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August 6, 2013 > Pat Kite's Garden: Orchids, a story

Pat Kite's Garden: Orchids, a story

By Pat Kite

Other people can grow orchids and Cymbidiums are supposed to be "easy." When I worked at Agnews Developmental Center, a staff member had a whole yard section of Cymbidiums. When they bloomed, every rainbow color was present, tiny to huge. I would lunch hour walk round and round, weaving through a small quadrant of paradise.

It is not that I haven't tried to grow Orchids. I've bought them. People give holiday gifts. A garden friend gave me 12 of them when she moved. I carefully tended. I even sang to them. But, little by little, they demised. Because Cymbidiums are promoted as the ideal amateur's orchid, I did all the basic rules according to the garden books. Indoors, Cymbidiums need good light. Put them in moist easy-draining compost or bark. Add some Sphagnum moss to the mixture. Alternative: Orchid planting mixes. Feed with orchid fertilizer according to the directions. Water amply before fertilizing to prevent fertilizer burn, but overwatering is as bad as over-dryness.

Keep in mind that orchids flower best when pot bound. Should you see a flower spike, try not to move the plant around too much. It may go into shock. Since many in the Bay Area can grow Cymbidiums outdoors, the best place is on a bench in dappled sunlight. A gazebo can be good, so can an open branched tree. Why a bench? It slows hungry snails and slugs a bit. Does all this sound difficult? So why can't I accomplish one single solitary living Cymbidium? And yes, I keep trying.

In the meantime, since I enjoy plant history, let's look at how Orchid or Orchis got its moniker. Ancient Greeks thought the tuberous roots of the orchid looked like testicles. Orkhis=testicle. Because of this, orchids were supposed to be a powerful aphrodisiac for both man and beast. In one long-ago myth, Orchis was the son of a nymph and a satyr. This made him a rather lustful person. One fine festival day he got drunk and made a serious pass at a priestess. This being verboten, the festival attendees tore Orchis into pieces. His father prayed for him to be whole again, but the gods refused. They said that since Orchis had been such a nuisance in his life, at least in death he could be some benefit. So the gods changed Orchis into the handsome flower that carries his name. Isn't this as lively as a current graphic romance novel?

For a splendid display and sale of all kinds of orchids...ORCHIDS IN THE PARK, September 28-29, 2013, 10-5, at San Francisco's County Fair Building, 9th and Lincoln. Admission: $4, kids free. You can get there via BART and Muni trolley if you don't want to hassle weekend parking in Golden Gate Park. I use the N-Judah and get off at 9th & Irving and walk a few blocks into the park. Check

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