This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V20", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Having had considerable success in growing orchids in a mixed collection of plants, I think that other amateurs would be glad to do so did they only know how easily it may be done, and in my estimation, how much better they appear when grown with Ferns, Begonias, etc., than when grown in a house entirely devoted to them. I have never seen a collection of orchids except one in which the plants were grown for commercial purposes; and any success that I have had has been from the study of these wonderful plants in their native habitats. I remember as well as if it was only a week ago, the first orchid that I ever saw. It was on Christinas day, 1839, almost forty years ago. I was a sailor boy at Rio de Janerio, and having a holiday to go on shore on Christmas, I had climbed up the mountain back of the city. Tired and hungry I sat down to rest, when I observed quite a large white flower not far from me. On examining it I discovered that a limb of a tree had been broken off by the wind, and that the bloom belonged to a plant growing on it, but entirely distinct.
I think now that the flower was Cattleya crispa, or some one of the white Laelias from Rio.
Some six or eight years ago, circumstances allowed me to indulge in the luxury of a greenhouse. I immediately commenced to collect a few orchids, and my collection of these plants has gradually increased until I have some of nearly each species. They have been grown in two small houses, each 12X32, heated by flue and hot water, the heat so regulated that when one house stood at 65° the other would be 50° or less. These houses have been torn down, and a house 55X17 substituted. In these houses were grown all manner of winter-blooming stuff, Begonias, Bouvardias, Epiphyllum, Tydaea and other gesneraceous plants, Geraniums, etc. My Azalias, Camellias, and many other plants that can stand as low a temperature as 35° at times and still seem to bloom better for it, are grown in another house.
I have bloomed among other orchids, in the last year, Dendrobium nobile, D. heterocarpum, D. monilliforme,D. moschatum, D.fimbriatum, Oculatum and several other Dendrobes; Ansel-lia Africana, Aerides odoratum and A. virens, Vanda teres, Cattleya Mossae, C. labiata, C. Forbesii, a plant with seventyr-five flowers open at one time; C. citrina, C. guttata, C. Loddigesii, C. chocoensis, C. Trianae, C. superba, and a half-dozen other varieties; Odontoglossum, about ten varieties, with Tricopilias, Miltonia, Epidendrum, Stanhopiaes, Laelias, Calanthes Lycaste, etc. As I have never seen a collection of orchids I do not know how they compare with others, but friends who have seen them tell me they are well-grown and healthy, and as they bloom well, I suppose they are handled about right. With these remarks I propose to give a few notes on my manner of growing orchids. In the first place, any one wishing to grow orchids with a mixed collection, must divest himself of the idea that the house must be saturated with moisture. Such a condition would be injurious to the beauty of many foliage plants, and would cause the blooms of many other plants to mildew.
I grow very few on naked blocks after they are once established, but either in well-drained pots, buckets made of cedar, (Juniperus Virginianus) or on blocks well covered with moss. I use sphagnum moss alone, for all but the terrestrial orchids; and I water my orchids, as I do other plants, at the roots when they need it, and use the syringe no more than I would for Begonias and gesneraceous plants. It is impossible in a short article to give any idea of the treatment of the different species, time of bloom, manner and time of growth, etc. My experience is that the idea that nearly all orchids should be at rest from Nov. to March, is not according to their wants. I find that very many Brazilian orchids, blooming from Aug. to Nov., start into growth in the fall, which is the spring and wet season of Brazil, and at this moment many of my Brazilian orchids are growing finely. But they need no more heat than is requisite for Bouvardias and Heliotropes to keep them growing and making good bulbs. I propose later to give you a few articles on the different species that I have grown, and will then try and make clearer my views given from my experience. I would here also remark that an almost universal error in growing orchids is keeping them too wet, too hot, and too densely shaded.
I do not remember seeing many orchids growing, either in dense shade or thick woods, but mostly on the trees overhanging streams or on the edge of forests.