Shortly after he passed away in April, an orchid that Kirkland Nixon had been nurturing in a bottle burst into bloom.
His wife Melba has taken over care of that orchid, a purple and white dendrobium, and the many, many others inside his greenhouses.
“My husband would have been very proud to see his last experiment in full bloom. It hurts that he didn’t,” said Ms. Nixon. “Just before he died, I asked him what he wanted me to do with the bottle with the long spike coming out of it; he told me leave it alone. It bloomed just after he died.”
Mr. Nixon, Cayman’s longest serving fire chief who passed away on April 30 after a short illness, had been growing orchids since the 1980s. Mrs. Nixon gave him his first orchid and it was “love at first sight” for him, she said.
“I was visiting Jamaica about 30 years ago … we were both plant lovers and I wanted to bring back a new plant species for the garden. I found a dark purple orchid in a nursery and brought it back home,” she recalled.
“He was crazy about it and immediately went outside and placed it in a pot. His passion for orchids just grew from there.”
Soon, he was traveling to Jamaica to bring back new species and germinate seeds. As a result of his travels to Jamaica, Claude Hamilton of Hamlyn Orchids in Kingston, Jamaica, named the Phalaenopsis orchid in his honor.
“Once you get hooked on orchids, unfortunately, it’s like a disease,” Mrs. Nixon recalled her husband saying.
Mr. Nixon’s devotion to orchids during his lifetime inspired him to cultivate thousands of the flowers at his home in Spotts Newlands.
“Kirkie left all these for me,” said Ms. Nixon making her way through one greenhouse packed with orchids. “This is his collection. Personally, I prefer the white ones; he loved the pretty ones. He was passionate about the pleurothallis caymanensis, an orchid native to Cayman and Cuba.”
“Somewhere I read there are more than 52,000 different types of orchids,” Ms. Nixon said. Many of those varieties are in the greenhouses by her home, which holds thousands of the flowers.
Vying for attention, blooming orchids crowd the two greenhouses. A top shelf is lined with beautiful pink, red, yellow and purple Vanda orchids thriving in the bright, filtered sunlight. One section holds blooms as big as roses cascading from a ceiling-high perch, while another area is home to tiny ones Mr. Nixon would have picked up with a tweezer. Hundreds of orchid pots and plant hangers also cling to trees and fences outside the Nixon home.
The collection consists of orchids Mr. Nixon gathered from throughout Jamaica, Cayman, Honduras and Cayman Brac.
“Look at this, isn’t that pretty,’ said Ms. Nixon touching a beautiful cattleya orchid. “Kirkie loved the dendrobiums but I love the Vandas.”
Mr. Nixon left his wife with many tips about growing and caring for orchids. “People think orchids have to grow in a huge pot, but most of them can grow on things like coconut husks, pieces of boards or old wood or on the bark of trees,” she said.
For example, to get rid of white scales, insects and other unwanted pests, Mr. Nixon told her to wash with dog shampoo or use Dipel DF biodegradable insecticide.
Orchids are a beautiful, allergy-friendly choice for brightening up your home, but this pretty plant can be difficult to keep. They have a fine line when it comes to moisture – soaking them takes time and space, and the best way to kill an orchid is to overwater it. Ms. Nixon was quite specific about watering the flowers.
“Kirkie learnt quickly how to take care of his orchids, I don’t think he killed too many,” she said. “He didn’t like me to put the orchids on the ground for fear of insects and he didn’t invite many people in the greenhouse because people can easily give orchids diseases.”
“Kirkie considered caring for an orchid as that of raising a child, giving it lots of attention, care and love while watching them blossom into adulthood,” she said.
“It’s hard to put a price to something that my husband worked on so hard. I might not have paid as much attention as I should have, but I do know enough to keep the orchids growing. The orchids replace his love,” she added.
Mr. Nixon received a distinction for his orchids from the Cayman Orchid Society. He also assisted with the development of the Queen Elizabeth Botanic Park Orchid Boardwalk. The visitors’ center at the botanic park was renamed in his honor in 2013.