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When I left to return to Colombia after my visit, Kit and Ben agreed that when the seeds of 'Longwood' (a hybrid of Victoria) matured, they would arrange to get them to my elder son Alessandro when he was next in Miami. This hybrid is more resistant to lower water temperatures, a very important factor to consider since I'm at 1,650 m above sea level.
The seeds were picked up by Alessandro in Miami on March 16th 2001. I never remember dates but this date is engraved in my memory because on that very same day I was abducted and began an ecological journey that would last five and a half months. One of my sisters suggested at this time that the seeds should be thrown away since "the family had more pressing things to consider." However, Alessandro, who has no knowledge of plants (the love of plants is an attribute of more mature persons) but is very good at making decisions, said: "My Father will be very happy to see this seed has sprouted when he returns." Then Hilda and Crisanto, my gardeners, placed the seeds in a Ziploc bag inside a fish tank with no heater. The next time Alessandro came out to "Tegualda" he surmised correctly that since this plant came from the Amazon it should be exposed to more sunlight and so he had the fish tank moved to an open terrace.
During my ecological journey I never saw a single water plant, even though I did see many Araceaes, of the genus Anthurium, huge fern trees, colorful Bromeliads and many species of orchids. At each camp I had a garden full of orchids and Bromeliads (in one I had more than sixty plants). The guerrillas learned about the plants and on many occasions came to see me with an AK47 assault rifle in one hand and a beautiful blooming orchid in the other.
When at last I returned to Tegualda the neighboring campesinos received me with white flags and fireworks like those used by narcos who have made it (they say they have been "crowned,") and a big banner with a huge Cattleya that said: "Welcome back, Maestro Angulo." When my gardeners showed me the Victoria, it was still alive but looked stunted and very puny, and my only advice was to give it more heat and inject some fertilizer.
Victoria started to grow so fast that it was soon too big for the fish tank, so we placed it in an old-fashioned claw-foot bathtub we had bought from an antiques shop in Medellín, that we moved onto the terrace and filled with warm water. And there in its 30 cm pot, it began blooming. Just imagine! In a bathtub! I had three suitable ponds but dared not put the Victoria in any of them since the water in the bathtub had a temperature of 30º Celsius while at that time it never went above 18º C. in the ponds. But when the Victoria outgrew the bathtub again I summoned up my courage and made a sort of canvas stretcher and moved it out of the bathtub to a pond, where we planted it directly in the muddy soil, that managed to maintain a temperature of about 22ºC, the minimum temperature it needed to thrive. And there she remains, now more than two and a half years old, flowering once every week.
The flower is big and very beautiful, but only lasts a couple of nights: the first night the flower is white with light touches of pink and a strong pineapple scent. The next day the flower remains open but closes its petals in the afternoon only to open again as it grows dark, its colour changing to a deep magenta, until it finally withers away quietly the next morning.
And that is how I was able to grow, first in a bathtub, later
in an open pond, the one and only Victoria that has been
raised so far in Colombia, outside of a botanical garden -and
brought to maturity without the use of artificial heating and
in temperatures that dipped as low as 10ºC.
Translated by Juli Carbonell and D.H. Weinglass
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