Robb and I keep our eyes open for estate sales. They're a wonderful place to buy older housewares, the sort of things that make people declare "They don't make 'em like that anymore." We prefer to buy well-made used goods, because it's a good choice environmentally, and because we're both the kind of weirdos who prefer old things to new.
I've also come to realize that the estate sales around here often sell massive cymbidium orchids. This variety of orchid is well suited to our climate, and can take an awful lot of neglect. What we often see at estate sales are the gardens of people who may not have had as much energy to care for their plants as they once had. It's rather sad. People get older, and they can't keep up with the gardens which they clearly once loved.
I can't remember a time when I wasn't nursing a plant that someone else had neglected. I have a soft spot in my heart for unloved plants. Today, I brought home four large orchids, all of which had long ago outgrown their pots.
Orchids grow directionally. Each of these plants were dead in the middle of their pots, with all their live growth hanging over the edges of their containers. Ferocious jungle cat Smog made a nest on top of the dead plant matter.
Can you see how how this plant is sending out roots, along the edges of the pot? Can you see that the pot itself has literally burst apart?
I sat down in the grass today and set about cutting the pot away from this plant's overgrown roots.
And then I stopped short, because I realized that this orchid had a hitch-hiker. Nestled inside the roots of this plant was a tiny tiny salamander. "Great," I thought, "if I don't do something quickly, the chickens are going to eat this little dude for lunch."
I ran inside, and grabbed a canning jar and a plate. Without touching the little fellow, I coaxed it into my container. I dashed back inside, showed him to Robb, took some terrible photographs, and then released him in the soggiest spot in our front yard, well out of reach of our marauding hens.
Moments later, I found his little brother. The first salamander probably measured two inches from snout to tail, and the second one (pictured above) was only about an inch-and-a-half. I was terrified of damaging him, and was particularly worried about his tiny toes.
There wasn't one speck of potting material left in this orchid's pot. I'm amazed the salamanders could fit in either. Every bit of space was taken up by the tangle of roots.
After some online consultation, and a phone conversation with my orchid pal George, I hacked the whole mass apart with a bow-saw. No salamanders were hurt in the splitting of this plant.
That huge plant is now occupying the two pots on the right of this photo. When my other overgrown orchids finish blooming, I'll re-pot them as well. However, I doubt I'll discover any more delightful stowaways.