A few minutes into talking about orchids with Kathleen Cosgrove she’ll have you reaching for a dictionary. Words like hybridize, aseptic and phalaenopsis flow freely as she tries to convince you maintaining an orchid is easy.

“They don’t require a lot of light,” Cosgrove explained at a recent Sunday at the Main Street farmers market where her nursery has sold orchids and ferns for roughly 25 years. “The blooms hold for a long time. The plant will come back and rebloom every year if it’s taken care of properly. It’s not hard.”

Keeping one of Cosgrove orchids alive may be easy; creating one in the first place is difficult. Like most of the specimens you find in grocery stores and flower markets, Cosgrove’s orchids are created by clonal propagation in a laboratory in Encinitas. The scientific technique is the reason the language of orchids is surprisingly technical.

In fact, the cross-pollination of orchids is so complex, Charles Darwin himself published a book about it in 1862: Fertilisation of Orchids. The follow up to ‘On the Origin of Species’ delved deeply into the intricate relationship between plants and the insects that pollinate them.

In contrast, Cosgrove’s process takes place in a sterile petri dish. She started experimenting with the process in the 1970’s. She says the lab process revolutionized orchid growing and is the reason you find the exotic flowers everywhere.

“If you sow in a sterile culture in a laboratory you get a greater germination so we can get thousands of plants, whereas if you tried to sow the seed in nature, you would get maybe three,” Cosgrove said.

Cosgrove says Phalaenopsis, also known as moth orchids, are meant to be grown indoors and will thrive with weekly watering and a balanced fertilizer. In the wild, the orchids grow in shady, humid lowland forests in southeast Asia. If you purchase an orchid from Cosgrove, she will help you every step of the way.

“We use a mix that is pretty bulletproof for our area,” Cosgrove said of her potting soil. She recommends using an equally balanced fertilizer (it should say 10-10-10 on the package) when you water the plant. “Another handy hint is to water thoroughly with clear water first and fertilize as a rinse, that way you’re sure not to burn it because the plant is hydrated and you’re not hitting it with a bunch of salt all at once.”

Cosgrove sells orchids and other plants at the Wednesday Downtown and Sunday Main Street farmers markets. She’s easy to spot because of the massive, hanging Boston ferns that frame her stall.

Santa Monica has four weekly farmers markets including the Wednesday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and Ocean from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Saturday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and 2nd Streets from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the Saturday Virginia Ave. Park market at 2200 Virginia Avenue from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and the Sunday Main Street market at 2640 Main Street from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.


Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press