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Orchids Take the Prize

The Tampa Bay Orchid Societies are having a big show at the Tampa Garden Club at 2629 Bayshore Blvd. on Friday March 4 noon to 4 (sale only), Saturday March 5, 9AM to 5PM, Sunday March 6, 10 to 4 (show and sale both).

"We just won 1st place at the fair for our society's exhibit after not participating for several years. I'm so excited since this is my first year as President of the Tampa Bay Orchid Society and things are good! Our show is really neat, too," says Joni Hartzler of Tampa.

The display at the fair was both beautiful and informative and with nearly always a member sitting beside it to answer questions.

Carmen Melendez was there with her two-year-old granddaughter Isabelle. "My 200 orchids mostly came from my brother Julio who died of cancer in 2001," she says.

The Cattleya orchids are the ones most used in corsages. They come in many colors, as shown by this "Egyptian Queen" and often have lovely fragrance while still on the plant.

He kept his orchids in an open shed in her backyard and lived across the street. While he was sick, she drove him to the orchid society meetings and decided she might as well join.

"It's rewarding and relaxing, taking care of the plants and seeing them bloom," she says. "They suffered some in the storms even though we brought them inside. We had orchids all over the house, in the bathrooms, the kitchen, every room." The light and humidity changes took some tole, but the plants escaped injury when the storms tore apart part of the shed and its roof.

"My sons fixed the shed and put up tarps to close it in with a heater and fans during cold spells," she says. "I like the Cattleyas and the mini cats best. I don't do well with the vandas. I used to grow flowers around our home in Puerto Rico when we were growing up, but Julio would fight with me. Before I knew it, he pushed me out of the job. He did very well. Later, he knew how to grow all the orchids. He could plant an orchid in salt and pepper rock and put it together like a puzzle so the plant was solid in there. If I try that, it's loose and it's going to die."

Joni Hartzler also has many orchids, but she was mostly thrilled with the fabulous turn out of members who helped design and put up the booth. "It was a perfect example of teamwork," said one of the members who is also an orchid judge.

There are 125 members in this group, and there are two other orchid clubs in the area.

Ludisia discolor is almost as lovely when not in bloom with its velvety maroon leaves. It is one of the easiest orchids to grow.

"We have a real good mix of people, some working and some retired," says Hartzler, "and our group has the best raffle table of any of the plant societies. Everyone says so. Sometimes people win three or four plants in an evening. So if they start as members with only a few orchids, they soon have quite a few more."

Joni Hartzler is a realtor for USA Realty of Tampa. She has been growing orchids for 15 years and been interested in nature since childhood. She leads bird walks for the Audubon Society (more information to follow in a later column) as well growing many species of orchids and African violets. "If a plant is different I buy it and have it," she says. She has some 500, most around her pool deck on racks and stands. "That is just about a perfect place for many orchids since the screen shades out about 30% of the sun. If people have orchids that are not blooming, it is usually because they are in too much shade."

Right after the Orchid Show, she and her husband and two other members are going to Paris for the World Orchid Conference in Dijon. She speaks French well and has always found the people there very caring, perhaps less aggressive than many Americans, so she is looking forward to the trip.

She and another member, Lois Buxbaum of Tampa, were very concerned about two of their members whose 200 orchids, including many rare and perfect vandas, were all destroyed in a fire when their heater exploded and the plastic melted down on the plants. It was a very painful loss and the other members have donated a new collection of orchids to encourage the couple not to give up.

If this sounds like a group you'd like to join, visitors are welcome at meetings that are held on the third Thursday of every month at the Seminole Garden Club at 5800 N. Central, just off the Hillsborough Exit of I75 N in Tampa, from 7:30 to 9. You can call James Clarkson, 812-968-3402, for more details about meetings.

NOTE: Potting mixes for orchids include Orchid Mix, hardwood charcoal, lava rock, coconut fiber, and tree fern, with recycled rubber tires and pot chips for use at the bottom of the container.

Now's the time to...

  • Visit an orchid show in your area
  • There is a Florida West Coast Orchid Society that meets in St. Pete on the 2nd Thursday of the month. Call Mark Jones at 812-596-2798 for more details.
  • The Tampa Orchid Club meets the 4th Tuesday of each month at 10 A.M. at the Seminole Garden Club, 5800 N. Central in Tampa but I haven't been able yet to find out which Tuesday. Call 962-4717 or 677-2871.