BOOK BEAT Naples Sun Times November 22-28, 2006
by Philip K. Jason
How does a guy raised in Chicago who sold glass and mirrors to building contactors become a world renowned expert on orchids and other flowering plants? As it happens, a gift from a friend and an unfilled niche in the book marketplace started Jack Kramer on his long journey. Now, after a half-century of growing orchids and almost as many years of writing about flowers, Kramer has added one more item to his garden of literary and photographic creativity. With 100 Orchids for Florida, from Pineapple Press, he has fashioned a simple and beautiful “how-to” book at an affordable price for the Florida gardener.
Kramer’s journey began many decades ago when a friend brought him an orchid as a gift. The fascinated recipient became interested in learning about and growing orchids, but a trip to a major Chicago bookstore turned up nothing. Before long, Kramer began to satisfy his curiosity through first hand experience and research. Growing Orchids at Your Windows, first published in 1963, set an irreversible process in motion. Jack Kramer just couldn’t stop writing about orchids, garden design, fruits and vegetables, terrariums, cacti, bromeliads, hanging plants – you name it.
By the mid-1970s, Kramer had relocated to the Napa area in Northern California. Here, he became a one-man book writing industry, often publishing five books in a year. He contracted with photographers, artists, and editors to help him prepare his books. But he always wrote from first-hand experience. Jack Kramer is as proud of being a “dirt gardener” as much as he is of being a prolific and successful author.
By the mid-1980s, Kramer decided to slow down. In 1985, he purchased a place in Naples in 1985 with a friend, and in 1987 Kramer made the Napa to Naples move. He thought he was going to retire, but he thought wrong. A good many of his best-known books appeared after he became a Neapolitan. One of his first activities upon moving to Naples was organizing a lecture series on orchids for the Naples Beach Hotel. This series, for which Kramer gathered a team of orchid glitterati, ended up having an eight-year run.
Kramer’s celebrity as a gardening expert – and his many, many books – brought him appearances on the “Today Show,” “Good Morning America” and “Donohue,” as well as local television shows.
In order to learn about orchids and other flowers, Jack Kramer became a book collector. In the process of collecting books and prints, his love of flowers became supplemented by a love of botanic art, giving him a whole new subject to write about. He spent several years researching the major botanical illustrators of the nineteenth century before publishing his immensely successful Women of Flowers (1996), a book that celebrates Victorian women’s floral art and is based on Kramer’s own collection. (Male artists were not slouches in this field, but the narrower focus brought the book down to a manageable size).
Kramer organized a touring art exhibit based on his book. It was launched at the Chicago Botanic Garden in 1998 and over the years appeared in ten other major cities. Right now, Neapolitans can see what might be its last appearance at the Naples Botanical Garden. On December 1, Kramer will sign books from 1-2pm and present a lecture from 2-3pm on “Women of Flowers.” Reservations are required: members $15, nonmembers $25. Call 643-7275. This is also a great opportunity to purchase several of Kramer’s books, including the new 100 Orchids for Florida. By the way, even Mr. Kramer is not sure if this is book number 130, 131, or some higher number. He insists it is his last, but I hear that he’s made such a claim after the publication of several other books.
100 Orchids for Florida is a succinct guide to orchid-growing in this state. Kramer selected the orchids to be discussed because of their ease of cultivation and their suitability to the sub-tropical climate. The book begins with a very accessible treatment of orchid types, their structure, and how they grow. Next comes a detailed “how-to” section for the home gardener. Following this general information comes the heart of the book – Kramer’s commentary on the orchids themselves, categorized and alphabetically arranged. Additionally, the book contains a question and answer section, a glossary, a list of reliable suppliers, and quick reference chart that outlines the basic information. 117 striking color photos, most of them by Kramer, make the modest price of this book a great value. And that’s the idea. This is not a coffee table production, but a softbound handbook to be put to use. Jack Kramer would love to see all of us growing orchids.
Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy. A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at email@example.com.