Tough Love For Orchids

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By Dagmar Fors Karppi

It takes a strong man to put orchids in their place, whether it’s in the garden, in the home or the basement greenhouse. Master Gardener Bob Guzzardo is that man. A dentist, Guzzardo spent his lunch hour at Bailey Arboretum with members of the Locust Valley Garden Club on April 8, sharing his daring do. He held up a pot-bound orchid, stripped it of the circling root system, shook out the bark it was clinging to, and pulled at the long skinny roots, saying, “Sometimes the sheath comes off revealing the roots. The roots want air. They die in dirt because they get no air.”

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Master Gardener Bob Guzzardo talked about processing bark, on which orchids grow. Add dish detergent to break up the surface tension so it soaks up water. Follow the directions on the bag.

Guzzardo took the rest of the leaves with small roots dangling down and wrapped soldering wire around them to stabilize them before placing them in a pot.

“Leave them overnight before re-potting them,” he said. “They need to be stabilized because they are top heavy and will tip over.”

He prefers clay pots to plastic, especially when he goes to his collection for a weekly watering. It is a three-step process timed by the minutes it takes to get the next plant to nourish. First, he waters the plant thoroughly, leaves it, returns to put in plant food, leaves, returns and the third time around he waters the plant a second time to get rid of any excess plant food. It is a labor of love.

One of the members asked how he got started with orchids. Guzzardo said early in their marriage, 37 years ago, he gave his wife the gift of an orchid a month. He complained to her, “They look dead. You don’t take care of them.” He said she responded with: “If you’re so smart, you take care of them,” adding, “She does roses.”

Both Guzzardo and his wife are currently caring for the rose garden at Clark Botanic Garden in Albertson, which has its 46th annual plant sale on May 8 and 9.

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LVGC President Janet Doctors with Master Gardener Bob Guzzardo and Vice President Sallie McNeill Rynd.

He had some advice to those seeing lovely orchids for sale at the local plant stores and supermarkets—to think of them as cut flowers. He said to keep them in the bathroom where they will be very happy and think of them as just cut flowers that stay in bloom for three to six months.

When the flowers die, if they don’t bloom again, he said, “Give them to a friend. There is a chance that they will bloom again.”

Demonstrating that hope, he showed one he had won a prize with three years ago because it put out so many branches of blooms. “It thought it was ready to die and made more seeds to maintain the species,” he explained.

Still, he is nurturing it in hopes that in due time it will bloom again, saying, “Orchids are very forgiving.”

Guzzardo recommended the book Orchids for Dummies as a great way to learn the needed skills to grow the blooms. He gets them from all around the world. From Germany he gets a terrestrial orchid, one that grows in soil. Many of his orchids come from Hawaii, from Carmela’s Orchids for about $10 each, that are flown in by mail order and come wrapped in sphagnum moss to save weight and need to be re-potted.

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Kassie Miller standing by a display of Asian art items she used to decorate the room for the luncheon.

Guzzardo stayed for lunch and enjoyed the camaraderie of the garden club members. Josephine Bliss and Kassurlie Miller were in change of the decorations and food for the afternoon. The tables had large glass vases with green wine bottles inside that Miller collected and put labels on using the club logo. Bliss ran the labels off on her computer. They put delicate bamboo shoots from Bliss’s garden and grasses from Miller’s garden to fill the bottles and decorate the rooms.
The Asian-based luncheon was prepared mostly by Bliss. Club member Yvette Menezes made a mango mousse that everyone raved about.

The club donates to the Grenville Baker Boys & Girls Club, runs a garden therapy program at Jones Manor, decorates the Locust Valley and Bayville Libraries for the holidays and support activities of the Federated Garden Clubs on NYS and more.

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