Painting and Decorating Made Easier!

William (not real name) served as general manager of the Contemporary Hotel within Walt Disney World in Florida. He and his wife grew hybrid orchids (orchidaceae). Periodically, they hung some, with special hooks, from the limbs of the only shade tree in their back yard.

From my mother’s Cracker House two doors down the street, I’d gaze at the couple’s beautiful orchids. Each flower so thin and delicate, like fine parchment. Its petals painted in graduated hues of pastel blues, purples, pinks, yellows, crèmes, whites. Some petals edged in a sharply-contrasted primary or secondary color, such as cranberry red.

I learned how orchids, like so many floral genus, are to be admired and displayed. Some look best as a hanging plant. Any of the tall, long stemmed genus make an impressive presentation in a tall, fluted crystal vase. The fuller clustered variety looks elegant in a wrist or shoulder corsage.

 William and I spoke little to each other between 1995 and 1998. We said or waved “hello” on the mornings that we left for work at the same time. From time to time, he asked for product advice related to painting specific exterior or interior areas of his home.

One thing was clear to each of us about the other: Respectively, we loved our work, and were very good at it.

Our mutual love of nature was apparent, too. Our shared interest in horticulture was referred to periodically. Our knowledge of ornithology – particularly, orchidology – was not. And, we never mentioned that orchids grew in each of our family trees.

I did know that the father of William’s wife lived on the East coast, and that he was recognized for his hybrid orchids. Breeding and cross-breeding them. Clearly, William’s wife possessed a keen understanding of the plant species. Its sensitive nature, its intricate relationship with the soil, and its precise requirements for planting, propagating, growing, and harvesting.

My exposure to orchids had been minimal. A sister, mother, aunts, grandmothers, etc. had only worn them. In corsages. For school proms, commencements, weddings, and anniversaries. No one in my immediate family had grown orchids. Or so I thought.

Credit: reichenbachiasmall.jpg.

ENTER: Heinrich Gottlieb Ludwig Reichenbach (1783-1879) and Heinrich Gustav Reichenbach (1823-1889). Over ten years after William and his wife sold their starter home, and moved the family onto a property with plenty of growing room.

Heinrich Gottlieb was a botanist, eminent ornithologist and orchid specialist. The author and illustrator of over fifteen botanical works, he had three orchids named after him.

Heinrich Gustav was an ornithologist, botanist and orchidologist, who specialized in the pollen of orchids. The world’s leading authority on orchids, he identified specimens from around the world, and recorded them in his “copious notes and drawings.”

By the genealogical “complacency” of my youth, I missed the opportunity to show William and his wife copies of the Reichenbach ornithology and orchidology works in my grandfather’s library. I missed the opportunity, at a later date, to present them with one of those books. As a special gift.

For certain, William and his family would have enjoyed reading and referring to Heinrich Gottlieb and Henrich Gustav’s notes. They would have enjoyed every opportunity to examine the many detailed drawings of the plants. They would have appreciated owning even a small part of that rare collection of ornithology works.

Postscript: It should be noted that Heinrich Gustav Reichenbach became the center of immense conflict. According to the terms of his peculiar will, Reichenbach’s entire herbarium was bequeathed to Vienna, vs. Kew, to be locked away for twenty-five years.not Kew. If Vienna did not abide by the request, the costly collection would pass on to Harvard, or finally to the Jardin des Pantes.

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