Lightning Orchids

My dad called these Lightning Orchids, which I've discovered is not correct, the plant is Dendrobium Crumanatum and the common name for them is Pigeon Orchids. He said that they flowered after a lightning storm and he's not completely wrong about that. This orchid forms buds after there is a temperature drop, usually due to a thunderstorm. Nine days later long necklaces of white flowers with a yellow throat bloom gregariously with members of this species in its vicinity. The blooms are fragrant, particularly in the morning and last only a day.

This ephemeral quality perfectly suits where these orchids reside, on the branches of the durian trees in the orchard. Its an area that is not 'gardened' I cut the grass once a month but otherwise leave it mostly alone and enjoy the occasional surprise of these orchids which literally lights up the trees with these strings of white flowers. Apart from the durian flowers, these are the only other flowers here.

They are a relatively common wild orchid, you see them in a lot of trees but due to this ephemeral, weather specific behavior, unless you are actually in regular contact with them- you might miss these little shows that they put on. They also really want to stay wild - I've tried having them on wooden branches hung in the porch and they never flower and generally look ill at ease. So their ideal situation is what exists in the orchard a colony growing on the branches of a small grove of untended trees, protected but with a lot of light.

Its been an extraordinarily cool and wet monsoon this year which is unusual to even say as we really live far south of the monsoon belt and shouldn't really be experiencing such a clear seasonal pattern. But we are and there's been serious flooding throughout the country, particularly on the east coast, a consequence of climate change and deforestation. I have to admit, I've loved the cool mornings and the garden has also loved the daily soak that it gets. We're now back into hot dry weather and it must have been that one heavy shower we had over a week ago that cooled things down and triggered these orchids to put on a show.

The Color Orange

The decision to go for a color palette with warm sunset accents in the Gravel Garden developed along a few lines. One was how well those colors look with the many succulents I have here. Another is how it pairs with all the concrete and gravel mulch and terracota that dominates the hardscape. It also makes sense that it is in the same spectrum as the berries of the Ficus Deltoides and also the ripe Citrus when it fruits. Finally, this garden's best moment is at the end of the day when the sun is just about to set providing a lovely glow to the space which reminded me of how the cottage garden at Sissinghurst full of coppery sunset colors comes alive at that time. The challenge has been to find the tropical version of this.

I've had little success though getting this color scheme in flower form in the dry slope bed as the intense sun exposure has literally fried everything I tried there. Moss Roses, Portulacea when I had them there looked gorgeous and seemed to be the perfect way to get chunks of these warm colors but they were too short lived and required too much attention in a space that's hard to access and full of spiky thorny plants. So the color is to be found only in the berries and citrus fruit and the occasional flower spike from the Aloes.

My success in getting these colors into this space has been in the potted plants on the other side which gets a little respite from the hot sun. It's still somewhat dry and hot there and potted plants need to fulfil the condition of being pretty drought tolerant as I don't want to have to water them unless its particularly dry. As things have matured though some of the taller potted plants are providing oasis conditions for others and this is where Chrysothemis Pulchella pictured left fits in. This is one of those plants I purchased and put in to the dry slope bed that came to a sorry end. Recently though I pinched a cutting from a friend's garden and stuck it in a pot enjoying a shady nook in the shadow of a large planter. It sprang to life and is now two pots. The flowers are not only orange but include shades between yellow and red which look spectacular set against its dark bronze leaves.

Against the back wall of the space that has a short concrete wall and then bamboo fencing behind it is another semi protected enclave where my potted Golden Gardenia is thriving. This is a plant that I'm not at all certain about identifying having first made its acquaintence as Gardenia Carinata but then subsequently discovered there are other similar ones called Gardenia Tubifera and perhaps Gardenia Lamingtonia or Gardenia Ghellerupii. I'll update this once I get a proper handle on it. In any case it produces a spectacular show of blooms on a regular basis with a knockout fragrance. The blooms start out pale yellow, which is when they are most fragrant and then darken to an orange that has a gorgeous burnt quality.


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