Thursday, January 13, 2011

Orchids at La Motte

Aside from making some really great wines, including a firm favourite Sauvignon Blanc, La Motte has several flower-growing initiatives (and an impressive and picturesque lavender field for essential oil). They are most proud of their Disa growing, and if you ask nicely at the tasting room, the horticulturalist at La Motte (Neels van der Linde) will take you on a tour of their facilities.We managed to get on one of these tours whilst staying in Franschhoek recently.

We went through two different growing areas, one under shadecloth with a suspended misting/watering system, and another higher-tech polytunnel greenhouse.

Neels went through the history of La Motte's acquisition of a large Disa collection from Prof. Cywes, which was in serious danger of being repatriated to Japan, highlights of their natural history in the veldt and pollination and hybridisation.

The number of plants there is quite staggering, yet with the flowering period coming to an end Neels apologised for how "empty" the growing houses were!

Neels said that other than the odd fungal problem (which seems to be an inevitable hurdle in Disa culture) they had found culturing these "notoriously difficult" plants fairly easy - but modestly noted that if it were that easy then surely the horticulturists in the Netherlands would have got it by now - so they must be doing something right!

I asked Neels if it was OK to take a few pictures; I didn't know if they would be sensitive to potential "commercial espionage" (aquaculture facilities often go nuts if you pull out a camera!), but he was more than happy to have me wander around in the greenhouse snapping away.

The more sophisticated polytunnel greenhouse was quite amazing (and would cost several million rand to install, apparently); they have build a series of watertight benches which are occasionally flooded with water about half way up the pot from a ~500l tank below each the benches. Overhead, there are large blowers connected to polythene tubes with air holes along them, supplying fresh air, and of course, a large ventilation fan and wet wall to keep things cool, along with overhead misters. Neels pointed out that fungi are often water-borne, so this method of cultivation is not without risks; I immediately wondered if plumbing in some sort of UV steriliser or even using ozone to sterilise the reservoir water for a couple of hours a day might help... But compared to algae, fungal spores are pretty resistant.

Disas like to keep their roots cold and damp, so that system will certainly help - and it allows them to not sit around in water all the time, which is no doubt good for them. I stumbled across a website in America where someone improvised something vaguely similar for his Disas using a chest freezer to keep the water cool!

South Africa's most beautiful indigenous flower next to some Disas.
Disas. Many, Many Disas! Note the irrigation pipe for flooding the growing bench.
Yeah, you guessed it - Disas!
At the back there are all the new potential Disa crosses, neatly labelled with the mother plant's details, along with what was used to pollinate them.

On our way out of the farm, we bought 4 Disas from the shop at La Motte, robustly packaged in thick plastic gift bags, at the reasonable price of R75 each (picture of the last remaining flower to the left). And some extremely delicious baked goods. We've seen La Motte's Disas for sale at Woolworths too, and bought one last year, but the high heat in the car on the way back from PE (and during the shopping) took a toll the plant never really recovered from - and Disa Rot took it out shortly thereafter. :(

La Motte's recommended Disa culture notes are available on their website.