“There is no gardening without humility. Nature is constantly sending even its oldest scholars to the bottom of the class for some egregious blunder.” These words by English poet Alfred Austin came to mind recently when fellow Master Gardener/photographer Pat Robbins emailed a photo of the first bloom on her nun’s orchid.
Since then her orchid has continued to amaze her. One of the reasons is that this was Pat’s third try with this plant. Three years ago, I divided my plant and gave Pat a few egg-shaped pseudobulbs in a pot. They did not survive the summer. Second time was also unsuccessful. Last summer, I offered her another plant. She reluctantly accepted with the words: “Maybe third time will be a charm.” And charm it was!
Pat’s futile attempts were surprising because she can usually propagate almost anything. In fact, she is the only person I know who has propagated the Silver Moon rose from a cutting. I have been the recipient of some of her prized passalongs, including datura and rice paper plant.
Since that first emailed photo, she has taken many photos. And as fate (or Austin’s words) would have it, my orchid refused to bloom this year although it has beautiful healthy foliage.
An ancient tropical plant, nun’s orchid (phaius tankervilleae) gets its name from the hooded flowers that resembled a veiled nun’s head bowed in prayer. It is also called nun’s hood, veiled orchid and swamp orchid.
My plant was a door prize at an Advanced Master Gardener class many years ago. It requires little care and has performed well, blooming every year — until now — and multiplying so that it can be divided and passed along.
When in bloom, this orchid is spectacular. Tall spikes up to four feet tall appear in February. Then four-inch flowers open sequentially on the stalk for four to six weeks. Each flower’s petals are reddish brown on the front and white on the back. The lower lip is rose or lavender to purple with a darker throat. The blooms are also fragrant. It is one of those plants that blooms only once a year — in late winter. Leaves are large, thin and pleated.
Flowers are believed to develop in response to reduced hours of daylight. Gardeners are not only familiar with the idiom “if at first you don’t succeed … try, try again,” but practice it daily, both in the house and the garden.
But one plant that never tests a gardener’s humility is the wood hyacinth or Spanish Bluebell (hyacinthoides hispanica). Another one-time bloomer worth waiting for, it is one of the most durable old-garden bulbs. In early spring, flower spikes are covered with open bell-shaped arcing flowers atop tight tall clumps of dagger-like leaves.
The wood hyacinths have been in my garden longer than I have. The spring after we moved in (over four decades ago), these beauties appeared and have returned every year without exception, multiplying many times. Bulbs have been transplanted in other flower beds and passed along to friends.
While the literature lists them as “shade or partly sunny” plants, mine have always flourished in the hot afternoon sun.
Recently I discovered a half dozen in the alley where apparently overlooked dried bulbs fell out of the yard-waste can and created a new home. These will be potted and given to friends who have little or no time to spend in the garden. Incidentally, the most popular meaning for bluebells is humility.
Houseplants have noticed longer days and are beginning to grow. So, it’s time to start your spring feeding, but use a diluted 50 percent fertilizer mix until the growth is robust.
It’s also time for Sutherlands’ annual spring event, which will be held Saturday, beginning at 9 a.m. Several of their plant vendors will be on hand to present seminars on what’s new in the plant world and answer questions. Seminar topics will include organics, roses, beekeeping and more, according to plant expert Vicki Whitfield. The event includes a hotdog lunch prepared by the Noon Lions Club.
Next week, the topic will be: Curiosity in the garden — green flowers.
Lucy Fry of Fort Smith is a level 4 Master Gardener and writes the area Master Gardener newsletter. Her column, Gardening for the Record, runs weekly in the Times Record. Send questions to [email protected]
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