On a cold Saturday afternoon, we have stopped for a drink at a lakefront restaurant, so we can watch the ice fisherman as we sip our martinis. My friend Cheryl: “What about those orchids you left in the car?” Me, shrugging: “Yeah. I’m a bit concerned.” The bartender and cocktail waitress are looking at us, wide-eyed and kind of dismayed. “You have kids in the car?” one blurts. (We were able to clear it up before the police came.)
Orchids may as well be children for all the worry and fuss that surround their maintenance. I have just dipped my toe into the world of orchid growing, with the purchase of three: a dendrobium, a phalaenopsis, and a cattleya. Two were bought yesterday at the annual orchid show at the Botanical Gardens; one a couple weeks before at Home Depot. I also have an orchid wheel, which, when properly manipulated, will help me solve all my orchid problems.
We saw a few outstanding orchid displays at the show. And by that I mean those that were not cluttered with tiny frogs and little stone signs saying “Welcome to my garden.” (Seriously: you have gorgeous orchids; why bother with the tchotchkes?) This is a show that invites local gardeners to create displays of their best orchids. Then, in the back greenhouses, they have some area vendors, doing very brisk business—everyone I saw leaving the joint had a bag of orchid plants clutched in their fist. What will happen to all these plants? If Cheryl’s experience is indication, maybe half of these people will kill their orchids before the year is out.
And that’s the thing. Except for maybe the durable phalaenopsis, which puts up with our dry, dim Northeastern home conditions rather well, most orchids are … difficult. One exhibitor (the best: he had several amazing slipper varieties, some pictured here) looked grave when I mentioned I had just purchased a dendrobium nobile. “You know that needs a chilling period; you have to let it go dry … did you talk to your vendor? Did they give you a care sheet?” “Um, no. I have an orchid wheel, though.”
Every orchid expert I have talked to is a guy. But the reason I’m getting into them is my late mother-in-law; she loved them and always assured me I’d have no problem keeping a few alive. We’ll see. According to my wheel, here’s what might happen: petal blight, leaf spot, shriveled leaves, no flowers, yellow leaves (I’m very familiar with that one), dry black patches (ew), soft rotting areas (lovely!) and, er, lack of vigor.
But I know many Rant readers have orchids and do very well with them; I may be calling on you to share your wisdom!
P.S.: The chocolate-scented oncidium Sharry Baby DOES smell like chocolate.