A couple of weeks ago, when we went to Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park , I saw an orchid wrapped in what looked like birch bark hanging from something and in beautiful bloom (why didn’t I take a picture of it?).  I had known before that tropical orchids naturally live on trees so seeing it was a surprise but not really.  It was in part of a tree – the rolled birch bark – but not on a tree. 

I’ve had a couple of orchids I bought 2 and 3 years ago, at holiday season, from the local outlet of home improvement box chain store.  They were blooming beautifully at the time of purchase.  One even re-bloomed – once (see photo above.)  This year I put them outside under the trees so they got dappled sunlight.  Although it did wonders for the greenery/growth, no blooming or bloom prep in sight.

“Knowing how way leads on to way”*, I did some research on what I learned about the one at the gardens in the birch bark.  The method is known as mounting the orchids on a surface and letting them attach to the surface.  I didn’t see any others wrapped in birch, but cork wood evidently is one frequent choice, sticks are another, and slotted wooden platforms yet another medium that is used.  The medium is first lined with sphagnum moss then wrapped with fishing line or some other removable string-like substance to hold it in place until it attaches. 

Next I started scoping out places who sell the cork wood, and the price was cost prohibitive for me.  Then, in a dusty cobweb synaptic corner was the memory of a slatted wooden rack I’d bought at a yard sale for next to nothing because it looked cool.  It was up in the cupboard in the back.  Now tell me time is a linear thing again.  Have you ever bought or done things out of order and later found out why?  Well this was one of those times.

slatted rack

I excitedly cleared the dust off of it, then brought my two beauties inside and carefully picked all of the bark off of them until they were just bare roots.  It gave me a chance to see how many of the roots had gotten soggy and rotted, but it also showed the new growth both above and below bark.  I found a place with at least fair light and set the two, who I will call Bright and Dark, as I ignorantly had removed their labels at the time of purchase, on the rack. 

orchids on the rack

The online info said that mounted orchids need to be sprayed and soaked more frequently than potted ones.  No problem as there are only two of them.  Over the week or so they’ve been “racked” I’ve taken to spraying them once in the morning and once at night.  That said, I’ve noticed their roots are shrinking, and this is probably not a good thing.  So…. back I went to the internet.  I looked for the closest place to home that had enough orchids for sale that the proprietors must have expertise in growing them.  The closest place was a couple of hours away, Porter’s Orchids. Being the somewhat OCD person I am at times, I spent an evening looking at every single orchid this place had for sale and made notes at the ones that caught my eye.  I made a commitment to travel there this weekend, with the expectation that I would get my questions answered by a reliable source and maybe even walk out of the place with new additions to the collection (of 2.)  As the trip day approached, my anticipation grew.  In the back of my mind, Ms. Naysayer tried to talk me out of it by saying it was too far away, I didn’t have expendable income to waste on flowers, what kind of a monster was I to be focusing on flowers instead of Hurricane Irma and her path of destruction, etc.; yet I refused to let Ms. Naysayer win.  Today was the day of the trip.

I slept in and had a leisurely couple of cups of coffee before embarking.  I knew how to get to Lansing, which this place is on the outskirts of, so I didn’t turn on the phone
GPS until about 20 minutes away from the place.  Grand Ledge is a town I’ve never even passed through.  Taken from a website blurb, “Grand Ledge is located on the northeastern border Eaton County situated along Michigan’s longest river, this picturesque city got its name from the Grand River and the 500-million-year-old sandstone ledges that tower along its banks.”  Pity I didn’t see the ledges while driving through, but I did drive over the river on my way to the greenhouses. 

Porter’s is on a dirt road off of St. Joe’s Highway.  I snapped this pic of the sign, which was at the start of a nice winding two-track back to the greenhouses.

porters orchids

I stepped in and saw an older man behind the counter.  I said hello, and he said, “We are going out of business.”  I was instantly deflated and thought he was going to tell me to leave.  I thought there is no way I’m going to drive 2 hours to a place and not walk away with something.  Knowledge, gained directions for resources, maybe even clearance-rate selections of the remaining orchids.  Thankfully the old gent was more than willing to have an interactive conversation with this woefully-ignorant-person-in-many-areas-particularly-in-the-area-of-orchids.  He walked me back into the first, then the second greenhouse, the first being for the cooler temperature orchids and the second for the warmer and more humidity loving orchids.  Not many were in bloom, which was disappointing.  Maybe since he’s going out of business there is no need to promote blooming with expensive electricity for lighting? 

We talked for a good half-hour.  It was actually exhilarating asking and being asked a comparable quantity of questions with an expert in a field who was also quick-witted and humorous.  Things I learned from the conversation:

  • No need to be concerned about some rotted roots as more grow to take their place.
  • The reason Bright and Dark aren’t blooming is they aren’t getting enough light.
  • I can probably put them in the southern window to get them enough light to bloom.
  • If it still isn’t enough, full spectrum fluorescent or LED lights will need to be purchased.
  • Mr. Porter is not a fan of mounted orchids because there is a lot of extra work hand spraying each one a couple of times a day.
  • Mr. Porter was extremely amused that I had removed the tags from Bright and Dark at purchase and suggested I not do that again.
  • Mr. Porter suggested I buy, “Orchids for Dummies”. I asked him if he was joking and he said, “No, and I recommend you buy that book because me and my wife are mentioned in it.”
  • Mr. Porter gave me the contact information for my local orchid society’s active member of the MI orchid community. He guarantees she will be very helpful with my orchid growing adventure.
  • Mr. Porter refused to sell me any orchids.

What a gracious old man.  His wife was nowhere in sight, which seemed a little weird as their home sits near the entrance to the two-track with the sign.  As Mr. Porter was searching for the contact info I had a chance to look around the non-plant area of the building.  There were many prizes, trophies, crystal etched “winner” items, thank-you photo albums, etc. from what looks like an illustrious history of prize-winning orchids in state and national orchid shows. 

I drove home feeling as if my journey was meant to be.  Way, indeed, leads on to way.  I stopped at the garden section of the box home improvement store and bought a couple of orchid pots and more bark.  I gave Bright and Dark a good soak in the sink, then put them in their new pots.  The rack will be returned to the cupboard in the back, perhaps for another purpose one day.

repotted orchids 0917

*from Robert Frost’s The Road Less Taken


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