As a child growing up in French-speaking Lafayette in southern Louisiana, my very first summer job was cleaning clay orchid pots at Orchid Gardens, the family-run business of one of my best friends. His father and mother were soft-spoken, fascinating to me, scholarly and yet earthy, kind and yet austere. It was a wonderful time for me as a child when I could visit my friend,... AND his parents. Dr John J Lynch had a menagerie of animals that were either in danger of extinction or that he was bringing back to health. I can vaguely remember an Ibis with a broken wing shortly after one of our typical sub-tropical storms. Dr Lynch brought me into his "laboratory", a place I remember vaguely, full of flasks of rare native orchids germinating, books everywhere.. kind of like a Victorian professor's study, because he wanted to tell me about an idea he was developing of hybridizing native Cypripedium parviflorum v. pubescens. It would become a popular avenue for Cypripedium hybridizers more than 3 decades later. I always noted the twinkle in his eye as my mouth dropped open or I would ask questions of other native orchids...
Here: Dr John J Lynch and Mrs Zoe Lynch in the greenhouses. Below - an old picture of the place that enchanted most of my life.
During the summer I "worked" (again here, Mrs Zoe Lynch, I'm sure, had just given me a "job" because she saw that I was utterly smitten with the greenhouses and her collection of unbelievable, other-worldly plants!) I ventured into an area of one of the greenhouses where the old wire-mesh and wooden benches had rotted and fallen to the ground, but the orchids had simply used them as supports, creating a tropical jungle of foliage and flowers. As I worked my way through thick foliage and plants, something huge and spidery brushed my face and icy chills ran down my spine and made my heart stop! But what I saw would change my life.. a strange, airy, rosey-white spider-like flower looked like it was floating in mid air, dancing up and down on a very long, slender stem that disappeared behind some of the more dense vegetation.... a Laelia anceps. I was both stunned and smitten. I dreamt about that experience numerous times, pondering whether I should move to a tropical climate! That never happened, but, now, some 45 years later....
(above: Laelia anceps (picture rights by www.kammlott.net) showing the long, graceful and wiry inflorescences)
I am still under the enchantment of that moment and have realized some of my dreams to have these orchid forms but in my temperate garden!
In the late 1980's, while living in Switzerland on a farm in the Highlands of Zurich, I came across a German magazine which had featured an article on the Baroness Von Zepplin and her large collection of Hemerocallis (daylilies) in southern Germany. I explained to my wife that it would only be a couple of hours day-trip from our home and we made plans and visited her. I came home with 20 different cultivars!
A little while afterwards I joined the GSS, (Gesellschaft Schweizerischen Staudenfreunde), the Swiss Hardy Plant Society, and registered my still-growing collection of cultivars, accompanied with a letter describing a new group I'd found out about in America which was trying to preserve "older" forms of cultivars called Spiders, Exotics and Crispatas. Shortly thereafter I was asked to join the executive board of the Swiss Hardy Plant Society as founder of "Fachgruppen" (Speciality Groups), with Hemerocallis being my own field of focus.
The group in America that I had discovered was headed by Rosemary Whitacre, and around this same time that I wrote her and asked about her endeavours in the direction of the smallest group/category of those her group had been codifying, i.e. the Spatulates. I made a few watercolour sketches of what I had hoped to achieve in breeding this particular form (always with the genus Laelia / Cattelya in mind).
drawing by Marc King for the American Hemerocallis Society's Judges Handbook
Rosemary responded with a 10-page hand-written letter, analysing the direction and the possibilities of achieving them. She recommended two cultivars to start off: GOLLIWOG by the family Wilds, and the then just introduced ASTERISK by Dr Lambert. I had the fortune to find a piece of ASTERISK in the garden of Clarence Crochet in Prairieville, Louisiana, and once these two had flowered in our garden in Switzerland, my path was set. From these first crosses I obtained: DANCING SUMMERBIRD, FAIRY SUMMERBIRD, LEMONCELLO, MOONLIT SUMMERBIRD and LEMON STARFISH. The name, SUMMERBIRD, I took from the dialect of the highlands of Zurich "Summrvögeli" for butterfly; Rosemary Whitacre had called my forms "the Butterfly Forms"...
DANCING SUMMERBIRD (GOLLIWOG X ASTERISK) Marc King-Lamone 1997. DOR, EM-ML, Frag, Spat Unusual Form, BC:8-12, BR: top cluster, NOCT.