Sunday, September 26, 2010

A few Do's and Don'ts of Orchid Care

It is always a good idea to talk to your orchids. This means, unless you have some very odd physical quirks, that you will be looking at them. And when you're looking at them, you will see
how they are doing. But don't wait till the second glass of Chardonnay in the twilight, when any minor problems may be hard to register.
And talking to your orchids does not mean addressing the assembled plants like someone at Toyota. As any good CEO will tell you, each operative blossoms when afforded individual attention.

If you think something is wrong with your orchid, Do Not Panic.
Most orchids die from worry. Not their worrying, yours. Because we always seem to be talking about keeping orchids warm enough, they are thought of more like patients than plants, or like hot house divas, ready any moment to get consumptive and dramatically expire.
Orchids are tough: think old boots not primroses. You could lose them in a land fill and most of them would emerge, if you dug around long enough, a little creased up, but still alive.
Which brings us to:

Never throw away an orchid because it looks dead.
Orchids are not like the Monty Python parrot. They can look like they're pushing up the daisies, they can look stiff as a board but hang on! Many look dead on purpose, like some dendrobiums, or play dead. (Many vandas I have known). They need:

Tough Love
Certain dendrobiums need to be ignored, for 3 months when they go into dead parrot mode. Some orchids apparently wither and die. But hold on to that crusty old stem or clump of roots. Hang it up, high and dry. And, often, after you've totally forgotten it, you may see tiny green buds emerging- signs of life.

This tough love also can work with a lush plant that refuses to bloom. It preens around, all green and happy but you didn't pay good money for that. A head of lettuce can do that. Take it out of its cosy spot- hang it up next to your wizzened stems. Ignore it. Shock it. And the final move: put that orchid in your Wilma.

Every orchid house needs a Wilma section. Hurricane Wilma wrecked one of our orchid houses, old shade cloth still hanging overhead, tilting benches. That's where we started to put ugly, dried out, near death plants or leggy orchids that had never bloomed. Ones with too much mite damage, ones I couldn't quite bring myself to throw away -Wilma was the back of the fridge.

And after a few months I would wonder: why had we put such healthy looking plants out there?And how come so many were blooming? Some bits and pieces had died away but most, falling out of broken pots and old baskets,were happily tangling up with new roots and climbing over each other like toddlers, open to whatever nature gave them: rain when it rained, bright hard sun. No extra help at all.
It's a reminder- (see under Don't Panic)- orchids are survivors. They have been surviving all over the world without the bloom boosters, the fancy fertilizers and sprays, the stakes and tidy pots.
I think they'll be around when we've all gone but that makes them sound too much like cockroaches. Just think old boots.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Joining the Party

I'm a tea-partyer.
I want my country back. I want my life back. I want my world back.
No, I'm not unsettled by black people, women people (You betcha!) Hispanic people or gay people finally starting to nudge the great white male to one side.

For me, it's the whole tech world owned by young people, the younger the better.
The old joke is no longer a joke: "This is so simple a child of five can operate it!" "OK. Find me a child of five."

That's why I'm adrift, like a tea-partyer in a three cornered hat.
For example: We agree I should put pictures in my blog, among these old woven, tweedy paragraphs. We did it with the Singapore Orchid Show, (see below.) But that was when my daughter was here. She may not be the child of five but she still retains all the legendary skills of that toddler. And now she's gone with the slogan of today's youth: "It's easy!"

And I want to snap my twenty-four pictures, take the roll into Walgreens or Publix, put it in an envelope and come back in a week to decide which were the good ones. There they were, in your hand. Get copies for Christmas.
Hopeless to tell me you can't get them into your computer that way. As a tea-partyer I'm not strong on logic.

After all, without my magic typewriter (the computer) I could never have knocked Orchid Territory into shape. How did I trudge through all those drafts on my Yugoslav stuff and Kosova Kosovo? OMG! The Smith Corona, the carbons. And right in the middle of the page a typo- and do you go with the white out that makes it worse and once more you rip out the paper...

So. Not much logic. The Tea Party would understand: "No Socialized Medicine!" but "Leave my Social Security alone!"
I loathe and fear the newfangled picture-making but don't touch my Word Perfect - OMG, Microsoft Word!

NB Actually, my daughter (Alice) did not say "It's easy" but "Give it a go, Mum!" which was much nicer but didn't fit. So to keep up with my self-image of fair and balanced, I must admit this mis-speak.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Random thoughts on Malaysia

Across the Singapore Straits and into a Malaysian bus station: right away bubblegum, Wrigleys and Turkish lavs, what the Singapore airport calls "squat pans."
When I smell the sharp smell of stale pee, I'm home - it says the old Peoples Republic of Yugoslavia, like nothing else.

Something else reminds me. The waiters, taxi drivers, shop keepers, all insisting as they always had in Tito's patchwork Yugoslavia: "We are one -( Indian, Chinese, Malay, Hindu, Moslem, Buddhist, Christian-) no problem!" "There is no problem here."

In the capital, Kuala Lumpur, we stayed in the Citin for thirty dollars, the street market so close to the hotel steps that Dr. Motes would say "Shall we go in through the handbags or the dresses?"
Close by, was the grand, modern Indian mosque, the muezzin's balcony level with our window. We heard the call to prayer in Malaysia, officially Moslem, everywhere, most clearly at dawn and dusk. But nowhere such a voice, not the high, plaintive call but a passionate, deep voice, halting almost to a sob, on the edge, then plunging forward.

"Wow, think of doing that five times a day!"say I, giving rise to another of those eye-rolling family moments -Dr. Motes informing me: "It's a recording!"
I'd been remembering the imams climbing up the steps of the little mosques in the small towns of Kosovo.

Malaysia retains its colonial buildings, many echoing Westminster and the great old "cathedrals of steam" like Paddington Station. Many a night I've pounded down the platform under those soaring, sooty girders, just before midnight, getting the last train home -the cheap day return! In Malaysia, the mini Paddingtons are built in the Indian style and shine in the sun like white pavilions.

The Federation of Malaya, "belonged" to us, the Brits, till 1963. My older brother, a shy suburban lad, was sent to the jungles of Malaya during his two years of national service, to fight "the Communist insurgency," our mini-Vietnam. So we had airmails from Malaya, and postcards of the beaches of Penang where the soldiers went on leave. There were movies too, back then: seas of dark palms, lying in wait, the plucky tea and rubber plantations, the alien fruits, the heat and sweat.

Everyone apologizes for the heat. But we are from Florida! we say. Hey, we don't even have air conditioning! The straight-backed waiters, the hotel staff in their uniforms and white gloves, look puzzled: they must have misunderstood.
Yes, we know the fruits, the different palms! Living in South Florida links us not only to all things Latin but to Africa, Asia, the old Empire, the old imperial world of bananas and coconuts.

My brother is old style too. His only experience of life outside the UK is as a soldier: Germany and then Malaya. If he came to stay he would recognize a lot from his tropical days in the Durham Light Infantry. But he still has some kind of infection from the jungles of Malaya and says he can't take the heat.