Orchids are one group of plants I’ve regularly sidestepped. It seemed to me that if you grew orchids, you became crazed over orchids, to the exclusion of other plants. You then fill your home with as many of the over 20,000 species as you can cram onto your windowsills. I feared being led down that path.
My sidestepping took a turn into orchid-land 20 years ago when a local orchid enthusiast gave me a plant of Odontoglossum pulchellum, which I today learned has also been called lily-of-the-valley orchid. But more importantly today, the plant is in bloom. Blossoms from this plant are no rare occurrence; it’s bloomed every year for about the past 15 years. Usually, though, blossoms wait until February to unfold.
Odontoglossum pulchellum doesn’t sport knock-your-socks-off, traffic-stopping blossoms; instead, they have a soft, suble beauty. Right now, delicate, arching flower stems rise up from clusters of torpedo-shaped, green pseudobulbs perched up out of the “soil.” Eight to 10 dainty, waxy, white blossoms line up along each flowering stem and a sweet fragrance, more like paper whites than lily-of-the-valley to me, that transports me to spring.
I get all this for very little effort and without becoming orchid-crazy. For years, I didn’t know the name of my plants so couldn’t even look up how to grow them. Rather than pot them up in any special orchid soil, I merely mix an equal volume of wood chips from my outdoor pile into my regular, homemade potting soil, along with a bit of soybean meal for extra nitrogen. I keep the plants in a sunny window in winter and sometimes move them outdoors in summer, dividing and repotting the pseudobulbs to make new plants.
For this bit of effort, I get fragrant, white blossoms every winter, and they last for at least a month. Odontoglossum pulchellum is easy to multiply yet I’ve happily managed to restrain myself to keeping only 3 or 4 plants after I’ve divided and repotted them each spring.
Growing good celery demands a gardener’s greatest skill, and this year, in the greenhouse, I have the finest celery I’ve ever tasted or grown. The stalks are large, thick, juicy, even a little sweet. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I can take credit for this horticultural achievement.
Every summer I sow celery seed to transplant into my minimally heated greenhouse to provide stalks for salads and soups throughout winter. I do take credit for selecting a good variety: Ventura, available from Fedco Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds. I also take credit for providing good soil conditions; each year I slather an inch or so of ripe compost on all the beds in the greenhouse. And I’ll take credit for providing timely watering, with drip irrigation until a couple of weeks ago and by hand through winter.
Ventura is an open-pollinated, rather than a hybrid, variety, which means that I can save my own seed for replanting each year. Beginning a few years ago, I’d allow one or two of the greenhouse Ventura plants that began to form flower umbels to do their thing and make seed, which they did prodigiously. I’d collect seed for planting the following season’s outdoor and indoor celery.
Some of those seeds would drop to the ground and germinate, and they sometimes grew into seedlings as good or better than the plants I would later transplant into the greenhouse. Especially this year. While my transplants are still growing to harvestable size, these “volunteers” are already ripe and juicy. And especially ripe and juicy this year. Why? I don’t know. I like to think I had a hand in all this.
Nothing like a little snowfall to clean everything up in the garden. December 5th was the date of the first snow, and the white blanket covered the pile of crocosmia leaves lying on the ground and waiting to he carted over to the compost bin, some weeds that sprouted in the mulched area beneath the dwarf apples, some of the smaller plants I haven’t yet cleared from vegetable beds, and numerous other messy distractions. The whole view was knit together in the sea of whiteness.
Alas, now, three days later, the snow is already dissolving away. I’ll get to those jobs soon – unless another snow falls first. Late news flash: December 9th, another snowfall, more landscape-worthy than the first.