Cool. Now there is evidence that orchids have been in existence since dinosaurs were running around the earth.
A 15-20 million year old bee has been discovered preserved in amber, with orchid pollen on its back. Apparently this helps end a certain amount of debate over how long orchids have been around:
Proponents of an older age for orchids had cited their ubiquity around the world, their close evolutionary kinship with the ancient asparagus family, and their bewildering diversity: Some 20,000 to 30,000 species strong, the showy plants comprise some 8 percent of all flowering species worldwide.
By applying the so-called molecular clock method, the scientists also estimated the age of the major branches of the orchid family. To their surprise, they found that certain groups of modern orchids, including the highly prized genus Vanilla, evolved very early during the rise of the plant family.
It must be some kind of big year for the Queen's anniversary, because there are lots of nostalgic articles in British newspapers about her wedding.
Either that, or it's a very slow news week.
My favourite so far is "The Mystery of the Queen's Missing Bouquet". The bouquet was made of orchids - cattleya, odontoglossum and cypripedium - a nice choice, I might say. The jist of the story is that the bouquet went missing and the royal couple had to have their picture taken without it. Ok, it's not exactly enthralling stuff, but here's the part I love:
"The bouquet was a gift to the Princess from the Worshipful Company of Gardeners.".
We visited Madeira almost three years ago, a gorgeous little volcanic island off the coast of Africa. Madeira's year-round spring temperatures make it a gardener's paradise, and I brought home more than a few souvenirs, including orchids and some cuttings.
I also brought home a package of Geranium maderense seeds, also known as the Madeira cranesbill. I found the package in the bottom of my gardening bag last spring, threw the seeds into a pot of something already growing, and promptly forgot about it. I figured the seeds were old by then and wouldn't germinate. Well, a couple did, and when autumn came around I dug one up, put the seedling in its own pot, and brought it indoors for the winter.
When I bought the seeds I'd never actually seen a Geranium maderense, let alone one in bloom. I figured it was a just an ordinary geranium of some type, how exciting could that be? That is, until the thing started growing. And growing. It's a metre across now, and taking over my patio. No sign of flowers yet, and I'm wondering where I'm going to put this thing come winter since it's not cold hardy. I joked with my landlord that I'll just move all the furniture outdoors and bring all the plants indoors.
The leaves are quite pretty -- kind of fern-like. And despite what some of the sites I've found have said, my Geranium maderense is much happier in the shade. When the sun comes out the leaves wilt with a decided pout.
Orchids in horse poop... I've read about it, and I've always wondered if it worked. An entire website is devoted to the glories of growing orchids in horse manure, and I'm sure that I'm not the only fool who has read it and actually been inspired to try.
And so yesterday I was invited to go out on a cart ride with my friend Sylvia and her beautiful Halflinger horse, Albert, after work. Sylvia is a tolerant soul, and when I floated the idea by her she gamely brought along two plastic shopping bags with the full knowledge that she'd be transporting fresh horse poo home in the trunk of her car for me. Such a good sport. Her parents are gardeners so I guess that bizarre botanical enthusiasms don't alarm her any more; she's had experience.
The cart ride through through the tranquil Bavarian countryside was unforgettable. We spent over an hour exploring quiet car-free trails through farmer's fields and coniferous forests. We passed cyclists and joggers in our Roman-style chariot, and watched a deep red sunset and a big fat moonrise over the meadows. Wow. So beautiful. Albert is a gorgeous creature, with a ridiculously long and curling flowing mane and tail, and he seemed to enjoy the trip as much as we did. Halflingers are the equine equivalent of Golden Retrievers; loveable and friendly, and extremely intelligent. Not just a horse, but one of three friends out on an adventure.
After the ride, Sylvia led me to an enormous mound of manure and up along a long wooden board leading to the top of it. We balanced precariously on the narrow plank and giggled while we bent over and filled the plastic bag. No accidents, thankfully. Sylvia dropped me off back at the office where my bike was locked, and I rode home with a steaming warm bag of horse poo in the front basket. A memorable evening.
This morning, the experiment began. I repotted a small cymbidium, one from a bulb that I bought three years ago in Madeira. This has to be the slowest growing plant I've ever grown, and I'm so frustrated with its progress I don't mind if it becomes the victim of a bad idea. If this works, bonus.
This lovely yellow floribunda rose is growing in a large pot on my patio. It's called Sunlight Romantica, a floribunda from the house of Meilland in France. Meilland's Romantica roses are considered France's answer to the old English rose, and supposedly blooms better in hot weather than the English David Austin varieties. Makes sense, I guess.
Sunlight Romantica has a gorgeous old-rose style bloom and a heady old-rose scent, which is why I bought it. Roses are fussy prissy things and I normally wouldn't bother with them, but this one smells heavenly, and blooms continuously. It does have a little bit of black spot but in spite of the cold rainy weather we've experienced lately, the plant seems to be fending off serious infection without chemical assistance.
What's more, this is a rose that has inspired a Japanese man to break into song and post it on You Tube. A German song.
There is most definitely a hint of autumn in the air, a certain crispness and energy that urges me to get out into the garden. It's an instinct really; a strong sense of needing to be out harvesting and tending and working the soil, preparing for a coming change of the seasons.
It's a strange and misplaced feeling. Strange, not just because it's mid-August and at least a month early for this sort of thing, but also because I don't have a garden. I find myself irresistably pulled to the shops, trolling the aisles for perennials, investigating the shiny tools hanging on the walls, checking out the selection of seeds. It's the same urge that causes me to gather seeds from plants that I come across during my wanders, even though I have nowhere to plant them. My fellow apartment dwellers point to my patio and tell me what a lovely garden I have; I see a bunch of pots. It does look nice, but pots on a patio are unsatisfying in a way that only a passionate gardener can understand.
A gardener without a garden. Kind of like an amputee who can feel and move his limb, a long long time after it's gone.