Friday, September 5, 2008

The Orchid House Gets an Extreme Makeover

Our makeshift orchid house, while temporary, is providing staff and volunteers with a testing ground for orchid growing and maintenance. Volunteer Tony Donzello built two tables and put up more poles for hanging plants. The irrigation has been adjusted to allow the orchid-side of the house to dry out while watering the seedlings and non-orchids on the other side. Potting materials—charcoal, moss, coconut husks, Epsom salts, potassium nitrate, and liquid fertilizer—are close by in containers. Our bible for orchid growing is Martin Motes Florida Orchid Growing Month by Month. Volunteer Sandy Catron is overseeing the effort.

We welcomed a large trumpet tree (Tabebuia impetiginosa), a gift from Bob Peterson that was planned as a donation down the line but, once uprooted by Fay’s winds, came early. It’s now in our holding area with Gumby (the sea-faring gumbo limbo, Bursera simaruba) and a growing number of trees that have been donated.

The new nursery there has filled up quickly. Nursery foreman Kurt Van de Wouw has it all set up with irrigation on a large expanse of ground cloth. The banana collection hardly skipped a beat after being dug up from the other location and moved. You can almost see them grow with recent generous rains.

Brian Galligan, horticulture manager, and Carolyn Miller, curator of collections, returned recently from a trip to the east coast, where they visited with Don Evans, the former director of horticulture at Fairchild Botanic Garden. While in the Homestead area, they stopped by Bloomin’ Good, a nursery specializing in flowering trees. They came back with nearly 50 unusual and rare plants, including a new cultivar of tropical dogwood called Marmalade (Mussaenda ‘Marmalade’), a rare Philippine fig (Ficus pseudopalma), and cutting-edge butterfly tree (Erblichia odorata), which has large orange flowers that smell like apricots.

We joined up with the Croton Society at their August 16th meeting in Bradenton. It was held at a collector’s house and culminated in a raffle of palms and crotons, from which I brought back two crotons--- ‘Princess Diana’, which gets jumbo sunny-yellow paddle leaves, and Magesticum, which has strappy leaves mottled in a rainbow of colors (Codiaeum ‘Majesticum’ and C. ‘Princess Diana’).

We bid a sad farewell to Eric Van Arsdale this week. He has worked all summer with natural areas manager Chad Washburn. Eric returns to Brown University as a sophomore to continue studying environmental science. It was nice to have a kid around. We hope he visits often.

Wednesday, August 17th , the public was invited to stroll the Tropical Mosaic Garden. Thanks to volunteers Dave Catron, Patsy Sachs and Tony Donzello–they were very busy and most accommodating for our 50 or so visitors. Tony helped with set up and clean up, Patsy learned some new plants and kept the cookies and drinks coming from the kitchen, and Dave (aka Super Dave) spent the entire time out in the garden answering questions about plants. My “what’s in bloom” guide proved to be good reference. The Windstar Garden Room’s ‘face lift’ enlivened the interior landscape. The next public visit will be September 17th.

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