Shelburne Falls, like many of Massachusetts’ hill towns, has a starkness about it in early spring. The surrounding hills may still carry a dusting of snow, the trees have yet to leaf out, and the town’s famed Bridge of Flowers lies dormant. But this artsy former mill town is home to a secret, almost florid jungle of nearly 500 orchids created by one passionate gardener in the converted barn she calls home.
Her name is Kathy Parker, but her partner, Daniel Lieberman, affectionately called her “Crazy Madame Lan,” a name she embraces enough to create an online forum, crazyorchidlady.com, an international fan club orchid planted Share photos and information. Orchid Without her main job being a language pathologist-but they are her therapies, the antidote sorrow when she feels her outdoor garden go to bed.
“I hated the end of the year,” says Puckett, who makes her home on a former dairy farm in Shelburne Center. “And then I found orchids. The fun is that they bloom in opposite seasons.”
Kathy grew up in New Jersey, where she learned to get her hands dirty in the small family garden her parents kept. In Shelburne Falls, where she moved in in the early 1980s, Puckett reclaimed the property’s main flowerbed. Out went the thorny plants and small bushes; in came more colorful creations like beardless irises, some 250 varieties of daylilies, and heucheras with bronze and lime leaves.
Until 2005, Parker tried her first orchid, oranges Ascocenda. When Patrick consulted with experienced orchid growers about her choice, they told her she would pick the hardest variety to grow.
“It needed to be watered daily,” Puckett recalls. “One day I was showing a client’s mother my orchid in the window of my office and told her I would sadly kill it because I was going on a trip for 5 days and it wouldn’t get watered. Then we noticed a flower spike starting to grow on it. We both stared in silence at the ‘pregnant’ orchid. The client said, ‘Show me how to water it and I’ll come every day.’ And so it lived and thus started my obsession.”
Other varieties are: orchids, orchids, Dendrobium. Today, Parker’s home is as hospitable as the New England Orchid flourishes. She installed a reverse osmosis system to filter out salts from her well water, better simulating rainwater. She also reproduces the breeze around the jungle fans.
“You’re trying to reproduce the conditions they’re used to in the wild,” says Puckett, who grows 80 different varieties. “You have to think about light, humidity, temperature, and watering practices.”
Puckett used to devote a lot of time to painting, but now she focuses on photography and on her plants.
“Everything I do,” Puckett says, “I do as an artist.” The proof is in her creations. Below is a selection of her favorite orchids.