March 18, 2009

Orchid Festival 2009

orchid festival fairchildA spectacular, cascading dendrobrium.

Unfortunately, something went wrong with my "good" camera and so I only have a couple of crappy photos from my mobile phone. But let me tell you -- the Orchid Festival at Fairchild, as always, was a feast for the eyes. Dozens upon dozens of vendors, lined up on the westernmost stretch of the garden, were selling blooms as small as a dime or as big as a dinner plate.

The real treat was the orchid exhibit indoors at the Garden House. Imagine an Oscars ceremony with the A-list stars showing off their hot bods, gowns and baubles on the red carpet. Well, at the festival, these prize-winning blooms stole the show. My friend commented that the orchids were so gorgeous, they almost didn't look real! And it was true -- festooned with their award ribbons, these orchids would've have upstaged even the biggest Hollywood diva.

orchid festival fairchildA prize-winning cattleya.

There's a reason for all this pageantry, of course, and it's all in the name of sex. Each orchid is especially adapted to attract particular pollinators according to shape, scent and color. The variety is daunting. From tiny to titanic, unassuming to gaudy -- each orchid seems to have its own personality for the sake of adaptation.

The festival is a wonderful way to introduce yourself to the world of orchids, even if you have no experience growing them. Fairchild offered classes all day Saturday and vendors were eagerly answering questions.

I'll paraphrase what's said in one my orchid books -- they aren't impossible to grow, and as a matter of fact, can be downright easy, compared to other plants. There's no need to be intimidated. You can, however, make the whole process as complicated as you like.

On the one hand, there are amazing orchids growing off trees with little, if any, human involvement whatsoever. They live off the air and when not in bloom, they look like plain leaves or dead twigs. For example, here's an enormous one that blooms yearly in South Miami:

This orchid blooms in someone's yard every year in a low-maintenance manner. Near the intersection of SW 80th street and 57th avenue.

On the other hand, if you're a hardcore enthusiast, you can spend every day of your life caring for your orchids, working with exotic varieties and hybrids, attending orchid society meetings, reading books and so on. For some, it's a full-time hobby.

Either way, novice or professional, you can enjoy growing orchids here in South Florida as we are blessed with optimal weather patterns and specific pollinators for certain kinds of orchids. They don't bloom as often as other flowering plants but when they do, it's a special treat. To get started, visit the South Florida Orchid Society and the American Orchid Society, which has a great beginner's FAQ.

The festival wasn't all about orchids. Musicians played on the main lawn, food vendors served up some great options -- including traditional Bahamian and Jamaican fare. There were also plenty of activities for kids.

I had volunteered all day Saturday at the fruit pavilion, cleaning up leaves, making smoothies, assisting with fruit tastings and talking to people about the garden. We were quite busy so I barely got to see any orchids on that day!

It was a great pleasure to attend as a "visitor" on Sunday with a friend who hadn't been to the garden in 20 years. Steve Roitstein of PALO! is not only a great musician but also an avid gardener. He got to take a "Maria" tour, which we finished off at Matheson Hammock Park, enjoying the bay breezes and great view of the Miami skyline just before sunset.

Thankfully, I was able to get a video on Qik of the prize-winning orchids, but use your imagination. My camera can barely do these beauties any justice!

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