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:
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.”
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!”
**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.