July 6, 2006
Worth Co. -- A lot of people believe paradise exist a long way from where they live, perhaps in the heavens or in a special part of the world. But you could say that paradise is close-by, and a South Georgia man makes sure it runs beautifully.
Visiting paradise for some people can be as easy as opening a door close to home. "I enjoy being connected with nature," says Tony Bailey, as he opens a door to one of his greenhouses.
More than two hundred fifty orchids live inside and maintain his connection. "I don't think I've ever seen an ugly one," says Tony. He likes one in particular. "The one that's in bloom is my favorite," says Tony, especially one with a ghostly image. "It appears to be floating in mid-air," says Tony, of the white bloom that seems to appear out of nowhere.
Orchid lovers would know it as Ghost, discovered in 1844 and lives in swamps of extreme south Florida and Cuba. "Probably one of the most difficult plants to grow in a greenhouse environment," says Tony, who purposely placed it at the front of the greenhouse where there isn't very much air movement, to simulate a swamp environment.
It thrives under Tony's care, as all of the other orchids have for a long time. "I started growing orchards in 1999," says Tony remembering when he bought two plants for $39 each at a home improvement store. "I thought they would die," he says with a laugh.
But they didn't. He has the original plants, and branched out from there. Most people think of an orchid as very delicate, where people should look but don't touch, a common misconception. "They are very tough blooms," says Tony.
His butterfly orchid looks particularly vulnerable. "Cause they are lacy, but if you touch them, they are almost leathery to touch, rubbery almost," says Tony as he seems to pet the bloom like petting an animal.
He finds the orchids communicate with him, not a far fetched idea as it might sound. "They let me know what their needs are," says Tony. A plant needs his help. A leaf fails to unroll, and Tony knows a problem lurks inside.
Sure enough a disease attacked, but Tony will kill it, and the orchid will live. "Definitely," says Tony. Some of his plants get rather sickly, and need intensive care. So, he uses a plastic bag as a hospital. "To give the plant time enough to develop a healthy root system," says Tony.
The hospital in a bag can work miracles. In Tony's paradise an orchid plant or two is always blooming even though most of them bloom during winter. Tony says our cooler weather reminds them of spring. Not only do the orchards look good, they taste rather sweet.
One type produces drops of honey dew that tastes like real honey. For Tony Bailey, paradise is not an imaginary or mythical place, but a sweet place where his orchids are. He keeps detailed records and some of his orchids bloom on the same day every year.