Showy orchids attract crowds to Kanapaha

Charlie Chapmen, left, of Chapman's Orchids, talks to Denise Hartzog, of Newberry, about watering and fertilizing during the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens Fall Plant Sale in Gainesville on Sunday.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Su
Published: Sunday, October 14, 2012 at 8:53 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 14, 2012 at 8:53 p.m.

An estimated 3,000 people filtered through lush displays, winding exhibits and a variety of booths at the Fall Plant Festival and Orchid Show in the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens.

The festival, held Saturday and Sunday, boasted 45 vendors this year, the highest turnout ever, and offered free admission for all 62 acres of the gardens.

The best specimens from the Gainesville, Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Volusia County Orchid Societies were displayed in two rooms for the show.

Eye-catching colors paired with exotic shapes, creating a garden of color and texture irresistible to the eyes.

One plant's subtle pink petals framed a protruding yellow tongue. A velvety pink and purple flower perched lightly nearby. The deep royal purple of another was nearly unreal, exuding serenity in its stillness.

But not all the orchids displayed the delicate blooms of a stereotypical specimen. Bulbs the color of unripe bananas bunched around the base of one plant. A spiral-shaped tapered bulb looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss book with coarse, brown hairs protruding from its sides.

“There is a mystery about them,” said show co-chair Candace “Candy” Hollinger, a member of the Gainesville Orchid Society. “The diversity of flowers is just amazing and how they have all been able to adapt to some really adverse conditions.”

Hollinger said holding the judged orchid show at the festival is a beneficial addition for everyone.

“It's really a good symbiosis we have with Kanapaha Botanical Gardens because plant people are plant people, so people who come to see the orchids love to see the other plants and vice versa,” Hollinger said.

This year's orchid show was extraordinarily beautiful because of recent rains, Hollinger said.

“Everybody has talked about how good the growth has been this year,” she said. Alexis Caffrey, director of the gardens, said rain is always welcome at the gardens.

The 62 acres of gardens are irrigated with manual valves. When there is no rain, it takes around 20 hours a week to water the gardens by hand.

“We love it when it rains here, so this has been a great year, because we are in a serious drought and even with all the rain we have been getting, the water table is still low,” Caffrey said.

Little rain is predicted this week, with a 20 percent chance forecast for Monday and again Friday. Humidity should continue to decrease, along with temperatures, throughout the week. Highs will range from the 80s and lows will dip into the 50s starting Tuesday.

Nursery owner and environmental consultant Pete Wallace attended the orchid festival Sunday afternoon with his 4-year-old grandson.

Wallace said the event specialized at showcasing unique plants. “You get some very specific type of vendors growing very specific stuff here,” Wallace said.

Herb vendor Christy Burns from Bay's End Nursery based out of Tampa Bay said the festival had a much more relaxed atmosphere than the garden's Spring Festival.

She said the festival had more “plant people” than other festivals. Plant people tend to be warm, friendly and down-to-earth, she said.

“We've got a lot of good plant people today who seem to know and have an idea of what they are looking for and what they are trying to accomplish this time of year,” Burns said.

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