Agri Leader

Elliot loves his orchids and handmade knives

Central Florida's Agri-LeaderThe day Jim Elliott’s wife brought home a dendrobium pierardii orchid from a visit to Palm Beach County, he was hooked. “I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen,” said Elliott. The purple blossoms cascaded downward like a waterfall. Forty years later, Elliott grows the same variety that captured his heart as well as hundreds of others in a greenhouse on his property in Okeechobee County. Elliott gave a tour of his prized plants, several of which won him awards at the seventh annual Orchid Show in Lake Placid two weeks ago. He and fellow orchid enthusiast Bill Ross won first place for their orchid display at the show. Elliott also won best psychopsis butterfly orchid, best intergenic cattleya orchid and blue ribbons for his yellow and purple Rene Marques epicattleya and lavender laeliocattleya aloha.
Six years out of retirement from a career in dairy equipment, Elliott said he used to have a favorite variety, but now he has too many favorites to pick just one. He did get the honor of naming an orchid cross with the permission of the grower who produced it. Elliott aptly named the medium-sized yellow flower with red spots “Bikini.” Elliott grows his orchids in a base of rocks in a moist greenhouse and sells them at the annual Lake Placid orchid show and the town’s Saturday morning flea market. His greenhouse houses approximately 3,000 plants of all sizes bursting with little spurts of bright orange, extravagant soft purple petals, or whimsical white or pink blossoms bouncing on the ends of leggy stems. He claimed that orchids are not difficult to grow, and the biggest mistake people make is over watering them. “The roots want to dry out,” explained Elliott, adding, “If you keep them wet, they'll rot.” Alongside his orchid growing, Elliott is also an accomplished knifemaker. A member of both the Florida Knifemakers’ Association and the international Knifemakers’ Guild, Elliott has enjoyed crafting skinning, hunting and fillet knives, as well as liner lock folding knives for the past 21 years. What makes his knives special are the decorative touches he adds, like pieces of hippo or mastodon ivory, a carved top edge of the blade, and Damascus steel, which incorporates an artistic pattern right in the metal itself. Elliott has a workshop on his property and typically makes one knife a week, mostly for repeat customers, something he said he’s grateful for and takes as a compliment. “When you make them by hand one at a time, each knife is different,” said Elliott. He’s come a long way from the first knife he ever made with metal from a broken citrus saw blade. He pulled the piece out, showing a heavy, professional-looking if not decorative knife that one would hardly believe was made by an amateur. He said he’s a little embarrassed of it now, although he was quite proud at the time. His two sons, Victor and Robert, shared the hobby with him growing up. Elliott produced a second knife made with Damascus steel and ivory inlay with several decorative touches. This one is special, too. It’s the 1000th knife he has crafted. “I enjoy the artistic aspect of it,” he said.