One of the highlights of that summer was a field trip staff members took to a private garden near Long Prairie, about an hour away. The owner was a brilliant, creative old bachelor who had built a mind-blowing property. It contained an island in a modest river that held dozens of different alpine and tundra plants, many of which were propagated from seeds and cuttings he had collected. Back on the mainland, he guided us between several conifers and revealed the first lady’s slipper I had ever witnessed. It was a thrill, because despite the extensive amount of time I spent in the forests of MN, I never encountered our official state flower. We asked how he propagated it, and he confessed he didn’t. A few grew wild on his property, and on many occasions he failed to germinate their seeds, despite employing various techniques. One year he finally discovered how the seeds germinated – deer would walk around the base of the parent plant, plunging the seeds that had fallen into the soil to a particular depth. There the seeds found the ideal conditions in which to grow. I still marvel at this revelation. It illustrates the intricacy that is sometimes associated with rare plants, and how privileged humans are to become aware of such beautiful interactions in nature.
1995 brought me another new chapter in life, for it was the year I moved to Oregon. Fresh from my immersion in flora and gardening, I began earnestly studying the wild flowers of the Pacific Northwest. And I was thrilled by the occasions when I encountered native orchids: rattlesnake plantain, striped and spotted coral root, phantom orchid, twayblade, lady’s slippers, and fairyslipper! I went to the same trail in the Columbia Gorge each March to try and find as many fairyslippers as possible.
Orchids have blessed my professional life as well. I was prompted to write this article because a fantastic orchid, Cypripedium calceolus, I planted in the Garden 4-5 years ago had its inaugural floral display this spring. Although the literature states the species is not particularly difficult to grow, its appearance would suggest otherwise. It is absolutely magnificent.