244 pages with illustrations
Timber Press, 2005. $29.95
Reviewed by Karen Preuss
I have a confession to make: I have never even attempted
to grow orchids. While I'm as happy as the proverbial pig in mud to spend hours
outside, pampering my peas and cheering on my chamaecyparis, when it comes to
houseplants I tend to have an attitude of benign neglect. I've always though of
orchids as indoor plants; too fussy and high-maintenance to suffer the
indignities I would lavish on it. So it was with some trepidation that I agreed
to write a book review on ~ you guessed it ~ orchids.
Second confession: I grew up in New Jersey.
there. A lot. Hardy orchids you grow outside? Who knew? John Tullock's Growing
Hardy Orchids was an eye opener. It's jam packed with information for the
orchid enthusiast who wants to introduce hardy, native North American orchids
to the garden. The cover photograph of a Cypripedium acaule is so beautiful
that I'm almost willing to make the leap into orchid growing on its merit
alone, but cooler heads prevail. I must admit, the book didn't change my mind
about orchids; Tullock readily admits that successfully growing orchids is an
expensive, time-consuming endeavor, but the subject and the book are
Growing Hardy Orchids is much more than a how-to book,
although there's a lot of that. The author also offers his readers a
thought-provoking lesson in conservation ethics. When is the collection of wild
plants acceptable? Tullock believes that the best way to protect native plants
is to protect the habitats where they occur, or in situ conservation. But given
the choice between removing an important wild plant from a habitat that is
about to be destroyed by development or losing the plant altogether, he comes
down squarely on the side of removal. Tullock asserts the importance of ex situ
conservation in order to preserve a species, and he includes both private
gardens and commercial nurseries in his assertion. He is a conservationist who
is also a realist. Development happens. There are seven native North American
orchids on the federal government's list of endangered and threatened plant
species, and more on endangered lists of individual states. Clearly, Tullock
believes we should do whatever we can do ensure that these plants don't
On to growing your own hardy orchids. Tullock explains
that success with orchids first requires a growing medium that is tailored to
the particular orchid's needs. Orchids favor sites where they have very little
competition with other plants. Tullock admits that growing orchids requires a
commitment from the gardener ~ orchids are far less adaptable than other
familiar perennials, so a significant amount of preparation is involved if you
want to achieve success. Follow his advice, though, and you'll be the envy of
those who are less, well, driven.
Tullock provides excellent directions on how to construct
an outdoor growing bed or a natural bog garden. He also includes recipes for a
variety of growing mediums, referencing the specific species that grow best in
each medium. There is a short chapter on propagation and good advice on
transplanting and dividing orchids. An entire chapter is devoted to mycorrhizal
associations, a must for the successful development of germinating seedlings.
Four lovely and distinctly
individual orchids are
featured in a chapter titled "Hardy Orchids Through the Seasons,"
each of which will grow in our climate zone. Cypripedium acaule, the pink
lady's slipper, is the most common and wide-spread native orchid, with a spring
bloom. The distinctive Platanthera ciliaris throws out a dense cluster of
fringed orange florets in summer. The fall garden features Sprianthes cernua
var. odorata 'Chadd's Ford,' with its tall spikes of white florets. And in
winter, the unassuming spade-shaped leaf of the Tipularia discolor, or cranefly
orchid, grows unnoticed on the woodland floor until it shrivels and disappears
in spring, whereupon the flower spike appears, resembling a hovering cluster of
The remainder of the book is a catalog of 103 hardy and
half-hardy orchids. Tullock provides essential cultivation information for
each. His stated intent is to provide a catalog that enables gardeners "to
determine quickly and easily the suitability of any given species or hybrid
according to their particular gardening needs and desires." About half of
the orchids included in the catalog will grow in our climate zone. Photographs
are included for some, but not all, of the catalog entries.
Appendices include a taxonomy of hardy
based on Cribb's and Bailes' 1989 Hardy Orchids, and Pridgeon's 1992 The
Illustrated Encyclopedia of Orchids. There is a helpful selection guide, a list
of orchid suppliers, and an excellent, exhaustive bibliography.
So, for those braver souls than
I, pick up a copy of
Growing Hardy Orchids, then invite me over.
Karen Preuss is the Library Manager of the Elisabeth
Miller Library at the University of Washington Botanic Gardens.