Saturday, September 26, 2009

Vanda motesiana - Who's your Daddy?

The bright colored flags are up at Motes Orchids, like a car dealership. Martin, Dr. Martin R Motes, has just received- no, earned- the ultimate honor for an orchid breeder, or any orchid nut: he has a new species named for him- Vanda motesiana - the plant long inaccurately known as Vanda stangeana.

He's right up there now with Mr. Sanders, Mr. Schiller (Phal Schilleriana, etc) the two Dr.Hookers- father and son. All nineteenth century gentlemen, their names somehow right for long black coats and top hats, gas light and cobblestones, alongside Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper. Whereas twenty-first century Motesiana has a lightness to it; it sounds like a music festival.

So in the wake of this great event I set out to interview Dr. Motes on this honor and found a happy man.
First question of course, is: "Why the name change?""
"Well," said Dr. Motes, "the species formerly known in horticulture as Vanda stangeana was NOT the plant described by Reichenbach."
Oh. "How could that be?"
"Ignorance! Everyone thought they knew what V. stangeana Reich. f. was but the plant in cultivation had never been described! And now this young graduate student in botany from Pennsylvania, has discovered that the plant in cultivation was not that described by Reichenbach."

Pennsylvania? Vandas are warm-loving orchids-you would think it should be Manila, or Bangkok or Hawaii.. In the same odd way it happens that the revised rules for fertilizing vandas have come from research at the University of Michigan, that hot house of a state.
"So how did the lad in Pennsylvania..?"
"He went to the old plates and pictures, examined them." Played, in fact, the botanical Sherlock Holmes. "And when he pointed out these discrepancies to me and Dr. Eric Christenson" (the two top hats)-"we agreed."
"-That that was not the orchid described by Reichenbach?"

For those for whom this explanation seems a little thin and lacking in detail I refer them to the September edition of The Orchid Review, the journal of the Royal Horticultural Society: page 147: "A new species of Vanda." "Timothy Choltco describes and illustrates Vanda motesiana Choltco, a new species and the correct name for plants in cultivation hiding as Vanda stangeana hort."

"And why did you get the name?"
"I've done more breeding with Vanda motesiana than anyone else- as with many vanda species- It was just that no-one else was very interested." Dr Motes here exhibits a pleasing modesty.

I know the aforenamed "V stangeana"- a not very brilliant yellow vanda but with interesting tessellations-that was why Dr.Motes used it in breeding. (When you live with someone who breeds orchids you learn there are often odd reasons why they like a certain plant: -Me-"What's so special about that one?"- Dr. Motes: "It's the length of the stem!" Me: "Oh."

And of course Dr. Motes helped Timothy Choltco and provided the type specimen of the vanda that was "hiding" under a false identity so the young botanist offered the name to Martin and Dr. Motes is now proposing to name our best "stangeana"- now motesiana- cross after the sharp-eyed young botanist.

So I asked Dr. Motes what did this mean for him, the family, society at large and civilization in general?
Dr. Motes modestly drew attention back to the domestic scene, as well he should: "I will no longer be known as the man married to the woman who has more orchids named after her than anyone else."
Oh. OK. So from now on I'll be the woman married to.. . I'll be Mrs. Motesiana.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Play it again, Sam!

We won last night! The Canes are back. The University of Miami, our Miami Hurricanes, beat Georgia Tech 33-17. Yeah! Except when our household raised a cheer it was after the event. Together with our new, enormous flat screen TV with HD, we have the record-and-watch-when-you-want miracle feature; the ability to play with time.

Now we can start watching later, skip the commercials, replay the God. Be king of all we survey, emperor of the remote, thumbs up, thumb down - Caesar surveying the arena. But ...well, for one thing, I rather like the commercials. Football tends to bring out the fun in advertisers. Not like the ones who turn the old-fashioned nightly news broadcasts into a doctor's waiting room.

I know it's a great advance in technology to be able to play with time but if I can't be there in person I'd like to be there in time, when it's all happening - when the Canes come surging out of the smoke on to the field, I want to be cheering with everyone else. When they score a touch down I want to feel I'm yelling with the whole of South Florida, with the nutty students stripped to the waist and painted orange, the tail-gaters waving beer cans and hot dogs, the crowds in bars.. a collective moment.

We are already removed physically from the action -miles away from the stadium. One perched on the rocking chair bought new from Hialeah, one on the futon, one on the old rocking chair from a Salvation Army store in North Carolina: comfortable, not far from the fridge, but isolated in our Florida room, by ourselves. But at least, till now, when we yelled Yes! or howled No! it was with everyone else.

I suppose the argument is soon everyone will have this feature because nothing can stop progress! We'll all be working the remote: fast forwarding, pausing, stopping, twirling time around. And everyone outside of the stadium will be cheering a little later, after it's all happened, and then playing the good moments of course, again and again.

I must admit I planned if Georgia Tech buried us, I'd insist we just go back and replay our first victory of the season over Florida State which we recorded on Labor Day. Again and again till the pain of defeat had subsided. So there would be some basic gut level consolation in high tech progress- Play it again, Sam!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Orchid Territory -New! Improved!

I had been bemoaning the fact that Martin has sold thousands of his book- Florida Orchid Growing Month by Month - while I toil along - six here, two there - with "Orchid Territory: A Comic Novel." (Will make you laugh, actually! It’s funny about orchids, the business of orchids- You know the English- got to see the funny side!)

People, especially Americans, want to be informed, not laugh. And to say “a novel’ unless you’re Stephen King or those horribly successful women who write about vampires and teenagers...then that’s the kiss of death. Or maybe I should have been inspirational: Chicken Soup for the Orchid Soul..or maybe Cooking with Orchids...

But Orchid Territory, of course, is full of orchid stuff and Aunt Charlotte, the central character, is channeling Dr. Martin Motes, author of the bible for orchid growers: Florida Orchid Growing Month by Month.

Martin wants to add that despite my complaints Orchid Territory has sold 2000 copies and is going to a second edition - which is where the Insider’s Guide comes in: (see below) Each chapter of the second edition will now begin with a little nugget of information. Mary Motes is out to capture some of the How To public. So here goes:

Orchid Territory
An Insider’s Guide

Chapter I Fetching the Pig
If you are serious about Christmas in South Florida you buy a pig. If you are serious about the pig you buy a live one.

Chapter 2 Christmas Eve: Preparations for the Party
“Remember: If a Cattleya looks like it needs watering water it tomorrow. If a Vanda looks like it needs watering water it today, if a Phalaenopsis or a Paphiopedilum looks like it needs watering, you should have watered it YESTERDAY.”
Aunt Charlotte’s famous advice on watering orchids.

Chapter 3 The Party
“You don’t have to know a thing, dear boy! A lot of orchid judges haven’t grown a damn orchid in years! All you need to remember for judging is that you’ve always seen a better one of whatever it is, last year or in another region.”
Aunt Charlotte’s helpful advice to Mark on impersonating an orchid expert from Kew.

Chapter 4 Christmas Day
“Orchids that need moths for pollination are fragrant after dark and tend to be lighter in color– the white or yellows! There’s the hallmark of your orchid– adaptation and intelligence!”
Charlotte (“I do not suffer fools gladly!”) would not have grown orchids if they were stupid.

Chapter 5 New Year’s Eve Party
“I’ve always said Christmas is a tricky market.”
“No-one wants to commit till Christmas Eve. ..You can’t wrap up a plant in November and put it in the closet.”
It may be a party but, if you’re selling orchids for a living, it’s always a good time to complain.

Chapter 6 Cold Front
“Every farmer and nursery-man had the water on. All the way home to Orchid Empire the whole of Redland humming with water: a warm sixty-three degrees out of the ground.”
When there’s a cold front, let alone a freeze, turn on the sprinklers: water can save your orchids.

Chapter 7 New Year’s Night
“Mark had done all he could do. The plastic was tight, the water was on. Nature was on the rampage out there just taking her course, clumping down the peninsular: Termi-nature! And in an hour or two, with the dawn, they’d all see how merciless she’d been.”
Mark facing the freeze New Year’s night.

Chapter 8 New Year’s Day
“The orchids along the front of the greenhouses, the landscape orchids, their actual flowers were frozen under the sprinklers. Charlotte says a coating of ice protects; calls it ‘relatively benign.’”
Mark trying to make conversation New Year’s morning.

Chapter 9 New Year’s Week
“You’ve got your blood lines and your winners. Horses can have four words, orchids only three. Make a new cross, a hybrid, or win an award, you can put any name on it. Register with the Royal Horticultural Society and you’re part of orchid history!”
Charlotte on the naming of orchids.

Chapter 10 A Visit to Orchid Magic
“Apparently for industrial espionage among the orchids all that was needed was a toothpick to lift the pollen from the flower...An awarded orchid of course, was like a prize racehorse. “But a damn sight easier to breed with!” Charlotte had chortled. “All you need is the toothpick!”

Chapter 11 Las Olas Show: Preparation
“Always a litany of disaster! Cold damage, bud drop from high temps, flowers fading, flowers not open–It’s show time!”
Charlotte on the standard nightmares for orchid exhibitors.

Chapter 12 Las Olas: Putting in the Show
“For just the Oncidium Alliance alone there were twenty classes: Oncidium equitant hybrids, pink and lavender predominating, then yellow, orange, red predominating, then ‘other colors.’ Then after having covered more variations than anyone in his right mind could even think or imagine, the list ended with: Oncidium genera, species and hybrids“other than above.”
Mark on just one corner of orchid judging.
“But...when someone’s got a plant, a pet they want to exhibit and there’s not a division for it to be entered, they’ll scream bloody murder.”
Charlotte explaining.

Chapter 13 Selling at the Las Olas Show
“..treat Phaleanopsis like an African violet, great for beginners or those with low light; but you can’t flower a Vanda just on a window sill even in South Florida.”
Mark, discovering to his surprise he has learned a few general rules about orchids.

Chapter 14 Visiting Rachel and Jen
“You need a cat in South Florida to grow catts. They should be able to walk along a bench without knocking the plants over. Then you have them spaced properly....till the seventies orchids here always meant cattleyas.”
Mark, making conversation; facts courtesy of Charlotte.
Chapter 15 Preparations for the Orchid Talk
“Don’t these societies always have an endless agenda, anyway?...Rachel was complaining, remember, Rachel? They got you all the way up to Central Florida to talk micro-propagation and then what with the minutes and the discussions and the treasurer’s report you had about twenty minutes at the end.”
Larry persuading Mark he’ll be able to survive having to give a talk to an orchid society.

Chapter 16 Orchid Talk: Part 1
“...orchids that looked fairly ordinary and those were the most treacherous of all, the orchids with a totally obscure reason for being special: ‘It’s the breadth of the side lobes!’‘It’s the fact that this is a pink one and coming from the south side of the those mountains in East Java that species should be yellow!’
Mark panicking at being asked, as guest speaker, to identify and assess the orchids brought in by society members.

Chapter 17 Orchid Talk: Part 2
“There were references to the new temperature tolerant Oncidinae, the breeding of short day plants to long day, the fact that cattleyas were still judged as corsages, and the need to work on the strengthening of their stems; the beauty of odontoglossums, so big in England and what a joy that the intergeneric breeding was creating temperature tolerant varieties for Florida.”
Charlotte taking over orchid duties from Mark at the meeting, triumphantly.

Chapter 18 Valentine’s Day at the Mall
“Watch people. You take a flower. You say ‘How beautiful.’ You bring it forward to the face, your nose. Quite instinctive. A painting? A necklace? You say ‘How beautiful,’ and you hold it away to view.’
Cooper on his quest to breed fragrant Vandas.

Chapter 19 The Beginning of the End
“...Mark and Carlos had been ‘consistently over-watering’ but that was a common mistake, one she was sometimes guilty of herself. And Mark knew that was as close as Charlotte would ever get of saying Thank-you, thank-you for keeping Orchid Empire going.’”

Chapter 20 Preparations for the Miami Expo
“Who cares? Two garden chairs and a bird bath...It’s only two hundred square feet, for God’s sake! It’s not the bloody cricket ground at Lords! I tell you, you put in what you’ve got. No soul searching required.”
Charlotte on not getting carried away when setting up an orchid exhibit.

Chapter 21 Monday: The Sand
“Monday was finding the exhibit spot and the allocation of sand; Tuesday allocation of palms and greenery and Wednesday ’You trundle in the plants and get cracking.’ Wednesday was Putting in the Exhibit, the day Rachel would rent the U haul.”
Why orchids cost more at traditional orchid shows.

Chapter 22 Tuesday: The Palms
“All around people were landscaping their chalked out squares: trundling in their rationed allocation of palms and greenery, the background for their Orchid Fantasies.”
Why orchids cost more at traditional orchid shows.

Chapter 23 Wednesday: Putting in the Exhibit**
“The whole essence of being epiphytes – air growing plants- is to escape from the enemy -fungus. Fungus likes to be moist. So orchids have learned how to be dry. Dryness is the important factor in growing all orchids: not what moisture your plant needs but how much dry it can tolerate!”
Charlotte again.
**Why orchids cost more at traditional orchid shows.

Chapter 24 Thursday: Judgement Day
“Most exhibits seemed to have at least one big old specimen plant eating up space.’You can’t blame the big commercial people for going with the quick and easy stuff but who is going to keep these sacrificial wonders in their greenhouses?’” -Charlotte.
“It was Bert who had lamented the fact that when the old firms died out, with them went so many of the great orchids, the perennial one of a kind stars and ‘pets’...”

Chapter 25 The End
“Friday was the day for the botanicals, for the orchid society people and the best and cleanest of the commercial plants so the orchidists won’t decide the nursery’s going downhill and the spray program a total disaster. Saturday always mainstream but wait till Sunday to bring in the scratch and dents and the fully open, even fading so the Sunday afternoon bargain hunters can be allowed to beat you down, you with heart-rending reluctance, on price.”

Mark, on his second orchid show, already an old hand.

Chapter 26 The Last Party
“...I have learned much from living among you, no, not just the quaint customs of orchid vending. Though I must say, I have discovered you could sell an old boot if it has buds on it.”
Mark saying farewell.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Mirror Image

I could never go past a mirror without glancing in it. In fact, any reflective surface - shop windows, car windows, shiny fridge doors- Yes, it's me. It's still me.

I know it's always called vanity but I think for a lot of us it's more like the opposite. We don't think we look so good: we're just hoping somehow this time, at this angle, in this light, we won't look so bad. Even beautiful young things do it and most for the same reason. It doesn't matter how young or beautiful you are you will find something wrong. All those gorgeous teenagers scowling along a line of parked cars, checking themselves in the succession of car windows.

Or they used to. Now they're all talking or texting and they hold these iPods like young women used to hold compacts, looking in that little round mirror and touching up the face. Interesting! One thing these miracles of technology lack, apparently, is a mirror.

When you're young, of course, it's no good being reassured how nice you look. Perhaps that's why my grandmother never bothered. If I grumbled about my legs, she would announce that I was lucky to have two because some people only had one. She was one of the models for Aunt Charlotte in Orchid Territory but I missed out one of her classic lines. If anyone asked what time it was, she would answer, for example: "Two o clock! You be lucky you've lived so long. Some people die at one!"

Mr. Wilson had the same no nonsense approach. If I ever start a wellness center I will replicate Mr. Wilson's. He rented rooms in a small house on a beach in Jamaica, a stretch of beach with evidence of past hurricane damage -maybe that's why it was so nicely underdeveloped. We stayed there a few years ago and I remember it with much affection because at Mr Wilson's you just got out of bed in the morning and went down to the beach.

Mr Wilson did not have mirrors in his rooms. I think I remember one narrow oblong high up in the bathroom. Short, anxious females had to stand on tiptoe and still not see much below their ear lobes. He had no new shiny appliances either or cars parked outside and the beach shack where we got breakfast had no walls to hang a mirror on. It was worth any amount of massages and treatment with hot pebbles and aromatic candles. Nothing could beat not looking at yourself for a few days. It was a real holiday.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Darwin at Venice

Martin, Dr, Motes, will be speaking to the Venice Orchid Society on Wednesday evening, September 2nd, and the subject is Darwin and Orchids. Of course, just the phrase “Darwin at Venice” has a fine ring to it, as though some scholarly botanist has discovered a forgotten trip the great man took, a Victorian Mediterranean voyage. One sees him gliding along in a gondola, maybe checking for molluscs or whatever there might be clinging to the mossy walls of the palaces lining the canals.

Of course, Darwin and orchids are indelibly bound together and a perfect subject for an orchid society talk. I am very pleased we have a new topic because though Martin is a great speaker, when the subject is orchid culture there are really very few variations on presenting the rules for watering, tackling mites or repotting cattleyas. And as a loyal wife and partner accompanying Martin on many of these trips I’ve heard them all.

I’m lucky, of course, because at these meetings I have a chance to steal five minutes from the potting and the insect warfare, and introduce my popular, comic novel Orchid Territory. This is what every struggling author dreams of: a captive audience interested in their subject. And I also slide in and speak at the very start, when the audience is at its most captive.

I’ll have something new to introduce now - this blog. And for Wednesday evening at Venice, I’ve just discovered a lovely fact about Darwin. In his later years he confessed that what he really liked to read were “popular novels” though "...only if they do not end unhappily - against which a law should be passed."

Orchid Territory passes the test! Darwin - a great man indeed!

Mickey Mouse Ears

Orchid Territory is dedicated to Martin, of course, and also Bart and Alice “who were never taken to Disney-world because there was always too much to do in the orchid house.”

I have had many hardened orchidists nod sagely- of course! - and tenderhearted mothers sigh over these few words. But the truth is, this is a family joke.

I had announced from the very start that I would never take any child of mine to Disney World. I saw it as my one claim to being a Good Mother (most of the other criteria being hopelessly out of my reach). There was a good dollop of English snobbery involved, but mostly the despair of the Eng. Lit graduate who sees the end of civilization at every turn. This even though I’d grown up with Snow White, and the seven dwarfs are more a part of my internal landscape than most of my relatives.

The more Bart and Alice argued the more resolved I became. First, of course, I was informed that they were the only children in their school who had not been to Disney World, which - hallo! was just a little north of us, just up the road in Orlando. Then it became the whole of South Dade, had gone, then the whole of Florida and, as their horizons broadened, the US, and of course, living in Miami, the whole of the Spanish-speaking world. Then we heard about the influx of cheap flights straight to Orlando, from Western Europe and beyond and then the Emperor of Japan had to announce that he loved Disney World too.

I didn’t know about the Emperor but I had to admit that whenever I went back to the UK, the plane filled up with families coming or going to Orlando, and coloring books and crayons were being given out to at least half the passengers.

So the funniest thing happened last year when Martin was invited to speak to several orchid societies in the Los Angeles area and one day our hosts arranged for us to have a free trip to Disney Land. We were picked up and deposited at the gates for the day. So it came to pass that in our family it’s the parents who have been to Disney Land. We called Bart and Alice from outside one of the sunny palaces and I think they were old enough to have a good laugh. We mostly people-watched and Martin made sage comments about the landscaping and I really got into the spirit of it all. I discovered how delicious the chocolate-vanilla Mickey Mouse ice-creams were and all day whenever I felt hungry I got a Mickey Mouse ice-cream and ate it, starting with the ears.