This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V22", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Orchid blooms are justly celebrated and well known as the most beautiful of all flowers. Their marvellous and fantastic shapes have earned them such names as the butterfly, swan, lizard, dove flower, etc. When these strange plants unfolded their delicate petals for the first time in Europe, they gradually attracted the attention of almost every one interested in plants and ultimately the general public also. But unfortunately an idea was introduced with them, that they all required excessive heat to grow them, and this has been generally accepted as truth ever since. No matter where a plant might have come from, or under what conditions it grew naturally: whether in the humid valleys of India, the arid regions of South Africa, the mountain chains of Mexico or Peru, or even the snow line of the towering Andes, their treatment was all the same, they were placed in the hottest temperature at command, which then, and even to-day often means the driest. Under these circumstance thousands of fine Orchids were killed, but occasionally producing a few flowers as the last effort of expiring nature: thus the difficulty of their growth and management became established and promulgated. With our present knowledge and experience the only wonder is that so many survived.
Still the old idea of excessive heat is rigidly adhered to by many, although we rarely find Orchids enjoying vigorous health in such places, while in the comparatively few places where cool Orchids are cultivated in real earnest, they may be found enjoying the most luxuriant health. It has been my good fortune to see some of the finest collections in Europe of Odontoglots, Disas, On-cids and Masdevallias, etc., that have been subjected to a cool system of treatment ever since they were imported, and I have yet to see the first lot, or know of them in fact, having been killed or even permanently injured under the most trying circnmstances by this system of cool treatment. It is surprising that a correct idea did not sooner prevail, considering that such cold-bearing plants as Calceolarias, Verbenas, Lobelias, Fuchsias, Bambusas, Rhododendrons and many cool growing plants, were found in the same regions as the Orchids. While travelers in Mexico have noted that at a certain season, early in the morning ice was invariably found in the hollows of the leaves of the Agaves growing in close proximity to the Orchids, yet our information principally has come from the failure of the heating apparatus seconded with the investigating experiments of amateurs and others.
In 1852 M. Francois Josst, at Tetchen in Bohemia grew several Orchids out of doors, where the temperature several times fell as low as 41° F.; but instead of the plants suffering, they grew more vigorous and several of them actually flowered, and he gives a list of over seventy varieties so treated. M. F. Van Driessche, of Ghent, in 1862 followed with a similar experience: and later, Williams, Warner, Anderson, Dr. Patterson and others have proved that very many Orchids grow well in a low mean temperature, while to the healthy growth of numerous varieties it is absolutely indispensable. The health and success of the plants does not altogether depend on the temperature; there are three other important conditions not however requiring much skill: 1st. Plenty of air, moist, not dry; 2d. If potted, give porous, well-drained fresh compost and moderate shade, avoiding long exposure to strong sunlight; 3d. An abundant supply of moisture, in absolute plenty, both at the roots and in the atmosphere, as it is impossible to kill Orchids by having too much moisture in the atmosphere, while hundreds are annually killed by being grown in one too dry.
Many orchids not considered cool, with these essential conditions granted, will not only bear a mean winter temperature of 45° to 50°, but will make active vigorous and luxuriant growth in it; proving that with any reasonably rational treatment they are anything but difficult to manage. But stagnant damp in winter is more fatal than cold, and some air must be provided for even in winter. The variation of night and day heat of cool Orchids should not exceed 10° except by sun heat, which may range from 15° to 20°. Water with cool rain water, and only on the roots, and not on the foliage: let that draw sufficient moisture from the air. Water as little as possible in the winter consistent with preserving the plants in a plump, healthy condition. There being several degrees difference in temperature between compost that is wet and that comparatively dry, protect from cold draughts and the aridity of the air in sharp frosty weather, which is much to be feared, especially if grown in a room.
Orchids are the most abused unfortunate class of plants I know of; as being hard to kill, the next choice is to keep them sick by too much (mistaken) kindness. In practical culture a very strange fact is that many cool-growing varieties of orchids grow best in decaying vegetable matter, deriving sustenance from it, notably Odon-glossums and Masdevallias: even the West India Dendrobiums do best in turfy peat and chopped moss, although true Epiphytes (or air plants) in their natural haunts. Most of the Cypripe-diums will grow in turfy loam, but the more fibre it contains the better. But with these, as with all other composts, free riddance of superfluous moisture must be provided for, otherwise any compost will become quickly sour, and then the roots will decay. But if fresh and open, and the drainage perfect this can never happen. Those on blocks should be plunged into soft tepid water until thoroughly saturated with moisture at their roots, that is, all healthy growing plants. When stopped growing or evincing a tendency to rest, gradually withhold water, allowing only enough moisture to prevent shriveling.
For cool Orchids in pots the best compost is good fresh fibrous peat with one-fourth partially decayed cocoanut fibre, or in lieu thereof well dried horse droppings, with one-eighth part chopped live sphagnum moss, and a liberal quantity of coarse well-washed river or other sand, not fine, half filling the pots with crocks covered with small broken charcoal for drainage, next a layer of moss and then the prepared soil finished off with moss at top. The pot and all the materials being sweet and clean. Good culture simply means not thwarting but assisting Nature's efforts, and those who do this most will succeed the best. Those who do not watch her efforts carefully will seldom succeed for any length of time, even with good instructions and the best materials, and appliances for perfect success, unless following some accepted treatment. Such as the following: keep the sphagnum moss on the pot tops and blocks growing as fresh and freely as if in its native swamps. Tor wherever we find sphagnum, Dionseas and Dorseras, growing freely on the top of the pots, we also find the Orchids growing green and healthy, simply because the Droseras, sphagnum, will only grow in a moist, moderately shaded situation.
The same conditions being also necessary to the vigorous health of the orchids.
The following species and families all furnish some very showy and fine varieties of cool and intermediate orchids thriving well in a temperature of 40° to 50° Fahr. as a minimum, and only requiring from 60° to 70° as a maximum temperature. Space will only permit the naming of one or two of each family. Some being notably cool, or fine varieties of intermediate kinds, although not the scarcest, costliest or choicest; yet such as are readily obtainable at moderate prices:
Ærides crispum, odoratum, etc.
Angnloa Clowesii, uniflora, etc.
Ansellia Africana, etc.
Arpophyllum giganteum and spicatum. Aspasia lunata. Barkeria elegans and Skinnerii, etc. Bletia Sherrattiana and Taukervilleae. Brassavola Pecatorei, etc. Cattleya amethystoglossa and Mossiae, etc. Chysis aurea and laevis. Ccelogyne barbata,cristata,etc. Cymbidium Darganum, Mastersii. Cypripedium barbatum, insigne, and many other varieties.
Dendrobium chrysanthum, nobile, etc. Epidendrum cuspidatura, vitellinum, etc Lselia anceps, Perrinii, and others. Lycaste lanipes, Skinnerii, and many others. Mesospinidium sanguineum, Vulcanicum Miltonia spectabilis and all the varieties. Masdevallia amabalis, coccinea, etc. Odontoglossum cirrhosum, Alexandrae, and almost all of this fine family. Oncidium aurosum, cucullatum, and others. Trichopilia tortilis, etc. Zygopetalum aromaticum, Mackayi, etc.
In some of the above families, the varieties could be extended into dozens that might all be grown cool with advantage to the plants, and satisfaction to the grower.
[We are much obliged to Mr. Grieves for this article, and have given illustrations of some of the more popular genera, that those who are not well acquainted with orchids may see how curious they are. - Ed. G. M].