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?


Orchids and All That Jazz: Pacific Orchid Exposition 2014

The Pacific Orchid Exposition, hosted by the San Francisco Orchid Society, is the largest orchid show in the United States. This year POE takes place at Fort Mason from February 20 to 23rd. Click here to see complete details and for directions.

Pacific Orchid Exposition

POE is an opportunity for orchid societies and vendors from all over the world to exhibit and sell wonderful plants and growing supplies, and for orchid and nature-lovers from beginners to experts to see and purchase an extraordinary array of orchids. Here’s George at the 2012 Diablo View Orchid Society display.

George at the DVOS orchid display at POE

Throughout the weekend there are several lectures and culturing demonstrations. Experts lead docent tours that are regularly scheduled during the show.


SFOS Vice President Steve Beckendorf leads a docent tour

To make it all happen, the San Francisco Orchid Society (SFOS) depends on the gracious work of many volunteers.

DSC_3227b small

This year George is helping recruit and organize volunteers for the Plant Hotel and Security. The Plant Hotel is where we store purchased plants so attendees can walk through the exhibits. Security volunteers take tickets at the front doors, stamp hands of folks coming and going, and check on plants leaving the show to make sure they have been properly purchased. Security volunteers also roam about to make sure no plants are stolen.

POE Plant Hotel

Each shift is short, most last only two to three hours. So – what do you get for your time? Volunteers have unlimited entry to the Show from Friday through Sunday. Volunteers only have to pay for their own parking. If you’re interested in volunteering for Security please contact George at; to volunteer for Plant hotel, email Mary Gerritsen at

You can also sign up to volunteer through the POE website by clicking here.

George's Best in Show

This is George at the 2008 POE, when his Pleurothallis restrepioides ‘Dragonstone’ won “Best in show” and “Best in class”.

Hope to see you there!

An Orchid Day in the Garden

Lots of George’s orchids are blooming madly right now. Here are three of my favorite wonders in the garden. First up, Mormodes tuxtlensis x sib. The saturated yellow glows in the morning and evening sunlight and it has a pleasant light scent.

Mormodes tuxtlensis x sib

Just beginning to open, several spikes of the Spiranthe Cernua orchid, also known as Nodding ladies’ tresses. George won a trophy for Best Species Orchid Flower a few years ago for the parent of this plant.

Spiranthes orchid

And finally, another yellow treasure: Oncidium Gower Ransey. This orchid has multiple flowers along the spike, and as they gracefully bob in the air it’s obvious why it’s known as the Dancing Lady Orchid. For this photo I focused on a single bloom.

Oncidium Gower RanseyWhat’s blooming in your garden?

Orchid happiness


The Pacific Orchid Exposition in San Francisco (at Fort Mason this weekend) is the largest orchid show in the United States.  George and I have gone nearly every year since he started growing orchids. He also volunteers and, most years, he displays his orchids with one of the several local groups of which he is a member. This year he’s the president of the Diablo View Orchid Society (DVOS), so he’s showing at their display, which he and a few other people from the group put together.  Here he is in front of the booth.

George at the DVOS display at POE

Check out the glorious orchid at the right, it’s a Pleurothallis restrepioides ‘Dragonstone’ – one of George’s orchids that grows best outside, at least in our climate. It usually lives on our front porch – which is sadly empty while the orchid is at the show. In 2008 it won a “Best in show” and “Best in class”.  It has since been through a hail storm and snail attack, but this year it still won a second place ribbon.

There were so many amazing things to photograph, and almost as many photographers. It thinned out later in the day and I managed to get some photos that I liked. Composition can be difficult at these shows because a lot of the displays have the flowers jammed in. I look for a plain background. Here’s one:


I love ladyslipper orchids – they’re so ‘designerly’ with their lines and spots. This is one of my favorites.

Ladyslipper orchid

George loves to preach the gospel of orchids and and let people know how to take care of them. We met a couple who flew out from back East just to see the show. They used to live near the town in Massachusetts where George grew up!

George at DVOS display

This is another one of my favorite orchids of George’s, a Scaphosepalum antenniferum. I like it because it’s kind of strange. The photo is a closeup, it grows on a long stalk, and this part of the flower is less than 2 inches across. I wrote a blog post about it last August.


One of the best displays at the Show was of pleurothallid orchids. I loved this one, another closeup – the widest part of the flower is less than half an inch.

Pleurothallid orchid

Finally, another ladyslipper that George grew:

Ladyslipper orchid

The show is open today, Saturday February 25th, from 9 to 6, and tomorrow from 10 to 5. If you missed the show, or live far away, look for a local orchid group – they often have shows or meetings where you can learn about growing these amazing flowers.

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.