At Orchid Society’s show, it’s not real complicated — just real pretty

I’m still in the pre-beginner phase of my orchid education, but at the Tampa Bay Orchid Society’s annual show on Sunday, I learned you don’t have to know a whole lot to fall in love.

If 6-year-old Romina McKernan is brave enough to take on a Phalaenopsis well, darn it, so am I!

6-year-old girl holding phalaenopsis at Tampa Bay Orchid Society 2012 annual sow

Romina was among the many flower fans who turned out last weekend for the orchid society’s big annual three-day show and sale at the Egypt Shrine Center in Tampa. For the record, this beautiful young gardener readily admits she hasn’t yet mastered everything — but she’s willing to try, try again. (A good lesson for the rest of us.)

“My Grandma bought me some plants, but they died,” she told me. “I forgot to water them.”

The show was judged by official American Orchid Society officials who have very strict criteria. Basically, if you get one of their certificates, you can put your plant out to stud. Individuals, vendors and orchid clubs also competed for ribbons from the orchid society. The Tampa Orchid Club kicked butt. Its display of members’ orchids had as many colorful ribbons as blooms. AND it took the American Orchid Society’s Award for Most Outstanding Exhibit.

Tampa Orchid Club's award-winning display at Tampa Orchid Society's annual show 2012. Blue and red ribbons flutter among yellow, red, purple orchids

Disappointed (I’m betting) was Paul Phelps of Phelps Farm Orchids in Odessa. He has snagged the coveted Most Outstanding trophy the past four consecutive years, and really busted a root this year with a display featuring Mr. and Mrs. Terra Cotta Pot. (Can you spot the Mister?) I’d give this a People’s Choice Award, Paul! Too bad that wasn’t an option.

orchid display at tampa bay orchid society show, man made of terra cotta pots, surrounded by dendrobiums, cattleyas and other orchids in bloom

Eileen Hector, the society’s director of communications (as I’ve dubbed her because she communicates a lot with me!) stayed really busy helping check in shoppers and signing them up for lots of free raffles.

smiling woman checking in visitors to orchid society show But she was kind enough to take a break and give me a personal walking tour of the show, during which she very patiently allowed me to test my fledgling orchid knowledge. (“That’s a VANDA!”) We ran into her mother-in-law, Urpiana Hector, (below) who entered her pink Phalaenopsis Schilleriana (behind her to the right) in the individuals competition. (For the record, you don’t have to be a club member or even pay a dime to enter your orchid in this show. And imagine the bragging rights if you won anything!)

gardener with white hair near her pink phalaenopsis entry in the tampa bay orchid society annual show

We also ran into dentist Howell Morrison, president of the orchid society and husband of Donna Morrison, orchid painter extraordinaire. (He is SO proud of her, and rightfully so — her watercolors are gorgeous. It’s always nice to hear a hub extoll the wonders of his wonderful wife!) He was manning a booth featuring her paintings for sale. He’d also done some shopping; all those plants are to-go.

lowell howell, president of the tampa bay orchid society, with orchid paintings by artist wife donna and assorted orchids he purchased. patricia phelps cattleya hybrid

Among my favorite orchid varieties are the lady’s slippers, which have way too many Latin names and families for me to even try to get technical. When I was a little girl growing up in Vermont, finding a lady’s slipper in the woods was an exciting treat. Ours were delicate lavender blooms with big, fat lips, and we were taught never to pick them (which made me soooo want to!)  Even then, they were threatened species. Eileen showed me the difference between lady’s slippers from different parts of the world. (She also kindly advised me to stay far, far away from the cash register — apparently they’re hard to grow. And she knows me!)

slipper orchid, bright green petal with stripes, big pink lower lip

If you’re into orchids, or think you could be with some friendly guidance, this is a great club to hook up with. They meet at 6:30 p.m. the third Thursday of every month at the Tampa Garden Club, 2629 Bayshore Blvd., Tampa. Look for Eileen. She’ll make you feel welcome and not like an orchid dummy — even if you are.






Clubbin’ on a Thursday in Plant City

I knew I was doomed when I saw Al Latina and his Membership Flowers doing their push dance at the District VIII Florida Federation of Garden Clubs meeting Thursday. I just wish I’d gotten pictures. Women in hot pink, or neon yellow, of Nehi Grape purple matching sun hats and gloves will definitely turn a head!

I was a speaker at this lively group’s annual meeting, but anyone who knows me knows — I ‘m no expert.  I definitely don’t qualify as a workshop. So I say a little something about frog sex or decapitating lubbers or whatever’s going on in my garden, and then we get down to business. Which is games. I love games! And this bunch had some players.

First up — digging’ for earthworms. Or Gummi worms. And not really in dirt (since we don’t have that here) but in packing peanuts.

I have loads of critters in my garden, but nary an earthworm, so I figured the good members of FFGC VIII wouldn’t mind helping me find some. (And many thanks to Plant City Garden Club prez Eileen Reed for shooting these photos and taking names. If they’re wrong, you know who to blame!)

Gwen Pryor and Jeanne Corbin play a digging for worms game at FFCG Disrict VIII meting 2011That’s Jeanne Corbin, right, diggin’ like heck for Gummi earthworms, and her assistant, Gwen Pryor, logging her catches. They were a great team!

Dru Trahan, left, adopted a much more demure approach, with assistant Mary Grevencamp, coaching (I’m gonna guess Mary was saying. “Please, Dru, make a mess! It’s not really dirt, for goodness’ sake!”) That’s me on the right,screaming . I’m sure Dru appreciated  it.

Another hot topic among gardeners is weather. Of course! And winter? Oh my gosh. We watch those freeze forecasts and swear “I’m not gonna cover this year. No! If they can’t get by on their own, they’re gone!”

As soon as that mercury starts dropping, or when one person says, “I’m covering,” we all run out and freeze our fingers, ruin our 300-thread-count sheets, and break a lot of limbs to save our plants.

So for our second game, three veteran gardeners chose three tender perennials from the crowd and had 1 minute to cover them. They ALL did a great job. Those poor perennials were covered head to toe. Some of us wondered whether they were still breathing, until Loretta Scott did a beautiful pirouette. What a relief!

The winners (by applause) were Suzanne Caldwell (gardener) and Loretta Scott (lovely perennial). The other fantastic teams (and truly, they were fantastic) were Maida Atkins and Lucille, and Kathy Stone and Liz Miller.

If someone from FFGC can tell me who’s who in these pictures, I’ll gladly update. (Eileen!! What the heck? I told you I need help!)

For the record, I was impressed by the great good nature of the District VIII folks. They hail from Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Sarasota and Manatee counties. They do lots of great works in their communities: beautifying public spaces, raising money for scholarships, introducing kids to gardening — and that’s just scratching the surface.

They are also the NICEST group of people. If you’ve been looking for some new friends, interested in learning about gardening, or want to add some volunteer work to your resume, the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs is a great opportunity.