Fragrant, colorful plants thrive in care of Santa Fe grower
Laurie Skov grew up on the outskirts of Chicago and rural Indiana. He obtained a master of science degree in chemistry, but always had a keen interest in the natural world. So much so, that in the early 1970s he spent two years teaching science in the Peace Corps in Western Samoa, where he lived in the jungle and became familiar with different kinds of plant life, especially orchids. They became a passionate hobby.
After retiring in 1999 from Amoco in Texas City, Skov was able to devote more time to studying and raising orchids; he started his Orchids & Tropicals business in 2001. Today, he surrounds himself with these lovely epiphytes on his 3.5 acres in Santa Fe he shares with wife and business partner, Sheila.
Skov’s expert knowledge of orchids is just as impressive as the thousands of extraordinary plants that occupy his property — a secluded haven with tall, massive bamboo, three green houses, swimming pool, enormous oaks, everglade palms and a grove of pecan trees. Five macaws add to the tropical atmosphere.
Inside the couple’s home, more than 100 trophies are on display representing the many awards Laurie has won for his prized orchids.
Known for their beauty, color and aromatic fragrance, orchids can sometimes be rather stinky, such as the Bulbophyllum. But his favorite is the Stanhopea, with its showy blooms and sweet and spicy scent.
“There are about 20,000 species of orchids and the number of hybrids is 10 times that, and new species are still being found in the wild,” he said.
The colors of orchids run the gambit — blue, yellow, orange, scarlet, coral and bright fuchsia. Some growers even use dye to get the hues they want, but not Skov, who calls himself a purist and chooses not to fool Mother Nature.
A gongora orchid hangs on the patio, with an array of lemon yellow blooms that are eye-catching and odorous. Lady of the Night, with white flowers that only release their scent in the evening to attract nocturnal moth pollinators, and a blue vanda are nearby.
The largest greenhouse covered with shade cloth is exploding with orchids, hanging from the rafters, sitting on the ground or mere pods waiting to mature. The biggest orchid here is a Grammatophyllum, or “tiger orchid,” which is covered with yellow blooms sporting red specks; it has long octopus branches and can reach heights of 15 feet.
An Ascocentrum of the vanda family is hard to miss because of its brilliant coral blooms. Yellow mokara orchids resemble the shape of a starfish and produce more than 10 flowers per stem. Cattleya, or corsage orchids, also evident. The oldest man-made hybrid, Miss Joaquin, resembles a pencil cactus with pink flowers.
Skov has even hybridized a personal orchid of his own with vibrant red blooms he named “Sexy Sheila” after his wife.
Skov in Danish means “forest,” so very appropriate for this grower of orchids who lives in his very own private jungle.
Facts and tips on orchids
• Indoor and outdoor orchids require different modes of care; easiest inside orchid is the Phalaenopsis; easiest outside, Dendrobium.
• Light, temperature, water, humidity, fertilizer and potting methods all vary.
• Orchids can be grown on cork, tree fern, tree branch, hardware cloth; in pebbles, gravel, charcoal or orchid mix, which is available at garden centers.
• Start with one or two plants of the same species, understand their requirements and take it slow. Don’t buy five or six different orchids that require slightly different care plans.
• Orchids are season oriented, some only bloom at certain times of the year.
• The most aromatic species is the Stanhopea.
• Orchids grow on every continent except Antarctica.
• Specialty orchids offered by Skov: Stanhopea, Vanda, Cattleya, Dendrobium and Catasetum