The San Isidro neighborhood of Buenos Aires is filled with old stone houses, Neo-Gothic churches, cobblestone streets, and lush greenery. Huge magnolia and jacaranda trees live happily next to tropical palms, and climbing roses cover stone walls. It’s a bit grand, a bit rundown, and loaded with South American charm.
This is where my aunt and uncle have raised their family. About 10 years ago, after their three children were grown, Uncle Jorge turned to raising orchids. His garden is a perfect micro-landscape of San Isidro: Orchids grow alongside sweetgum and maple trees, Japanese anemones, and the most glorious gladiolas.
Above: You walk down a driveway to enter my uncle’s garden.
Above: The first thing you’ll notice is the orchids hanging from the trees beside the driveway. These aren’t blooming yet, but they will soon.
Above: At the end of the driveway, you come upon a huge tree covered in more than 30 orchids.
Above: Some of the orchids cling to the branches, some grow on the trunks, and some hang in wooden crates.
Above: While these orchids love humidity and wet climates, they don’t like to sit in pools of water, so proper drainage is very important.
Above: Behind the tree is my uncle’s small greenhouse, filled with even more orchids, many brought home from his travels.
Above: In summer, when it’s hot and there’s little rain, Jorge waters the orchids every day. In fall and winter he waters less often, depending on how much rain there is. (It’s often wet in South America, but rainfall varies.)
Above: Jorge’s orchids are used to being partly covered by the canopy of the rain forest. If I were planting orchids at home, I would research the best varieties for my region. Some orchids found in Africa, for example, do well in dry climates.
Above: Native to Brazil, the Brassavola Tuberculata orchid loves hot and humid savannas. It is an epiphyte, meaning it grows on other plants, getting its nutrients from the air and the debris that falls from the tree it lives on.
Above: Epiphytic orchids cling to a tree trunk. Many of the orchids in Jorge’s garden are epiphytic.
Above: Oncidium orchids, like this one, are native to Argentina and other parts of South America.
Above: This Cattleya orchid is native to Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Mexico. They flourish in the Andes, up to altitudes of 10,000 feet. Cattleyas are epiphytes that can endure temperatures ranging from 50 degrees F to 90 degrees F–in fact, variations in temperature help them grow and bloom.
Above: I love the color of these tiny red orchids.
Above: And though I’m not normally a gladiola fan, I love my uncle’s use of this coral gladiola, reminiscent of the orchids in both shape and color.
Above: This orchid looks similar to the Miltonia Flavescens, said to be native to Peru and found in Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.
Over the years my uncle’s garden has flourished. Gardens will do that.
But don’t say we didn’t warn you: Orchids tend to evoke obsessive behavior (The Orchid That Owned Me).