I had high expectations of Madeira in the orchid department, garden paradise that it is… land of tropical houseplants growing outdoors, on steroids… Bird of Paradise, frangipani, bougainvillea, poinsettia, aloe, hydrangeas, lilies, roses… the list goes on and on, and that’s just a few of the things that were in bloom while we were there. The place is a veritable floating flower garden.
So, I set out with orchid garden brochures and maps in hand, ready to bring home some plants. After a few of hours of battling steep hills, poorly signed and winding streets, and bad directions, I was deeply disillusioned. After whetting my appetite at the Botanical Garden (none of the orchids were in bloom), I eagerly rappelled down the the vertical drop of a street to the Jardim Orquidea, "Pregetter’s Orchid Garden". There was an admission charge just to look at their orchids, but I didn’t get past the miserly sales table out front. Boring phals, dendrobiums, and oncidiums, none of them properly named and all of them overpriced. The woman behind the table was unwelcoming, and knew nothing about orchids. When I asked her to identify something, she’d point at the label and say "oncidium", or "dendrobium", most unhelpfully. Unimpressed, I turned around and rappelled back up the hill to the car, where it was parked at an alarming pitch.
Next stop, "Paradise Orchids", the Madeira Orchid Farm at Quinta dos Saltos. Even harder to find, and an absolute mess. Untidy sheds full of hundreds of plants in poor condition, most of them badly in need of repotting and some of them obviously virused. Nothing appeared properly labelled, even in the area we actually paid admission to see. The sales area had an even more pathetic offering than the first place we went to, and the sales person knew even less about orchids — if that was possible.
At this point, I decided to visit the farmer’s market. There were lots of ordinary unmarked orchids, but at least they were honest about not knowing what they were selling, and the prices were cheap. I bought a couple of mutts — a specimen sized paph with five spikes, a phrag with one spike, and a piece of zygo, as well as a few dried up cymbidium back-bulbs. I figured that was the end of my fantasy of going home with armload of nice orchids.
A few days later, while Laird sunned by the pool, I got restless, and decided to give the last brochure place a try. Boa Vista Orchids, at Quinta Boa Vista. I had low expectations, but it seemed fairly straightforward to find, and I figured I could get there and back without involving too much trauma and time. I already felt guilty about dragging Laird around for a day on an unsuccessful orchid collection mission, so I left him and took the car out for a quick reconnaissance trip. I didn’t bother taking my camera.
Whoa! Bingo! It was fairly easy to get to, close to the market, but up an alarmingly steep hill and through a tiny gate, and then up an even more alarming narrow cobble-pebble winding street. I thought I’d fall over backward just walking up, let alone driving up, and I broke into a sweat at the thought of possibly having to stop and turn around in a standard transmission car. But the moment I walked through the door, it was clear that this was a professional operation. The sales table!! Awarded clones, blooming size plants, interesting species… cheaper than some of the mutts I bought at the market. Everything labelled, lots of variety, an intoxicating scent in the air from hundreds of cattleyas in bloom. My idea of heaven, if I were a dog I would have wagged my tail inside out. I bought four big plants, one a gorgeous Lc. Cynthia ‘Model’ AM-FCC/AOS, with five blooms that were packed so well they actually made it through the plane ride intact. A nice-sized Lc. Elizabeth Fulton ‘La Tuilerie’ AM/RHS, previously bloomed; a large phragmipedium Schroederae with two new spikes, a mini cymbidium ‘Showgirl’, two big cymbidum back-bulbs with new growths, and some geranium maderense and Strelitzia reginae (bird of paradise) seeds, just for fun. A haul!
The next morning we were due to leave, and Laird… the man who knows me SO well…. suggested that we stop by the place on our way to the airport to take some pictures. I was all over that idea. I raced around, snapping pictures like a drowning person, and here are the results. After all my complaining about unnamed orchids, none of the pictures have names to go with them — there was just no time to write them down.
I also nipped some tropical plants on my wanderings around the island, and brought them home to try to root. Some spider plant, an epiphyllum (from an ancient plant that had a trunk the size of a tree), a pretty white geranium, and the best — a piece of Rick-rack cactus, a rare find and just like the one I have back in T.O. A sign?
There was no problem bringing all this stuff home, except for the awkward bulk of the packages and bags. Gotta love the EU — no border controls, no hassles.
Now my windowsills are full of plants. My next trick: keeping the cattleyas happy. It ain’t quite so warm and humid and sunny here in Munich…