Miniature Greenhouses - Wardian Cases

By Thomas Fryd

Can orchids be raised in the average home? Yes, if one wants to grow them badly enough and will be content with those which will thrive and bloom under home conditions.

There are a number of lovely types which reward those who care enough about orchids to study and meet their chief needs: light, water, nutrition, humidity and temperature. Here in the United States, most orchids are aliens in a strange and climatically hostile land, but they respond gratefully to efforts to make them feel at home.

Beyond question, orchids grow best in greenhouses. This fact has barred many people from enjoying this fascinating hobby, since they may have neither the means nor the space for a greenhouse. What can be done then? Some success can be had by placing orchid plants in sunny windows and staging them over trays of moist gravel. Though much success has been claimed for this method, I have found results over a period of two or three years most disappointing both in lack of blooms and in a gradual deterioration of most plants. However, the majority of plants can be placed in sunny windows over gravel trays during their blooming period where they can be enjoyed by neighbors as well.

Without a doubt, greenhouse culture gives best results. Since few can have large greenhouses, the answer is to construct little greenhouses - or Wardian cases (forerunner to the modern terrarium) - which can be placed in suitable windows, facing preferably south or east. The plural is used advisedly because once bitten by the orchid bug, no one is ever satisfied with one Wardian case, provided more than one suitable window is available.

These cases are not expensive if they are homemade. They can be built as simply or as elaborately as individual taste dictates. I have six of different shapes and sizes, all built of windows purchased from a hardware store. The general idea is to make a rectangular box with a hinged door and a hinged top which help to regulate ventilation and humidity.

These can come is all sizes and shapes, but just considera wardian case being a big aquarium.

What orchids can the be raised to best advantage in Wardian cases? Here is where opinions differ. Everybody wants the big, showy, gorgeous cattleyas, the aristocrats of the orchid world. However, it is best to stop and think for a moment. Cattleyas are large plants that take up much of the limited space in a Wardian case. That is one difficulty. Furthermore they need more light for blooming than is available in the average home. Then again, for good blooming, they need lower night temperatures than prevail in the average home. If one must have cattleyas, start with very few and see how you fare. The species orchid, Cattleya mossiae, the Easter orchid, is a good one to try. It is forgiving, rewarding and has lovely blossoms. I have had success with the miniature Cattleya forbesi. It is modest in shape.

There are mature hybrids which respond to case culture, but they are expensive and should not be experimented with until this form of culture is mastered. For those who hope some day to construct greenhouses and want to begin building up a collection, cattleya seedlings, which can be purchased at modest prices from any orchid dealer, will grow well in Wardian cases.

One of the loveliest and easiest to raise in Wardian cases is the moth orchid, indoor orchid, or phalaenopsis. It is a superb bloomer if given moderate light, warmth, plenty of water and high humidity. The white ones are best as they produce often two if not three sets of blooms a year. The pinks are very beautiful, but are not so prolific.

Next to phalaenopsis, I recommend cypripediums, or lady slipper orchids, especially the warm growing ones which are readily recognized by their mottled leaves. At the head of the list I place my favorite, Cypripedium maudiae, for it generally blooms twice a year and makes itself readily at home in a Wardian case. It is somewhat expensive, but a healthy plant is worth it.

Another family of orchids which supplies some members responding to Wardian case culture is the oncidiums, or the dancing lady orchids. These are sprightly and fascinating spray orchids. Many types are too large and others put out spikes too long for case culture. However, the family is a large one and many types can be experimented with, producing fair results. - 29857

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