Mache, the fairytale lettuce 

by Ann McCulloh, contributing editor

Once, upon a time, there was a little plant that slept all summer, sprouted in the fall, and grew green and contented underneath the snow. Come the warm spring sun it flowered, scattered its seed freely and went to sleep until cool weather woke it up again. The lucky princess in whose garden it flourished, never had to plant it, or do much of anything but give it a bed of straw, and pick it for salads in the dark days of winter.

Mache (aka lamb’s lettuce, corn salad, Rapunzel, doucette, Nussler) is the most familiar name for Valeriana locusta, a delicate and delicious salad green that really does follow this topsy-turvy, through-the looking-glass schedule. I first planted the seed in springtime, in 2012, I think. It came up, promptly flowered

then went to seed, and I proceeded to forget all about it until the next September, when little green rosettes started poking through my straw mulch.

I kept an eye on it as it stayed green and grew a bit, while frosts became more prevalent. Then the first snow fell, and I assumed the worst. Sometime the next January I ventured out to the garden patch and noticed the green rosettes looked spritely. And larger. I pushed away some snow and clipped a few of them.

Mache (pronounced mahsh) has a delicate, nutty or even floral, flavor that invites dressing with walnut or hazelnut oil and sherry vinegar. It’s compatible with most anything. The French, who probably grow the most mache commercially, often dress it with hazelnut oil and vinegar, pair it with endive, frisee, thinly-sliced radishes or beets, and chop hardboiled egg or ham over it. The 4” spoon-shaped leaves have a spinach-like texture that holds onto just the right amount of vinaigrette.  I like it with orange segments, avocado slices, citrus dressing and a sprinkle of violets! Cooked briefly like spinach, it makes a decent omelet filling. Nice in a sandwich wrap, too!

Citrus Dressing for Winter/Spring Mache Salad:

1/3 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice

2 tablespoons balsamic or other good vinegar

1 Tablespoon olive, hazelnut or avocado oil

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

It’s surprising that self-sowing mache hasn’t caught on more widely with gardeners and gourmets in this country. For me, it is the closest thing to an effortless garden crop. But best of all, I can harvest tasty garden-fresh greens from January through April, and I haven’t bought a packet of seeds since that first purchase in 2012.

Mache

corn salad, lamb’s lettuce, Rapunzel salad (Valeriana locusta) Doucette, raiponce, Nussler

Europe, Africa, Western Asia

Specialty of Nantes

Vitamin C, B6, beta-carotene, iron, potassium, copper manganese

More iron than spinach

Delicate flavor, nutty or even floral, to me. Dress with walnut oil and sherry vinegar or a mustard dressing

Orange and avocado with orange dressing

Roasted beets and endive or frisee

Mix with other salad greens

Rosette of tender, spoonshaped leaves

Tiny whole plants, add a delicate crunch

Can be cooked like spinach and used to stuff omelets or pastry

Tea sandwich filling, with thinly sliced radishes

Lazy gardener alert

Germinates when soils are 55 to 68 degrees, sun, moist soil, mulch

Young plants sprout in September, remain green and succulent all winter under light straw mulch, really burgeon in March and April, start to bloom in May and seed themselves prolifically in June. Seed lies dormant until cooler fall weather. Then the cycle restarts.

Look Before You LEAP

by Elsa Johnson

(That’s supposed to be a joke — and it’s not even April)

One of my favorite organizations, which works out of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, is LEAP, which stands for (take a deep breathe to get you through) Lake Erie Allegheny Partnership for Biodiversity. What is LEAP? you ask:  It is a collaborative umbrella organization bringing together a collection of regional environmental organizations falling within the ecoregion of the Lake Erie Allegheny Plateau. The list of collaborating entities is long and includes, as you would expect, our many local park districts as well as some not-so-local park districts, local and national conservancies, our natural history museum, the EPA, and more.

There are monthly meetings (10 AM second Wednesday of the month) with speakers. One recent talk was on building Chimney swift houses to provide homes for breeding chimney swift pairs: swifts are great consumers of mosquitos (Gardenopolis Cleveland plans to do an article on this soon). Another recent talk was on what kind of coyotes we have around here – which was timely, as there has been so much public talk recently about sightings of what people take to be coy-wolves. A recent long email sequence in Nextdoor Coventry went on — and on —  and on – and on, all from one sighting of what the sighter was convinced was a wolf (be assured, it wasn’t). This LEAP talk clarified the issue through pie charts that showed the genetics of various coyote  populations in the Eastern United States, and was able to  clarify what combination of genes we actually have right here (that too will make its way into Gardenopolis, someday soon).   

What is the The Lake Erie Allegheny Plateau? It is an ecoregion that includes almost everything on the United States side of Lake Erie that is in Lake Erie’s watershed, and somewhat beyond it, encompassing the Lake Plain and glaciated lands south of Canada from Sandusky Bay all the way to western New York. This area has a common glacial history and a climate that is influenced by Lake Erie. As a natural history museum visitor what this means to you is that in a place like the museum’s Perkin’s Garden and Wildlife Center, you can expect to see the plants and animals that are representative of this ecoregion.

Also, the LEAP Native Plant Committee puts out a yearly postcard of native plants which lists one tree, one shrub, and one perennial, and offers designing-with-native-plants workshops. Look for this in another coming soon Gardenopolis posting.

LEAP puts out a very handsome little booklet that tells about LEAP’s mission to conserve and protect our ecoregion from threats such as habitat destruction, destructive alterations to various physical processes (such as groundwater hydrology, and lake and stream levels) and destructive alteration to species interactions, especially via competitive pressure from invasive, non-native species. Garlic mustard and its effect on the West Virginia White Butterfly leaps (sorry – couldn’t resist) immediately to mind. And more. Some copies of this booklet, and the native plants for the year postcard, will be available at the Permaculture Potluck (see last week’s blog) on April 2nd .

My favorite part of the booklet is the breakout with description of our ecoregion’s fourteen natural communities — which are diverse and beautiful — and where you can find them. Climate change threatens many of our community ecosystems. We are seeing outbreaks of oak wilt and insect pests in some of our old growth oak forests, such as at Forest Hill Park, where the red oaks are being decimated by oak wilt

and two-lined chestnut borer, the latter of which is also affecting other oaks such as Chestnut oaks.

For more information about LEAP and our native community ecosystems go to www.leapbio.org.   

Reminder: it is garlic mustard season. This is what it looks like.

garlic mustard. It is an invasive species. If you find it in your yard, pull it. It’s edible. One of us likes to put it in his breakfast scrambled eggs.          

New Approaches to Creating Natural Fertility

 

Jonathan Hull, Scroll and Spade, on foliar spraying

“Performed correctly, foliar spraying can become the tipping point for improved soil health and plant productivity.”

John Wright, Red Beet Row, on feeding the soil

“Natural fertilizers are as accessible as the weeds in your yard. Combined with early cover-cropping your garden yields will improve significantly.”

Event:

8th Annual Permaculture Potluck (bring food and meet your fellow N.E. Ohio permies.)

When:

Sunday April 2, 5 to 8 P.M.

Where:

First Unitarian Church of Cleveland, 21600 Shaker Blvd., Shaker Heights, Oh.

Childcare provided, free-will offering to cover childcare, speaker and custodial costs.

Co-sponsors: First Unitarian Ministry for Earth and Green Triangle.First Call for the Permaculture Potluck

Addendum: by Elsa Johnson

  •  Whether you already know all about permaculture, or you are curious about permaculture (so much of permaculture is applicable in all or parts to almost any kind of gardening/agriculture), or maybe you just like smorgasbords of mostly vegetarian food? — this is the place to be that particular Sunday afternoon. You can schmooze, sample interesting foods, and then hang back to listen to the two speakers.

    Jonathan Hull, a former student of renowned soil biologist Elaine Ingham (your clue to know — yes…he definitely knows what he is talking about), will be familiar to Gardenopolis Cleveland readers from a series of articles posted in GC in March, a year ago, about foliar spraying: The Winds of Change. Foliar spraying (or more accurately, misting) is a technique Jonathan uses to apply nutrients directly to the above-ground structures of plants, preferably in the morning when their stomata are most open. This, he says, allows for the efficient uptake of nutrients with minimal expenditure of the plant’s energy, and stimulates the plant’s below the soil relationships, especially those with the mycorrhizal fungi that exist in symbiosis with the plant’s roots. This symbiosis is an important part of the plant’s natural pattern for health, and the less one disturbs it the better. The result? Healthier plants. More resilient soil. Fewer pests and diseases. Bigger yields. 

    The other speaker is John Wright, who is innovating directly with the soil via a fresh approach to the old technique of cover crops. John is both a permaculturist and an OSU trained horticulturist. He and his wife Stephanie Blessing run the educational farm Red Beet Row in Ashtabula. John has been experimenting with timing and unusual cover crop combinations to build a full soil nutritional palette. John offers fresh insights on matching companion plants with traditional annual vegetables, like tomatoes.   

    The Potluck will be held April 2nd from 5 to 8 PM at the First Unitarian Church of Cleveland, 21600 Shaker Boulevard, which is just east of Warrensville Center Road. The church is a large New England style steepled church, and is very hard to miss. Parking is in the rear by the Permaculture Garden.

    What to bring: Food – always a good idea to label ingredients in food brought to share. Children are welcome. There will be a free will offering to cover the cost of speakers, childcare, and custodial support.   

        

Reprise of Phenology for Our Snowy Weather

by Lois Rose
 
 
The growing degree days on the phenology calendar (oardc.ohio-state.edu/gdd/) have accumulated somewhat but slowed down recently due to the cold weather. There is damage to buds that had started to develop by the first of March.  For example, look for crocuses  which have had their petals destroyed or badly damaged.  Snow is a blessing when cold air comes—it insulates the plants on the ground.  It is possible that buds of fruit trees and small fruit like currants which were warmed during February might suffer severe damage from the cold we have been experiencing this week. Time will tell. If you are interested in finding out sooner rather than later, you could cut open a bud and see if it is still green on the inside.  A brown interior is not good. Remember that we almost always have frosts and freezes in this part of Ohio until mid-May.

 

How the Orgy Begins

by Elsa Johnson

Honeyberry leafed out    last night                                           Her pale

tiny flower buds are straining                         ( wait!   wait!       There

are no pollinators yet! )                                                    The first grey-

green buddlea leaves    uncurl —                                      Poking amid

half-digested leaf mold                                                    fragile carcass

of insect           :          possibly bumblebee            :           and    there

a scant handful of                                                    ultra violet     irises

while here               the rhubarb                  in its red                 unfurl-

ing                      so      almost     obscene                     like a bright

vulva        aroused from dirt                                      Last year’s debris

shouts           take me!   ( away! )              while this year’s new life

claws   out of the ground                And the sparrows call    :   what? 

who?/ where?/ there!    Is it time? —  now! /now! / quick? / quick!            

Inklings of Spring

by Lois Rose
 
Phenology has become a trending topic—on the national news with the cherry blossoms breaking in Washington a month early.  Here in Cleveland, we can track our own very early blossoms using a link to the phenology calendar by typing in our own zip code to find out what is coming next in the garden. Phenology is the study of events in the garden—biological events in the outdoors—that recur each year and understanding their relationship to weather. People have tracked these events for hundreds of years—perhaps thousands, as in the Bible.  Examples are bird migration, blooming of wildflowers and trees, and appearance of insects, seasonal animal activities for hunting.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
Last year at this time—the beginning of March—we had a different phenological profile—we had not had as much warm weather and plants were not as far along.  These photos were taken on March 1 in Cleveland Heights.  Some of the plants pictured do very well in cold weather—and in fact have been blooming even under snow for months. An example would be hellebores, winter aconite  (yellow blossoms close to the ground ) and snowdrops.  Other plants may be adversely affected by the below freezing temperatures we are sure to experience until the average frost free date in mid-May.  That is two and a half months away. As their buds swell, they are more susceptible to freezes which will damage the cells filled with water.  Insects are also being invited to come out early. The calendar tells you what to expect, for example, tent caterpillars at the ready.
 
 
Magnolias have swollen buds—their time to bloom was approaching fast when this recent freeze began.  Forsythia around the city are already starting to bloom as well and this often occurs at the end of March along with the blooming of daffodils. Daffodils are already opening. So, we are definitely experiencing an unusual phenological event here in northeast Ohio.

Planning Your Garden Visits for This Year? Consider Washington DC.

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by Lois Rose

Notes on the United States Botanic Garden

Thought of by George Washington, the garden was established in 1820 and now is administered through the Architect of the Capitol. Its mission is to promote botanical knowledge through cultivation of a collection of plants, to present displays, exhibits and programs to Congress and the public, and to foster sustainability and plant conservation.


The garden is a short distance from the Capitol building. It is not very large, but contains a wide variety of interesting and unusual specimen plants, especially in alternative colors and shapes and sizes.  In early spring—April—there was just the beginning of the display but phlox for example was in abundance.  People who work in the neighborhood gather there at their lunch time, sit and read.  Water features, clever companion planting, garden rooms—for its size it packs a punch.

The United States National Arboretum

The extensive grounds of the Arboretum deserve at least half a day.  The Azalea Collection was in full bloom in April, with thousands of plants covering the sides of Mount Hamilton with paths going up and around. Many of the shrubs come from the breeding program of former director Benjamin Morrison, hybridizing large flowered tender azaleas in the Indica group with Hardy northern species between 1929 and 1954.  The Glenn Dale Hillside contains thousands of hybrids.  Late blooming azaleas can be seen into May and early June, although April was spectacular and not to be missed, on winding trails, some difficult for strollers and the hike challenged.

National Herb Garden

The garden was in its early stages in April, and is adjacent to several other areas of interest.  It is an extensive and diverse display of herbs from all over the world, for all purposes. Imagine the Cleveland Botanical Garden exploded to the entire Wade Oval and beyond. Roses come on in May—summer and fall must be equally impressive.  The paths in this area are wide and easy to navigate.

The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum

These are close to the other gardens, contains one of the largest collections of these trees in North America.   Penjing refers to the Chinese precursor to the Japanese art of bonsai. Three pavilions hold about 150 plants and there is also a section of stones and ikebana, a style of Japanese flower arranging.  The large variety and spectacular execution of this huge collection will require a sufficient time for study and appreciation.

Bonus Garden

Next to the Supreme Court building is a lovely small garden with much to see.  In April there were many early flowering perennials, well arranged, beautifully tended.  Be sure to take the short stroll to enjoy this surprising gem.

Good Planets Are Hard To Find

by Elsa Johnson

the bumper sticker said            and here we are                                   stranded

in this black vacuum of space filled            beyond full          with cold pinpricks

of far    and farther     distant stars            We are no longer ignorant creatures

cowering     beating our ape chests in fear    in domination           We know we

are not the center of      the ever-expanding universe            We know the sun

does not revolve around us                                           but we are still the center

of   our  universe             in this sense the worlds still spin around      not our

planet              but            we who ride her              A fine point     but telling  :           

Good planets are hard to find

Where is the awe      commensurate to truth?     Out there amid the glittering

of infinitude          the ice-hot brilliant stars    in the blank of space            there

are surely other planets         blue         fragile        like ours                       Do we

imagine        we will find one          once we’ve fouled this one ?              Escape

to a place that               once we found a way to get there                    would

no longer   be   there                      Would be going               faster               faster                      

Perhaps ridden by its own                       brand                                            of doom                 

What Shall We Do Next?

Announcement of Upcoming Events and Purposeful Actions

Home Permaculture Design Short Course

March 2nd to April 20th

Thursdays – 7:30 to 9 PM

First Unitarian Church of Cleveland

Shaker Boulevard, Shaker Heights

Given by:  Green Paradigm Partners: Tom Gibson and Elsa Johnson (216) 932 – 8733

Eight week short course introduces students to permaculture concepts including soil building and soil conservation,on site water retention – rain barrels and cisterns, swales, raingardens, & more, pollinator attracting plants, attracting and keeping beneficial insects, plant polycultures, incorporating native plants in the garden, plants you didn’t know were edible, plant layering and edges as design principles, hands-on practice of landscape design.        

Native Plants for the Home Landscape

February 16 at 6:30 with Garrett Ormiston  

at Cleveland Museum of Natural History-Tickets

Participants will learn about the threats that invasive plants pose to our natural areas and gardens, and the many advantages to using native plants as an alternative. Discussions will include how to make responsible plant choices in your home landscaping, planting native plants in a deer-dominated landscape, using native plants to attract native pollinators, and detailed information about the many different native plants that you can consider for your home gardening projects. Information learned in this presentation will lead up to our March workshop, “Designing Landscapes using Native Plants”.

 

Patrick Blanc (Paris, France), World’s leading expert on Vertical Gardens

Tuesday, February 28, 2017 10:00am to noon

Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Email Carol Provan regarding tickets: carolprovan911@gmail.com

Vertical gardening has become trendy in recent years, a movement led by Patrick Blanc. Special patented techniques enable him to explore new territory and create artistic, soil-less gardens on the exteriors and interiors of museums, hotels, corporations and homes of the ultra-wealthy. He is in demand among an international cadre of architects, developers, and environmental groups, but is just as pleased to be invited to Cleveland by the Shaker Lakes Garden Club.

March for the Climate

Washington DC on April 29

There is no denying it: Donald Trump’s election is a threat to the future of our planet, the safety of our communities, and the health of our families.

This new administration is attacking the hard-won protections of our climate, health, and communities, and the rights of people of color, workers, indigenous people, immigrants, women, LGBTQIA, young people, and more.

If the policies he proposed on the campaign trail are implemented, they will destroy our climate, decimate our jobs and livelihoods, and undermine the civil rights and liberties won in many hard fought battles.

Join Catherine Feldman and Elsa Johnson in forming a Gardenopolis Cleveland contingent!

 

NOW is the time for us to contribute to saving the environment. We hope the following list will facilitate your donations.

Our next few posts will list some city and state organizations.

National Environmental Organizations  

(thank you EarthEasy for these recommendations)

1. Union of Concerned Scientists

UCS maintains a national network of nearly 17000 scientists who believe “rigorous analysis is the best way to understand the world’s pressing problems and develop effective solutions to them.” UCS’s findings and statements are frequently quoted by major news sources; they have become a recognized and respected voice of environmental advocacy. Their work focuses on clean energy solutions, global warming, and the puzzles of large-scale food production. UCS’s testimony has been instrumental in several pieces of important green legislation.

2. Natural Resources Defense Council

Called “One of the nation’s most powerful environmental groups” by the New York Times, NRDC combines “the grassroots power of 1.4 million members and online activists with the courtroom clout and expertise of more than 350 lawyers, scientists and other professionals”. This time of year, NRDC offers holiday-ready “green gifts”: your donation results in a gift card describing the action it supports, such as “adopt a wolf in Yellowstone” or “save an acre of whale nursery” to add a tangible meaning to a personalized gift.

3. Environmental Working Group

Known for their annual “Dirty Dozen” list revealing the highest (and lowest) pesticide concentrations in conventionally-grown produce, EWG is known for researching and spreading awareness regarding toxic chemicals, sustainable versus exploitative agricultural practices, consumer product safety, and corporate accountability. Right now, EWG promises that monetary gifts will be doubled through a matching campaign. This is a good pick for those with a passion for clean food.

4. Greenpeace Fund

GreenpeaceMade famous in the 1970’s and 80’s for its seafaring bands of activists peacefully accosting whaling ships and exposing covert nuclear testing, today’s Greenpeace describes climate change as “the number one threat facing our planet”. Greenpeace has not lost its passionate idealism, maintains its corporate integrity, and still inspires many to urgent, hopeful direct action. Courageous efforts by small groups of concerned individuals have influenced governments in the past, as with Greenpeace’s inaugural efforts to stop nuclear testing at Amchitka Alaska.

5. Friends of the Earth

Friends of the Earth describes itself as a “bold and fearless voice for justice and the planet”. Recent campaigns have targeted bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides, “dirty” tar sands oil extraction, and the environmental devastation of palm oil production. Those who oppose widespread adoption of nanotechnology, genetically engineered foods, and human gene patenting will appreciate FOE’s clear stance and advocacy.

6. Rainforest Alliance

Rainforest Alliance has gained public recognition with their independent certification of common rainforest products, such as chocolate, coffee, bananas, and tea. Producers must meet strict sustainability standards to gain certification. The Alliance also works with foresters and the tourism industry in ecologically vulnerable areas. Their website offers consumer and traveler information, helping us work together to steward some of the most biodiverse, threatened, and globally critical habitats.

7. Earthjustice

Earthjustice is clear about its reason for being: “Because the earth needs a good lawyer”. Beginning as a Sierra Club team mounting a lawsuit to preserve an isolated California valley from development as a Disney ski resort, Earthjustice has become an independent crusade focusing on high-impact, precedent-setting battles. These are dedicated, experienced lawyers taking on the David-and-Goliath fights many of us feel powerless to influence. Donating here is one approach to evening the scales between the “big bucks” of large corporate interests and the often woefully underfunded voice of our struggling ecosystem.

8. Ocean Conservancy

Ocean“Ocean Conservancy works to keep the ocean healthy, to keep us healthy.” Current areas of focus include addressing ocean acidification, restoration and oil-spill recovery in the Gulf of Mexico, and protecting the Arctic ecosystem from damage by increased shipping and oil and gas exploration. In the words of Jacques Cousteau, “The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat.”

9. Earth Island Institute

One Earth Island proponent describes the group as “a community of creative activists with a great track record and cutting edge worldview.” E.I.I. nourishes ambitious fledgling projects, giving them fuel to thrive and potentially become independent nonprofits, such as Rainforest Action Network and Salmon Protection and Watershed Network. The California-based organization has several locally-focused initiatives under its wing, as well as international projects like the Center for Safe Energy and the Plastic Pollution Coalition, among many others. Supporters can pick and choose which project they’d like to fund. It’s a big strong umbrella under which you can still aim your support at a highly specific goal.

10. The Sierra Club Foundation

Another household name, the Sierra Club has a popular reputation as less radical than Greenpeace, less likely to cause arguments at the family dinner table. Political lobbying and legislative advocacy have always been central to Sierra Club’s mission. Today the Club focuses on moving beyond fossil fuel dependency and preserving wild spaces from harmful development, as well as offering their signature wilderness trek experiences to individuals across the country.
Hike

Some of our other favorites:

Environmental Defense Fund

“Environmental Defense Fund’s mission is to preserve the natural systems on which all life depends.

Guided by science and economics, we find practical and lasting solutions to the most serious environmental problems.”

Nature Conservancy

“The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.

Our vision is a world where the diversity of life thrives, and people act to conserve nature for its own sake and its ability to fulfill our needs and enrich our lives.”

Xerces

“The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is an international nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats. We take our name from the now extinct Xerces Blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche xerces), the first butterfly known to go extinct in North America as a result of human activities.”

Yale 360

“Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting, and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news.”

 Mother Jones 

“Mother Jones is a reader-supported nonprofit news organization. We do independent and investigative reporting on everything from politics and climate change to education and food (plus cat blogging). Some 9 million people come to this site each month. We also publish an award-winning, 200,000-circulation magazine, we just launched a new podcast, and you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.”

Earth First 

No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth

“The very future of life on Earth is in danger. Human activities—from hunting to habitat destruction—have already driven countless species to extinction, and the process is only accelerating. The destruction of the Earth and its sustainable indigenous cultures has led to tragedy in every corner of the globe.”

National Wildlife Federation

“National Wildlife Federation is a voice for wildlife, dedicated to protecting wildlife and habitat and inspiring the future generation of conservationists.”

 

Orchids Aloft!

Ann McCulloh, contributing editor

The orchids have landed! Or rather, they are hovering, given the theme of this season’s Orchidmania at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. “Hanging Gardens” are beautifully realized in a number of inventive assemblages that feature this stunningly colorful and varied family of flowers. The current exhibit reveals a sophisticated design sense in nearly every detail. And lovely details abound!

(Dendrobium)

I visited this year’s version of the Garden’s annual orchid extravaganza on a recent sunny weekday afternoon. This year the show runs from January 29th through March 5. http://www.cbgarden.org/orchid-mania.aspx. The best times for leisurely, less-crowded visiting are weekdays after the school buses depart, around 1pm. Greeted in the lobby by a remarkably realistic oversized sculpture of the familiar Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis species), I walked under a dense arch of yellow Cymbidiums into the darkened Atrium. There, vertical towers of Moth Orchids, ferns and Spanish moss rise from fountains pouring into a dramatically purple-lit pool.

 Colorful lighting is another feature of the show.

Orchids “float” throughout the show, suspended in open grapevine spheres, on bamboo towers and levitating in baskets at nose and eye level.

(Laelia)

Artful displays in the dark, somewhat dry interior spaces of the building rely on the familiar, incredibly durable Moth Orchid.

(Moth basket)

I have real affection for this type of orchid, which can actually thrive and rebloom in challenging living spaces, where most orchids wither, yellow and decline.

A delicious diversity of orchid color, texture and form awaits visitors in the glasshouses, where abundant light, warmth and humidity help the flowers flourish. Orchids, ferns and bromeliads (aka “air plants”) play off each other in impressive set pieces.

 (SetPiece)

The key to success with orchids (well, plants of any type) is in reproducing the conditions of their original environment. Many orchids, like this blue Vanda, require very bright, but indirect light, temperatures that range above human comfort, and humidity that would cause the sofa to grow mold.

(Vanda)

For anyone who wants to succeed with orchids at home, the American Orchid Society provides a wealth of information tailored to specific types of orchids on their website in the “All About Orchids” section http://www.aos.org/orchids.aspx. The Garden will host an orchid sale with multiple vendors on the weekend of February 18th and 19th.

I fall under the spell of orchids every year in the dreary depths of February. More than any other family of flowers they invite fantastic comparisons. The odd ruses they employ to trick insects into pollinating them, the fleshy substance of their petals, and even the characteristic “nose” in the center of each blossom give them a sort of animal presence. I mean, don’t these Pansy Orchids (Miltonia sp.)

( Miltonia) make you think of the Seven Dwarves? And this Slipper Orchid (Paphiopedilum)

(Villain) seems positively villainous, while these two are frankly sensual?

(Teasers)

This natural extravagance of shape, color and pattern brings out an answering creative impulse in artists of all sorts. Orchids are like candy to photographers, of course, and photo contest entries are on display, but that is just the beginning.

 

(Candy) There’s more orchid themed art in the Café, with tasty paintings on silk by Gunther Schwegler,

 

(Silkpaintings)

and even a pretty table setting with a lush petal-covered table cloth. A silk painting workshop is offered in March, too, more info on the Garden’s web site. A very fun feature of Orchidmania is the dozen or so orchid-inspired dresses by students in the fashion design program of Kent state University, on display in Clarke Hall.

(Dresses).

If this season has you feeling uninspired or pessimistic, the orchid show may provide much-needed uplift! Bring your camera, and give yourself time to saunter slowly and stop often. Get lost in some fabulous detailed flower.

(Details)

Seek out the sweet fragrances of the Chocolate Orchid (Oncidium ‘Sweet Sharrie Baby’)
(SharrieBaby) and the Foxtail Orchid (Rhynchostylis)

 

(Foxtail) It’s an invitation to take some deep, slow breaths and feel yourself float a little.

(Float)