Monday, April 25, 2011

Tulip Mania

As we barrel toward the end of April I thought it would be a good idea to review the Cats and Catts 2011 tulip experience. Riley and Bean were especially interested. I purchased a variety in September without a true bulb agenda. I planted the daffodils in front of the tulips, and the short flowers in front of the bigger flowers, and let nature take it from there.
The results surprised me. The varieties I thought I'd like were unimpressive, and the ones that looked gaudy on the label turned out to be elegant in bloom. Cats and Catts fans know how much I love white Cattleyas and Brassavolas, so it was natural that I would buy some white tulips. But they didn't really do it for me and smelled unimpressive. 'Shirley' grew on me, but I don't like its black throat. The red Darwins, however, were awesome. The Fosterianas with the smaller stems and blooms didn't impress me either. To be fair, it all impressed me, but the taller, more vase-friendly, plants were simply fantastic. Some of them opened so flat that they took on the form of an entirely different flower.

There's plenty of room for more bulbs six months from now, and it will be interesting to see which ones come back for the 2012 Spring. With all of the mental energy demanded by the orchids and the daylilies and the cats (and sometimes the frogs), I doubt I'll be making any cut-throat decisions about tulip bulbs six months from now. On the other hand, it's not too early to look at bulb catalogs.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Red Riley

Riley is posing next to a Brachy complex hybrid from the Orchid Inn. You can buy your own right here. These hybrids are part of Sam Tsui's effort to breed a solid red dorsal. I bought this in bloom over a year ago and was happy to see it bloom again this month.

Its name is Paph. godefroyae (syn. Paph. leucochilum) 'Florida Red' HCC/AOS x (Bella Lucia x Sabatino) 'Red Moon.' Some Cats and Catts readers, particularly those who studied Bean's series on Brachypetalums, will find the name immediately understandable. Others might appreciate a reminder that the pod parent is species Paph. godefroyae (also referred to as Paph. leucochilum and Paph godefroyae var. leucochilum), typically noted for its strong flower stem and dark burgundy blotching. 

The pollen parent is an unnamed hybrid that Orchid Inn has registered as 'Red Moon.' Paph. Bella Lucia is Paph. bellatulm x Paph. Wellesleyanum and Paph. Sabatino is Paph. Muriel Constance × Paph. Greyi. In other words, the pollen parent is a Brachy mutt with a lot of bellatulum in the background. Paph. bellatulum typically has weak flower stems, and that trait expressed itself in this cross. Maybe the stem is floppy because I raised the plant poorly, but I'd rather blame Nature.

 Is anyone still awake? I think the genealogical heritage of my plants is endlessly fascinating, but let's talk about its prettiness. This is another gem from the Orchid Inn. The heavy blotching on the dorsal contrasts nicely with the white pouch. The pattern is mesmerizing, especially with the light at its back.

I'm thrilled with the shape, too. The lateral sepals are slightly reflexed to give it a full and round face. I might be too quick to overlook its flaws, but it had a rough start. The bloom unfolded with one sepal pulled back and the other falling forward. I was concerned during the few days it took to regain symmetry. It had nothing to do with poverty or world peace, but I can become a tad high-strung after waiting months for a single flower to open.

I trusted Riley not to harass the flower and my trust proved well-placed. He often rises to the occasion for photo shoots. Riley can appreciate a nice flower, even if he is one of the weirdest cats in the house.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Fred's Lan Lan

This looks like a cat and orchid disaster, but Lan Lan pulled back at the last moment and left the flower intact. Lan Lan was showing (too much) interest in Dtps. Fred's Redlip (Phal. Devon Ace x Dtps. Ilse of Beauty). I'm not sure the lip is, indeed, red, but we're dealing with dominant and recessive traits and the many unknowns that make up flower hybridizing. I love the sparkling white petals and the flatness of the flowers.
Fred Bergman is a longtime member of the Orchid Society of Greater Kansas City and he's well-known for his hybridizing efforts. OrchidWiz lists over 250 registered crosses and I know he's created hundreds more. Almost all of his plants are named 'Fred's ____.' 

Fred ran the Beginner Group for my orchid society and I always tried to attend. Fred approaches orchids like a scientist and has little patience for untested theories, remedies, and folk advice. In Beginner Group he always emphasized the flexibility of orchids' cultural needs and the necessity to find out what works with your particular growing set-up. I could see how this approach could frustrate some who want a bottom-line answer to a question like "how often should I water?" but it was a very familiar outlook for me having grown up with a father and mother in the science and medical fields respectively. Fred is skeptical of the supposed benefits of reverse-osmosis water, the power of Michigan State fertilizer, and the hottest trends in non-decomposing potting media. His success with tap water, urea-based fertilizer, and peat mix is ample evidence for his skepticism.

So, it was a great moment at our orchid society meeting when Al Clinton revealed that he had named one of his Masdevallia crosses after Fred (Masd. Fred Bergman, which is Masd. striatella x Masd. Gold Purse.). It was an extremely cool looking flower. Our Orchid Society blogger, Jami Parkinson, recorded the moment and has a nice post about the event here. All of this goes to show that the flowers might draw someone into the orchid cult, but it's the good people one meets along the way that sustains the addiction.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Orchid exhibiting is like karate. I've never done karate, but I've seen The Karate Kid a few times and I remember Mr. Miyagi scoffing at the idea that Daniel could learn martial arts from a book. I have no idea how to win at flower shows but I'm pretty sure this book isn't going to help. It's not a very good book, to be perfectly honest with you and, following Mr. Miyagi, orchid showing seems to be one of those things that you can only learn by doing.

That said, the new issue of Orchids magazine has a number of articles about AOS awards and judging that are worth reading. These articles discuss the history of the AOS judging system, how it compares to other judging systems, and the considerations judges take into account when making their decisions. As one of the articles points out, previously awarded clones -- except in the rare instance when it improves substantially on the original -- aren't going to be selected by the judges for AOS consideration. It all starts with the collection.

Orchid shows also seem to be a lot like little league baseball. I've never played baseball, but I saw Hardball once or twice and I remember Keanu Reeves praising the disadvantaged inner-city youth for showing up. Half of the battle is having the orchids show up. I've learned that plants in which you have little faith might be big winners. The judges might see something you don't. In fact, they're very likely to see something you don't because they've spent nearly ten years of their life training to be an orchid judge. Beyond that, your flower might be the only one in its class. It's all about showing up.

Perhaps the comparisons to karate or baseball are stretching things too far. It seems to me that growing good looking orchids is the fundamental key to successfully exhibiting them. Growing what you love is its own reward, but I want more ribbons and glory. I need to focus my collection for that to happen. I need to make sure the flowers show up to the orchid shows. And I need to learn that special crane kick from Mr. Miyagi.