Orchid Paradise

The Big Island of Hawaii is home to many botanical gardens where orchids cover the trees. As air plants they are happy to get water from the rainforest mist and their nutrients from the trees that are their hosts. This is a form of symbiotic relationship called Commensalism. In other words, no harm, no foul. The tree gets organic mater and some moisture from the orchid so no one is out to overcome the other.

The Big Island is home to Akatsuka Orchid Gardens established 1974, located at 11-3051 Volcano Road, Volcano, Hawaii. (Volcano Road is the belt road that circles the lower half of the island. Use your GPS for this one it is a bit tricky to see. Once there you will be able to stroll through a demonstration garden (for FREE) and also you may buy orchids for your Hawaiian home or to ship. The staff is extremely knowledgeable in the way of orchids. Their specialty is Cattleya orchids, the big flashy corsage type.

However, be advised if you are a beginner with orchids they are very temperamental. In fact, just on the Big Island itself there are many growing zones for orchids. Also, if you start out with seeds or sprouts it might be years before you see a flower, some sources say 4 -8 years. That is why if you are going to grow orchids indoors start with one that is blooming and then research how to keep it alive. I know one lucky person who bought an orchid in their grocery chain (a Phalaenopsis orchid) and it blooms every year. The key it seems is to find a happy place and drop 3 ice cubes on its roots every week. I have never had such luck.

Cymbidium orchids were easy to grow outside when I lived in Santa Barbara, California. They loved having their roots crammed into a pot and they weathered the mild winter in the 40s. In fact, I never repotted a plant unless it had cracked its original pot and then I lifted it into a larger pot, as is, and surrounded it with orchid medium or bark from the nursery.

I was delighted to learn that the owners/head gardener of the Akatsuki Gardens develop their own new orchid varieties every year. Imagine waiting 8-years to see the results. It’s like raising kids to see what they will turn out to be. And on top of that, each year there is an opportunity to have an orchid named after you. Your name (or that of someone special) for a mere $1,000 get naming rights and a few plants to celebrate. So, for the person who has everything, why not give them the gift of immortality via a live plant?

I have been planting orchids for two years on the Big Island in a friend’s backyard near Keauu. We now have 27 varieties including a vanilla orchid. It turns out the vanilla orchid is dependent of the famous orchid bee. However, these creatures seem to be scare these days. So, to get glorious vanilla bean pods one must pretend to be the bee. You lift up an upper inner petal, ever so gently, with a wooden skewer. This replicates the bee crawling inside the orchid’s throat. The pollen on the top petal falls below, fertilizing the plant. Oh, and you only have one day to catch the flower at its best. And this is why orchid growing is a hobby of the leisure class.

Sally Franz and her third husband live on the Olympic Peninsula. She has two daughters, a stepson, and three grandchildren. Sally is the author of several humor books including Scrambled Leggs: A Snarky Tale of Hospital Hooey and The Baby Boomer’s Guide to Menopause

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