nature are epiphytic, growing from trees. He touched the three-foot long living roots and I had to reach out and caress them too.
When the Gandels started their orchid love affair, Bart said, it was the large showy plants that caught his eye. But soon he fell in love with the tiniest. “Really cool.”
He showed us a three-foot log planted with 30 different small species like Dinema polybulbon and Pluerothallis alata. (Don’t look for many common names in this world.) The flowers of Ornithophora radicans looked as if fairies had flung their jewelry onto the four inch-long grass-like foliage.
Helane and Bart’s zest was infectious. Ann immediately started shopping. (A keen gardener and plant collector, Ann does have the ideal job.) HelÃ©ne sympathized with my non-orchid status because that’s how she began. About sixteen years ago. Bart bought her a cymbidium. She laughed, “It took me three years to kill that plant.”
But the couple learned. They researched quick-draining media, ideal temperatures for the broadest range of varieties (night greenhouse, 58 degrees) and feeding requirements—Bart favors Dynagro, in three out of four waterings. Best of all, the Gandels sell their favorites by mail order all over the country. (www.briggshillorchids.com)
Here’s what Ann bought:
- Coelogyne – mounted on a tree fern chunk, with white fragraossoms
- Dinema polybulbon – Subtle pale golden flowers with red markings
- Pleurothallis niveoglobula – flowers are the smallest of pearls
- Pleurothallis truncata – heart-shaped leaves hold a tiny chain of orange beads
- Trichosalpinx orbicularis – upright deep reddish flowers shaped like a infinitesimal pocket
I did succumb. My own coconut-scented Maxillaria tenufolia is now ensconced in the east-facing windowsill of my breakfast room.