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March 2103

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Orchid obsession

Some people like to garden all the way
through winter. I take my hat off to such dedication but I am not among their
number. I am firmly in the school of thought that believes even the most
enthusiastic gardener needs a few months off for good behaviour. So, round
about November, I hang up my trowel and slink in to the warmth. But even though
I have come in for the winter, I still need to get my horticultural fix and the
way I do that is to indulge my orchid obsession.

I came to orchids a few years back, initially
trying anything I could find. Moth orchids, or Phalaenopsis, were my
first purchases as they are widespread. Hybrids are also readily available,
many of which have a generous dollop of oncidium
parentage. These hybrids are often labelled as ‘Cambria', a term devised by the
Dutch industry to simplify orchid labelling, and are quite easy to cultivate.

But nowadays I have fine-tuned my interests
to the Cattleya Alliance, a group of genera related to cattleya. I love these
South American beauties for their enormous, blowsy blooms. Some are difficult
but many are not. My first plant was called Laeliocattleya ‘Coastal
Sunrise' and I immediately fell in love with its orange-juice petals and
magenta lip. That cattleya is
now triple its original size and is so vigorous that the last time I potted it
on I had to cut it out of its pot, leaving a section of plastic to be buried
with some roots that would not let go. Although cattleya are always not readily available, they are worth
seeking out.

I also dabble with cold orchids, the kind
that need temperatures as low as 5°Celsius in winter to flower. I keep them in
a frost-free greenhouse. But with this type of orchid, you need one eye on the
weather forecast. If temperatures dip to freezing, the plants are in danger.
I've had good success with cymbidium
and the breathtakingly beautiful Coelogyne cristata. This little gem
produces pure white flowers, with golden throats, and has an immensely graceful

Cymbidium is easy enough to pick up in garden centres.
However, for the more unusual kinds of cold orchids you will probably need to
buy on-line. Lucky for us that we have such a resource here as a wide selection
of orchids is available from www.species-specific.com in Co. Meath, which also
provides advice and information. The annual Orchid Fair at the Botanic Gardens
in Glasnevin, Dublin is the main event for orchid obsessives and takes place on
27 and 28 April this year.


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