In Praise of My Orchidist

You crossword puzzlers know the word for a man who’s excessively fond of his wife is uxorious, right? But what about me, a wife who really digs and is proud of her wonderful husband? Says Oxford dictionary: “the only candidate is the invented word maritorious, from the Latin word for a husband, maritus. But it’s extremely rare: the 20-volume historical Oxford English Dictionary has only two examples, one from 1607 and one from 1978.”

Anyway, that’s me – all maritorious for my husband George, and wanting to boast about his latest accomplishment – getting elected as president of the San Francisco Orchid Society.  In honor of the new Prez, take a look at some of the fantastic orchids he’s been growing.

Epipactis orchid

Stream orchid (Epipactis gigantea) is a California native that George planted near our pond so it gets plenty of water. This is a close-up; I’m always amazed at how complicated the tiny half-inch flowers are.

Thunia orchidFrom tiny to, well, large! This Thunia began blooming a few weeks ago and it’s still going strong. The flowers are each about four inches long, and they dangle from a sturdy bamboo-like stalk that stands more than a foot high. Thunias are from the Himalayas, and they grow quickly.

Dracula orchid

And a stunning Dracula (meaning little dragon) orchid. Dracs like it cool, so they’re well-suited for the micro-climate of our shady front garden. This Dracula chimera is one of the largest Dracs; the top of the flower is a bit larger than an inch and the sepals hang down nearly five inches. George won an Award of Merit in 2011 for one of his Dracula orchids. Click here to read my blog post about it. 

Masdevallia caesia

This dramatic flower is a Masdevallia caesia that George dubbed “Mr Stinky” because, well, use your imagination. It’s pollinated by flies, and a smart little spider settled in this plant last year to catch some.

Want to see more of George’s orchids? Here are a few of my posts:

Euchile Citrina orchid. 

Cymbidiums in the Winter Garden.

Orchids in Autumn. 

George Cultivates Vanilla. 

Are you an orchid lover, or are you lucky enough to be married to one? What’s blooming in your garden right now?


George’s Red-Hot Sinn-amon Soap

Yesterday was our sneak peek Open House at the gallery I’m involved with, The Village Shops and Galleries in El Cerrito. It was a wonderful day – but more about that in another blog post, because I have to tell you about the grand entrance George made midway through the day. If you know George at all, you know he has a wide range of interests and skills.

George and his friendFor the past several years, George has been making the most delicious chocolate truffles for me for Valentine’s Day.

George with trufflesSo you won’t be surprised to hear that when George strolled into the gallery holding this platter….

George with his Sin'amon red hots soap… I thought they were dark chocolate hearts. Indeed, all of George’s wonderful soaps look good enough to eat. But wow, these gleaming dark mahogany hearts … everyone there was ready to bite in!

George's Sin'amon Red-Hot heart soap

Even after he said they were soap some of us still wanted to take a nibble, they looked so scrumptious! And indeed, they are — delicious and luxurious on your body (and of course on a loved one’s body!) in the shower or a very sexy bath. He used the spiciest, best quality Watkins cinnamon for a deep, complex scent. Cinnamon soothes the skin and intoxicates the senses — what better combination for George’s very sexy soap?

George's soaps

The Fragrant Arts

I promised in my last post to introduce you to more of the talented artists and crafters who’ll have their work at the ArtFirst! Holiday Show and Sale

ArtFirst! Holiday Show and Sale

One of our main goals was to include a wide variety of artisans in the show, so I was thrilled when popular Pinole soapmakers Jane and Nadine Robbins-Laurent, of sassafras,were able to participate. They have a faithful following of customers for their handmade soap and bath products, candles, and fused glass jewelry at the Pinole Art Center and the Pinole Farmers Market. I always crack up when I see their slogan: “Life’s Too Short for Crappy Soap!”

sassafras soap

sassafras soap, copyright sassafras

Which leads me to another fabulous craftist – my husband George McRae. George is multi-talented. His main vocation is actingbut on the side he produces handmade soap and beeswax candles for our company, Garden Delights Arts & Craftsunder the name “Bubble Queen Soaps & Scents”.

George's cat soap

George uses only natural ingredients in his soap, and he doesn’t add color or extra scent, using only the ingredients (lavender is my favorite) for fragrance. By far the most popular Bubble Queen soaps are these cats. And for the first time at this show George will offer beeswax candles, handmade from wax produced by his bees (the hive is at a friend’s house in Richmond).

George's beeswax candles

After you’ve cleaned up good with either sassafras’ or Bubble Queen’s soaps, you’ll want to dab on some artisanal botanical perfumes made by Laurie SternLaurie is an award-winning natural perfumer. In her own words: “Velvet & Sweet Pea’s Purrfumery revives the romance of the golden era of perfume through a blending of perfume’s legacy of romantic scent and gorgeous packaging with a modern sensitivity to organics, health, and ethics.”

Laurie Stern's Fleur de Caramel natural perfume

Laurie Stern’s Fleur de Caramel Parfum

If you want to meet Laurie in person and see her line of perfumes, she will be at the show the second weekend, December 1st and 2nd. Before then she’ll have luscious bath salts and other goodies available.

I hope you enjoyed this olfactory tour. Oh gee, did I mention when and where the show is? We’ll be at the Village Shops and Galleries, 10330 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito (cross streets Eureka and Stockton) from November 24th through December 2nd, from noon to 6:00 pm, open every day except Monday and Tuesday. And the launch party will be opening day,  this coming Saturday, November 24th, from 5 to 8 p.m. Hope to see you there!

This is my original post with all of the information about the Show.

Vanilla orchids by George

Did you know that vanilla (the real kind, not imitation) comes from an orchid flower?

Vanilla orchid flower

Vanilla orchid flower

My amazing husband George grows vanilla orchids, cultivates vanilla beans from the flowers, and makes extract from the beans! I’m going to track the steps, beginning with the orchid flowering, through pollination and cultivation of the beans.  I’ll add photos along the way, since the entire process takes more than a year (and you wondered why real vanilla costs so much) …

The vanilla orchid grows on a vine.  It helps to have a lot of space, but George set up a trellis, so the vine winds up and down and around.  Here’s a photo of George’s helper, Lars, watching the vanilla grow..

The first step of the process: the flower.

This is one of the flower buds, as yet unopened. You can see a drop of nectar – so sweet! I’m not sure what the purpose of the nectar is, some think it may be there to attract ants, which would protect the flower.

This is one of the flower spikes on the vanilla plant. There are five separate flower buds, unopened, on this one spike. There are at least four other flower spikes on the plant.  Finally, one of the flowers opened!

Unlike many other orchids which have flowers that can last for a month or more, each vanilla flower only blooms for one day.  If you want to cultivate the vanilla, you have to pollinate the flower before it fades.  The natural pollinator isn’t present in most places, so it’s usually necessary to hand-pollinate vanilla.  It’s not easy to do, but George has a really good success rate.  He takes a wooden stick and transfers pollen from one part of the flower to another (the anther to the stigma).

Hand pollinating the vanilla flower

Hand pollinating the vanilla flower

This is the flower, immediately after pollination.  You can see the other unopened flower buds on the spike.

After a short time, the flower collapses.

Stay tuned for more … next, the flowers that were successfully pollinated will develop into beans ..  If you want to learn more, there’s a great wikipedia entry on vanilla.

Butterflies and Flowers of the Bay Area

We’re taking our show on the road! George and I will present “Creating and protecting local habitats for butterflies, birds and other wildlife,” a slide show with my photographs and George’s informed and entertaining narrative, on Saturday February 13th at 7:30 p.m. at the Visitor Center at San Pedro Park.

Monarch caterpillar pupating

Monarch caterpillar pupating

Anise swallowtail butterfly

Anise swallowtail butterfly

Have you seen my photographs of the life cycles of the monarch and swallowtail butterflies?  We’ll show those and describe the process of attracting, protecting and raising butterflies.

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Anise swallowtail butterfly on allium
Anise swallowtail butterfly on allium

We will also show many photos of other Bay Area butterflies and of plants and flowers that are larval hosts and nectar or pollen sources for butterflies and birds.

Bird nest in ribes tree

Bird nest in ribes tree

George will talk about how to garden to attract all kinds of wildlife and how to restore wildlife habitat, in line with guidelines of the National Wildlife Federation.



Join us if you can, we’d love to see you there.

Hummingbird mother on nest

Hummingbird mother on nest