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Orchids and Love Get Better with Time

Elbert and Stella Jaudon with their amazing orchid. Orchids stay warm indoors during cold spells.

While Stella and Elbert Jaudon, Jr. of Brandon have perhaps 20 very healthy looking orchids of various kinds, they had been worried about this particular cattleya. Over the years they have had it, in often had one to three lovely blooms, but they thought it could do better.

They even took it to Lin Cook of Cherub of Gold Orchids in Wimauma last summer, and asked her if they should divide it.

"No," she said, "take it home and feed it and it will bloom for you."

Elbert began sprinkling the little beads of Osmocote, a slow release fertilize, over the plants and letting it filter down among the leaves. Slow release fertilizers will not burn and every watering will dissolve just enough to keep the plant well fed.

"I think that's what made the difference," he says. Because this year, the plant bloomed as few orchids ever do. When this photo was taken there were 26 buds open and 26 more in the process of opening. Each was mostly white but with a deep maroon throat. There was a greenish tinge to the outer petals as they opened, but this faded to white as each flower opened completely.

The Jaudon's orchid had been outside under the giant oak in their backyard, but when the blooms began just as that day of heavy rain was forecast, they had one of their daughters help them it into their living room so the rain would not beat the blossoms. That was very fortunate, since the cold spells followed, and they brought all their other orchids in as well.

"Stella had one orchid almost the same color in a corsage when we got married," says Elbert. "We've been married 52 years, and now she has 52 flowers. What is more, I graduated from Brandon High, whose teams are called the Eagles and whose colors are maroon and white. And a decade later, Stella graduated from Woodrow Wilson High in Beckley, West Virginia whose teams are called the Eagles and whose colors are maroon and white."

The Jaudon's have had a life almost as amazing as their orchid. He went into the Navy at 17 and was on two ships that were blown up during WWII. "I was in the water the one time for 6 or 7 hours with shells falling all around me from a mountain on Borneo. My mother heard that the ship went down with 90% casualties, but it was a month before I got to San Diego and could call her and let her know I was okay."

The Jaudons have a son and twin daughters and have lived in the area all their married life. After he retired from 30 years with the Tampa Fire Department they ran two wholesale nurseries, growing all sorts of plants, as many as 60 to 90,000 at a time, at two different locations, including the acre where they still live.

Camellias surround trees in front yard.

"No, there's nothing much to see in my yard now," Stella said. "Elbert had a stroke some years ago and I had a heart attack in 1997 and we don't keep up with it now."

A sincere but definite understatement! Stella arrived home from her morning walk at the mall, essential to her health, with a vigor and youth most of us would envy. She pointed out the many beautiful camellias that cluster under the trees. Other great plants, begonias, hoyas, and an anthurium decorate the front of the house as well.

In the back a giant oak shades two huge staghorn ferns, several hanging baskets, a picnic table and a wicker swing.

"I don't know what kind of oak it is. I brought it home in a gallon tin can years ago," she says. "Elbert had once removed a basket of hoya, (probably during another cold spell) but it had already grown up the tree and the pieces he cut off just continued to grow with the waxy blooms cascading down.

Plum trees were in bloom. Trees had Satsuma oranges hanging heavy, so sweet that Stella can't eat many since she is diabetic. "We get someone to help us weed and mow now," she said, but she still wields a shovel like a pro. The visit, the yard, and the orchid plant were enough to brighten any visitor's days for weeks to come.

Above left: The front of house is graced with containers of begonias, hoyas, and a beautiful Anthurium clarinervium.

Above right: A double yellow datura blooms in the backyard.

Bottom right: A family of three sandhill cranes wandered into the yard, greeted us and stayed close by for over an hour. They are frequent visitors.

Pineapple plant, Ananas comosus

A row of pineapple plants (Ananas comosus) in the Jaudon's backyard had given them 25 fruits over the last year. This one was recently picked and smelled even better than the orchid. Pineapples are easy to grow and take little care. In the mid 1800, they were a big Florida industry along the St. John's River and in the Keys. By 1900 there were over 5000 acres in pineapple cultivation with production of a million crates a year. In 1910 Cuban pineapples glutted the market and the industry declined after that with freezes, droughts, and nematode troubles. But Florida gardeners have continued to grow them in their yards and you can't get one even in Hawaii that tastes better.

You can start them from the tops of purchased fruits. Cut off the top, perhaps with a bit of flesh attached, but not necessarily. Peel away the lower leaves and root it like a cuttings, either in water or in well prepared, humusy garden soil. Keep them moist until well rooted. It takes from 15 months to three years to get fruit. Each stem produces only one, but suckers will continue to produce others.

Let's talk about freezes ...

  • Pineapple leaves may turn yellow at 40 degrees but the cold can also encourage fruiting. Freezing can cause severe damage. I used to cover mine, but I don't anymore because they are all over the yard. I've never had serious damage. At worst they will come back from the roots and you'll lose a year of fruiting.
  • If you have serious nematode problems or live far north in the state, you can grow each plant in a three gallon pot.
  • The Jaudons didn't get fruit until they started washing out the pineapple centers with a hose and then putting pieces of apple down in the throats. The ethylene gas produced by the apples will trigger fruit set. You can also use bananas.
  • Like all fruits, pineapples need as much sun as possible. I grow and harvest quite a few in the shade though it takes much longer.