Book Reviews: Orchids

Miltoniopsis can perfume the house for weeks.

This year, my inner gardener has had to back-pedal a bit and take a break from large outdoor gardening projects since we’re focused on cleaning up more than 35 trees felled by Hurricane Sandy. Still chomping at the bit to get out there and get going, I decided to temporarily turn to an on-again, off-again indoor gardening pursuit: Orchids.

If you want a long-lasting experience, orchids flower from three weeks to three months, and can make their way into a sheltered spot in the garden during the summer months, if desired.

Among houseplants, orchids offer a bedazzling array of scent and color, with leaves and flowers that range from the ordinary to the weird. Phalaeonopsis (Moth Orchids) and Papheopedilium (Slipper Orchids) are the easiest to grow, and the heady, intoxicating fragrance of a Miltoniopsis (Pansy Orchid) will fill the entire house. The latter is well worth the expense even if you ultimately lose it.

It helps to have a few good orchid books around for reference, since different types of orchids require very different growing conditions. My three favorites are Jack Kramer’s classic Gowing Orchids Indoors, Orchids, Care and Cultivation by Gerald Leroy-Terquem & Jean Parisot, and Better Homes and Gardens’ Orchid Gardening.

Growing Orchids Indoors is the oldest of the three books, and lacks the pizzazz of abundant color photos, relying instead on line drawings and black and white photos, with just a few in color. But Kramer is one of my favorite indoor plant authors and I like his style and approach. He includes insights from his own experience with individual categories of orchids, which sometimes differs from the standard suggested care. I've found this helpful when that standard care isn’t delivering the results I expected. There’s also a short section on growing orchids in windows, window greenhouses, garden rooms, and under artificial light. The accompanying photos are of Kramer’s own average house, which further encourages the notion that growing orchids is within the ability of ordinary people.

Orchids, Care and Cultivation
is a great book for hort-heads and readers who enjoy immersing themselves in the history and botanical minutiae of plants. There are sections on how orchids are classified and named, how to grow them indoors and in a greenhouse, and in-depth chapters on pots and growing media, light requirements, watering, feeding, propagation, and pests. It is extensively illustrated with line drawings and color photos to help you identify the tribe to which your orchids belong. This is a great read for serious orchid enthusiasts, but may be too technical and detailed for the casual collector.

Orchid Gardening was released in 2011 and, like all Better Homes and Gardens’ titles, is profusely illustrated with luscious photographs. The Orchid Gallery is my go-to section for quick ID’s of plants that I’ve purchased without labels. It was here that I discovered that I had Miltoniopsis and not Miltonia. I was also happy to see photos of my personal challenge, Rhyncostylis gigantea included. I found the front of the book somewhat disorienting, as it borrows heavily from web-based formats, with just too much going on for the eye-brain to take in. However, once you decipher the structure of the book, you’ll find that there is a logic and organization to it that makes it easy to go back and find something again. The most helpful chapter for me was the one on identifying bugs and diseases. At last I can tell the difference between leaf spot, black rot, and crown rot, and discovered that some of my plants were suffering from drought and not too much sun, as I had thought. Clear photos show you exactly what’s wrong and clear instructions tell you what (if anything) can be done about it.

All of these books are well-organized and informative and I use each of them for different purposes.

If you purchase a book from Amazon through this blog, you should be aware that I am an Amazon affiliate and I have written for other Better Homes and Gardens titles.

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