Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Kitty Purry

by Lan Lan

The sudden onslaught of Katy Perry in the Cats and Catts house has been difficult to endure. Brian can't stop playing her music, watching her videos, and reading her celebrity gossip. We're used to disco and house music around here, but the sight of a middle-aged man dancing around the house to "Teenage Dream" and "California Gurls" is slightly problematic. The other kitties urged me to do some research in order to mount a case against this pop music sensation.

My research led to some surprising findings. First, her tour included a list of requests that celebrity gossip websites have criticized as irrational. For instance, she wants hydrangeas, roses, peonies, and white roses in her waiting room. If these are unavailable, she wants white orchids. Carnations are strictly forbidden. This makes perfect sense and I can't imagine any of the other kitties disagreeing with me.

Kitty Purry, her cat, is a second Katy Perry detail that weighs in her favor. Kitty Purry seems like a modest cat despite her famous associations, and the photo of her in her shark bed is particularly fetching. Unlike many other celebrity pets, Kitty Purry appears central to her owner's life.

Hates carnations. Likes white orchids. Has an agreeable cat. What's not to love?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memphis Orchid Show 2011

Dtps. Sogo Domeni AM/AOS 'June'
The Memphis Orchid Show was fantastic and I was grateful to clerk during the ribbon judging and loiter during AOS judging. The clerking responsibilities in the morning required activity: hanging ribbons, weaving in and out of mobs of judging teams, writing things on the backs of ribbons, getting other people to write things on the backs of ribbons, and locating the next flower to be evaluated.

The AOS judging process, by contrast, requires passivity from those outside the AOS judging program (those who are not judges, probationary judges, or student judges). It's similar to kibitzing a bridge game. I wear my best blank look and crush any impulse to comment on anything. In Memphis, I could tell that some clerks enjoy kibitzing the AOS judging, but some looked bored by it or had difficulty with silence. The AOS flower discussions are spellbinding and the judgments have immediate effects in the orchid world. It's an alchemical act where the judging team calls the flower and/or plant into glory and prominence. It's celebrating the flower (and using feats of science and botanical genealogy). 

The judging team makes an initial decision to score the flower or plant. Then, they research relevant databases for the cultivar and its lineage. There's more discussion. Each member of the team evaluates the flower or plant on a 0-100 scale. The team passes the plant or flower to another judging team if their scores show an insurmountably wide point differential. If the team shows consensus, they write a judging description of the plant or flower.

You can read the AOS Judging Handbook to understand the considerations that go into orchid judging. Cats and Catts readers know that I find the orchid judging world captivating on multiple levels. At the Memphis Show, the art of writing a flower description jumped out at me as an especially important dimension of the judging process. The team I watched went back and forth, around and around, on color and shape descriptors. Are we looking at dots or spots? Are we looking at a red that looks like wine or rubies? Where do the adverbs go in the sentence? When does one use semicolons? 

Linguistic precision is important because these brief descriptions become the account of the flower (independent of its photo). Given the international scope of the orchid world it's essential to have clear descriptions that abide by discursive norms. They form a permanent record in the orchid databases AQ+ and OrchidWiz, so it's important to do a good job. I watched it with rapt interest, but I'm a little bit of a word nerd.

The remainder of the show and Mid-America Orchid Congress meeting was tons of fun. Between Orchid Babies and Orchid Inn, I showed remarkable restraint in the vendors’ area by walking away from far too many Brachypetalum hybrids. I was trying to be good. I dodged the Orchid Inn’s many temptations, including Phrag. Peruflora's Cirila AlcaBut my only failure, as I see it, was buying only one Paph. barbatum from the Orchid Inn table (I should have bought all of the Paph. barbatum Sam Tsui had for sale). Are these species normally so bright, so round, and so adorable? I love the white dorsal with the red and green linear elements. Maybe I need to buy a few more from Sam in order to satiate my barbatum needs. And my birthday isn't that far off. (Hey, I'm just thinking out loud here...)

I’ll post photos of my auction booty in the near future, but let me tell you about the trip home. Wow!

Paph. Wossner Goldball 'Jeanie's Dream' AM/AOS
The journey to and from the show reinforced my psychotic commitment to the orchid activity. The 19th century orchid hunters seem a little less brave after having gone what I went through to return home. I've driven all over the country, through ice and snow storms that would bench lesser drivers. Like a traffic ninja, I've navigated San Diego and Los Angeles freeways during the worst rush hours. I consider myself an experienced driver until last weekend.  

The drive home from Memphis was a frightening affair. I kept my radio on and, as I drove northward on I-55, the radio alerts told of multiple tornado warnings across the state. Broadcasters listed of counties and towns potentially getting hit. At first, it seemed like a string of meaningless names. Then, I start to read the aforementioned names on various signs and I knew I was in trouble.

Paph. Lucky Bells 'Gigantic' AM/AOS
I'm accustom to torrential downpours and loud thunder, but the wind gusts and the sheer volume of water dropping at every angle complicated matters. The heavy cloud storms had tornado potential, but there wasn't much to do but drive.  

Cars started to pull over to the side of the road. The ones that didn't pull over slowed to a crazy 40 mph on a normally frisky freeway. Hazard lights went on. More cars exited. The best situation, the radio boys explained, was to find an interior wall. That didn't help me at whatsoever. Exiting the freeway seemed to pose its own risks, so I locked my eyes on the hazard lights ahead of me and followed through, what seemed like, the Bonus Wash part of one of those drive-through car washes. The skies eventually cleared and my gut instinct to keep driving succeeded. All of this occurred during the same few hours that tornadoes ravaged Joplin. Selfishly, I was glad to be on the other side of the state during the worst tornado disaster in decades, but tornado systems covered all of Missouri that Sunday afternoon and my memory of the Joplin tragedy will be forever tied to my white-knuckled return from Memphis.

The crazy thing isn't the lengthy and difficult drive. The crazy thing is that I'd do it all again next weekend just to see the people and the flowers. And just because I only purchased three plants at the show (details coming soon) doesn't mean that the addiction is lessening. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Blue Orchid Special

I returned Sunday from Memphis Orchid Show and MidAmerica Orchid Congress Spring meeting. The show was fantastic and I hope to have photos and reports about it later in the week. The weather was horrendous on the drive through Missouri. I drove through two tornado warnings along my route on I55 and I70 but I had no idea how bad things were in Joplin. According to Facebook updates, the relief effort is inundated with bottled water and clothes, but they need money. The Heart of Missouri United Way seems to be one of the most direct ways to help.

Thinking about the tragedy in Joplin prompted me to think about other awful things going on in the world. I started thinking about those fake-looking blue orchids. One of the Holy Grails of orchid hybridizing has been to breed or find a blue orchid. Some orchid flowers have hues of violet that appear blue, but true blue is still a dream. And maybe it should stay that way. I've noted a proliferation of "blue" orchids in my town and it's led me to rethink the need to breed blue.

Let's be clear: these "blue" orchids are an abomination unto all that is good and true. They're a pox on the plant world. Horticultural hell beasts. Atrocities, all. It hurts to look at them and I find their popularity baffling. You probably know this already, but the bright blue orchids sold at your neighborhood grocery store or popular department store are not truly blue. They are white Phalaenopsis treated under a patented process with mysterious chemicals. Unlike any other orchid, they won't rebloom in the same color. The blue will be severely faded or it will come back white. That's why they look so wretchedly unnatural; you can easily tell they weren't born that way. It's a white Phal. in a blue body, crying out for help.

I set out on the Internet to find support for my prejudice, but I learned that people love these hideous things. Cats and Catts readers know that we're big fans of Cattleya expert Arthur Chadwick, so I was happy to find him weighing in on the issue and making an argument that fans of blue should look into Vandas
So, what's next? Poinsettias sprayed with silver glitter? White carnations dipped in green dye? I don't even want to think about it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Cat TV

by Trixie
When it comes to kitty comfort in Cats & Catts house, we go above and beyond. Always looking for places that allow them to be adorable in new and precious ways, we decided to build a Kitty TV for our cats to lounge in.
The plan was originally posted on facebook. It seemed easy enough: find an old TV or computer monitor, gut it, and hang it on the wall….Viola! Instant Kitty TV house!
Brian found the TV on the side of the road, and brought it home, full of enthusiasm for the project! He thought that smashing the glass screen with his sledgehammer was the best plan (to quote him, “When you have a sledgehammer, everything looks like it needs to be hammered!”) He taped up the front so when the glass shattered, it would not rain all over the living room.
Intervening after the first sledgehammer hit barely glanced off the screen, I suggested we unscrew the back of the TV, and remove the guts, including the glass, without resorting to violence.  Pulling out my screwdriver, I removed the screws and the innards.
Once the insides were removed, it was simply a matter of mounting the TV on the wall.  There are typically two cats on Brian's desk at any given time and that does not leave a lot of work room. I decided the best placement of the TV would be a place that we could watch and enjoy.
So, I mounted the TV in the corner of our shared office. I screwed through the plastic on the bottom of the set into some L-bars I had on hand. Then, I added a piece of thick foam in the bottom, added a kitty bed, and waited for the kitties to wake up and start jumping in.
It only took about an hour for the first visitor to be scheduled on Kitty TV! Riley was the first program, and he has become a daily Must See TV! Three of four Cats & Catts kitties enjoy the kitty TV (as evidenced by these photos) Bean pays for the cost of Kitty Cable by letting her paws dangle out of the set. 3-D glasses, Not Required! 

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Tale of Two Blooms

 The first picture features Phal. Fred's Pimento, a hybrid created by Fred Bergam. Fred's Pimento is (Phal. Auckland Buddha x Phal. Dotty Woodson) and it has a varnished look and a waxy substance. I like the coloration because, from a slight distance, it looks like the red is uniform. Taking a closer view, the Harlequin-style blotching looks layered. The bright violet and orange on the lip makes for a nice contrast with the red tepals. Dotty Woodson brings a clear red color to the hybrid and Aukland Buddha brings the intricate blotching patterns. The flower count is low, but that could be due to my care or the age of the plant. There's a second inflorescence on its way up that could do great things. So, where does the "pimento" come into the picture? Viewed from the back, the flower bud looked green with a red square down the center back -- just like a pimento olive.

The bloom on the left is and unregistered hybrid Dtps. Taisuco Candystripe x Phal. Candied Prism. Its parentage is just a list of names to me, but maybe someone out there is curious: Dtps. Taisuco Candystripe is (Dtps. Okay Seven x Dtps. Sun-Chen Beauty) and Candied Prism is (Phal. Razzle Dazzle x Phal. Brian Carter). I love the fine dotting on the flower. The splatter is uniform and the pinks and reds are harmonious. The touch of yellow is cute. It's a pretty face, but its substance is papery. Looking on the bright side, the flower's coloring pops out with light at its back. On the down side, the edges of the flower are a tiny bit too wavy and the dorsal lacks confidence. Stand up, proud sepal! 

 I never thought I'd enjoy Phalaenopsis as much as I have this past year. I'm learning that I can keep them alive when they're not in sphagnum moss, and it's easier to take pleasure in a plant when you aren't killing it or worried about killing it. This year's performance, I think, is just a taste of what these plants can do. It will be fun to see how they show up next year (and that I'm thinking about next year is a sure sign of orchid sickness).

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Summer Camp 2011: A Process

We are having the first string of evenings with temperatures above 60 F, so it's time for many of my orchids to begin their summer vacations. I anticipate a few nights where I'll need to bring them inside due to an odd cold front or excessive rain, but the air and sun feel like it's time to start the summering process. I'll wait until it heats up before moving the Phals., but my Oncidiums, Brassavolas, and Cattleyas are in the shade house.

A lot of orchids love to be outside during the Midwest summer. The 12-16 weeks of extreme heat and humidity boosts their growth and sets the stage for their Fall and Winter flower extravaganza. At our last meeting, the fabulous leader of our Society's Beginner Group reviewed some important points about moving plants outdoors. I'm making a few modifications this year based on her suggestions and my experiences last summer.

1) First, I'm adding shade cloth on the West-facing side. I can still see last year's burn marks on my Miltassia and I'm determined to avoid a repeat scenario. On the plus side, the natural light and longer days is turning the Miltassia's leaves a lovely shade of light green.

2) I'm also making an extra effort to secure the pots to the structure instead of waiting until they blow over. I discovered last summer that a lot of my plants resent being knocked off the bench, out of their potting media, and onto wet grass. I don't know why the wildly chaotic winds and storms caught me off guard last season, especially considering that I've lived in the land of Oz, Dorothy, and Toto for almost a decade.

3) I'm going to rely less on the bench & racks and I'm going to do more mounting and hanging of the orchids. This is especially important for my Brassavolas. They had a rough 2010 summer and it took me a long time to figure out how to make them happy. B. cuculatta and B. Little Stars were healthy and carefree, but their friends (B. subulifolia, B. tuberculata, and B. nodosa) had birds or mice gnaw on their pseudobulbs, had sun-fried root, were over-watered, and generally muddled through.

For me, the secret was taking them out of their pots and mounting them on wood or cork. I did this to my Rl. David Sander (Rhy. digbyana x B. cucullata) last August and it made a massive and joyous recovery. I reasoned that the others desired liberation from their clay pots, too, and followed suit. They now require more frequent watering (spraying 1-3 times a day), but it prompts me to visit them more often and I feel like I have a better sense of their needs. One of our esteemed Orchid Society members grows his B. nodosa in South-facing sun with no shading whatsoever. I saw it last year on the Grower's Tour. It looked awesome! The trick, however, is to ease the Brassavolas into a full-sun mood, and creating that mood is a careful process that travels far into June.

4) Finally, I'm going to take better care in easing the plants into their new environment. I've been putting the large Catts outside on nice days for the past month. At first, I put them out for a few hours in the morning or afternoon. Eventually they stayed out all day when warm and partly cloudy. Now, they're getting a lot more sun.

Although the official start of summer is about six weeks away, the summering process is Now. Some plants will thrive and others will face unexpected challenges. I hope for a little luck, good watering decisions, and -- of course -- careful guidance from the four kitties.