It is easy to get distracted by the wide array of programming and lectures on the grounds and take the variety of gardens and foliage for granted. For Melinda Wolcott, who has seen the gardens’ transformation over time, they’re hard to ignore.
Wolcott and her close friend Chris Flanders, master gardener and lifelong Chautauqua County resident, share their expertise and years of gardening knowledge with a community Wolcott said is clearly passionate about the matter.
“Even though they have a full program at the Institution daily, (people) still have found time for their gardens,” Wolcott said. “They’re always willing to come out and learn a bit more.”
Wolcott and Flanders will host their second Garden Workshop of the season at 4:15 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1, in Smith Wilkes Hall, sponsored by the Bird, Tree & Garden Club. Described by the BTG as its own version of NPR’s “Click and Clack,” Wolcott and Flanders’ workshop this week will focus on orchids and how to get the most of these widely popular flowers.
The workshop, “Not Your Mother’s Orchids,” will cover everything from repotting and when to do so, to problems and troubleshooting what to avoid.
“It’s just some very basics with orchids for when you buy them at the grocery store, et. cetera,” Wolcott said. “What you need to do to keep them alive, get them to re-bloom and how to grow them successfully.”
The weekly workshops feature hands-on gardening of some sort, with a different topic being the focus every time. Wolcott said orchids were chosen for this workshop because they’ve become so common and they can be low-effort, high-reward if cared for properly.
“They’re very fashionable right now and they make a very nice houseplant, even in the winter in the Northeast,” Wolcott said. “It’s sort of a niche topic, and there’s so many great orchids out there.”
Even though people often buy orchids on an impulse, Wolcott said it’s important not to think about them as disposable, but rather think about keeping them around.
“One thing is you have to buy an orchid in bloom,” Wolcott said. “If it’s not blooming, don’t buy it. There’s something wrong with that plant if it’s not blooming when they put it out to buy.”
Working with Flanders, Wolcott said they have the most fun before they even get down to Smith Wilkes Hall on plant-finding expeditions and preparations. Wolcott said it can be funny walking into a nursery and asking for the worst plants they have.
“We walked in a nursery and said, ‘We don’t want good orchids; we want the ones that have stopped blooming or something happened to,’ ” Wolcott said.
With a relationship going back to their days in college, the duo has developed a great rapport.
“Chris and I always have fun,” Wolcott said. “We go into each other’s gardens and we say, ‘Oh, you need something there, or I’ve got something you could use here.’ It’s good trade-off, good fun.”
Wolcott said the work the Institution and BTG have put into developing the gardens and planting around the grounds has been phenomenal. Wolcott said she can always tell the gardeners who garden back home when they leave at the end of the season by the questions and enthusiasm they express. Wolcott said Chautauquans are always hungry for more.
“They had it, they want some more,” Wolcott said. “It’s quite gratifying when you’re sharing your knowledge with someone who wants to learn more.”