The cups of winter

Those would be cymbidium orchids (Gk. kumbē ‘cup’), which have long-lasting blooms during the cool (but not cold), wet, and short days of winter here on the San Francisco Bay. John Rickford — author of the moving 2022 memoir Speaking my Soul: Race, Life and Language — has been Facebook-posting  fabulous pictures of the cymbidiums flourishing in Angela Rickford’s front garden, so I’ve been moved to post another of my reports on the orchids in my little front garden.

The somber summary is that of 14 pots of orchids, only three have so far managed to produce blooming plants, and only three other plants are in bud (and might or might not make it to blossomhood). Of the six, none are clones of our original cymbidium, the Jacques Transue birthday (1/22/42) plant:


The immediate backstory. From my 1/28/22 posting “Squirrel vs. Cymbidium”:

… it appears to be a knockout victory for Squirrel every time. A report on two recent bouts — from mid-December (involving the yellow cymbidium that is the first to bloom in my little garden, in the late fall) and from [1/27] (involving a cymbidium that’s the palest of pinks, so that in most lights it looks plain white).

Cymbidium background. Cymbidium orchids — there are lots of species, and a host of hybrids and cultivars — are genuine winter plants. In my garden, the first flower shoots typically appear in early October, the first blossoms around Halloween. New plants come into bloom throughout the winter and spring, and the last flower shoots die back by early in June, in the dry heat of summer.

For me, the cymbidiums are Jacques plants. I gave my husband-equivalent the first one — a plant he had openly admired at a local florist’s — as a birthday present in 1987 [photo above]. He would have been 80 on his birthday this year… More cymbidiums came every year, and then I got new ones just because they were beautiful and they reminded me of J, who died in 2003.

… back in December, the squirrels [decapitated] the very first cymbidium to send up a stalk of buds [which would have turned into light yellow flowers]. They lopped off the top half one day, and then the rest of it two days later. And either ate or carried off the remains, because I never saw any.

Then on 1/27, while I was off going to the bathroom, the young squirrels decapitated the first cymbidium to actually manage to bloom, but on my return I was able to retrieve the stem before the squirrels could carry it off; I treated it as a cut flower indoors:


Three survivors so far. Their state on 2/19 (photos by Kim Darnell):

(#2) Overview: the buds on the left have now opened into more pale pink flowers

(#3) Pink up close

(#4) Yellow up close

There might, or might not, be three more.

Last March. For comparison, four photos (also by Kim Darnell) from last year, 3/20/21:

(#5) Palest of yellows

(#6) Greenish yellow

(#7) Apricot (towards the end of its days)

(#8) Lots of pink!

Of the other flowers on my patio, only a flourishing pot of wild strawberries, a hydrangea that just manages to put out leaves but never gets to flower, and a few geraniums (that is, pelargoniums) have survived droughts and devastation by rats and squirrels.

The roof rats were there all along; the squirrels came with the bird feeders that were installed to give me some companionship in my years of isolation. The original four squirrels have passed on, and now I have a huge circus of acrobatic and combative youngsters outside my window. Very entertaining — and I still get a nice variety of birds — but not what we’d originally bargained for. Life brings surprises.


2 Responses to “The cups of winter”

  1. Mark Mandel Says:

    Could you possibly get screens or some other form of protection for your beautiful and nostalgic plants?

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Sadly, I don’t think so. At least not if I want to be able to see their flowers and also to have the birds visit me. With the bird feeders inevitably come the squirrels, and in the small compass of my patio there’s no way to keep the squirrels from marauding the plants, if they want to. (Any screening that would keep the squirrels away from them would also keep me from seeing the flowers.) Currently, I get at least a few flowers, so there’s something out there. Sigh.

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