The Golden Cattleya
Having won the greatest war of the 20th century, President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953 ushered in 8 years of calm and stability not seen in the United States for 50 years and, in the process, opened the Golden Age of Cattleya Orchids. First Lady Mamie Eisenhower was the symbol of prosperity and elegance and she loved cattleyas. She was rarely seen in public without her corsage of 2 or 3 cattleya flowers during her husband’s entire two terms.
One of my favorite times of year is early summer, not because the sun is at its brightest then, or because the days stretch lazily into long warm summer evenings, but because this is when my favorite Cattleya species, Cattleya warscewiczii, blooms.
Winter may be a dreary time of the year with its overcast days and long somber nights, but for those who grow Cattleya trianaei, it is a time to enjoy one of nature’s most colorful and captivating flowers.
Baron J. H. W. von Schröder had one of the finest orchid collections in Europe and he loved cattleyas. The largest and grandest greenhouse on his estate near Windsor was built just for cattleyas, and his appetite for fine Cattleya species was insatiable. At The Dell, as he called his estate, he wanted only the best and nothing less would do.
James O’Brien, one of the most famous horticulturists of the late 1800s, was an expert on orchids, particularly the large-flowered Cattleya species. He was secretary to the Royal Horticultural Society’s Orchid Committee, advisor to the editors of The Gardeners’ Chronicle, and frequently assisted the botanist H.G. Reichenbach in his botanical deliberations. When Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, awarded the first Victoria Medal of Honor in Horticulture (VMH), she presented it to James O’Brien.
I cannot imagine Christmas without Cattleya percivaliana. Its aromatic fragrance and deep, rich, purple coloring are as much a part of my holiday as bayberry candles, pine cones and the aroma of fresh-baked mince pie.
A visit to the gardens at Manley Hall was a wonderful experience. Forty-four greenhouses traveled the spectrum of the whole plant kingdom — with winding walks and waterfalls as in a rich tropical valley of ferns, or stepping stones for walkways that connected a wonderland of artificial lakes filled with aquatic plants. Everything luxuriated in palms, cycads, and beautiful-leaved plants, but there was also a greenhouse full of flowering azaleas surrounded by beds of pansies.