Orchids in Springtime

For a long time now, I’ve had the nickname ‘The Black Thumb’ or “The Black Death” in matters concerning plants. It’s not that I don’t like plants, it’s that plants just DIE for me. I don’t know whether it’s suicide or devoted sacrifice. Either way, it’s expensive and frustrating when you kill even the plants that come with the “you CAN’T kill me!” sticker. Oh yes darling, I CAN kill you. I WILL kill you. And I will be sad when I do, because it is completely against my nature. So, I just stopped getting plants.

Enter the orchids. I’m lucky (or according to my mother, cursed) to work in a place where we bring in lots of orchids in the spring, summer and fall. I’ve seen orchids a few times, but mostly the more boring phaelenopsis. Then we brought in a few cases of Oncidiums and Intergenerics, and I’ve got a new obsession.

At one point, I had over 30 orchids. Some died, due to cold damage sustained in transit from CA. Others died from too much water, or the wrong kind of light. Some simply aren’t thriving, but aren’t dead yet.

Then about two weeks ago, one had a flower spike. Just a little thing. Within the last two weeks, it has grown almost 2 inches! It’s on one of my favorite orchids, ‘Black Witch’, a paphiopedilum, also known as ‘Lady Slipper’ orchids. They are woodland orchids, and so love water while blooming. It gets a cup of water a day. In addition to the flower spike, it has a third leaf-pattern that may become a second blossom later this year. They aren’t the type to develop long spike with dozens of flowers, just one flower almost as big as my hand that will last for at least 4 months. Hopefully, it was the little green Lady Slipper that lived, since I bought three Lady Slippers and one died.

Orchids are frustrating if you don’t understand them. Most plants, you know immediately if they are living or dying. They bloom easily enough, and their happiness can be judged by number/size of blooms. New growth isn’t all that unusual. They can be fragile, but it’s apparent right away if they aren’t happy.

Orchids do all that… Over the span of months. Some of my orchids have had one leaf for six months, with no other activity. Some were happy, and then suddenly dead. Cold kills them. Direct sunlight kills them. Too much water kills them, too little water kills them. They ‘eat’ wood, being parasitic plants, and most will die if left in the soil they are generally sold in. But transplanting them is a wish and a prayer at best. Each variety of orchid needs something different. (I cannot for the life of me keep the big white and purple ones alive, the phaelenopsis. I’ve killed at least ten by now)

But at least ten of my orchids have new growth. One is blooming, although this is just the tip of the blooming season. If I keep them happy, they will bloom all through the year until October or November. I’ve got all sorts and colors in my collection. Fairy-faced pale green or pink and yellow cymbidiums with their huge foliage and spiky leaves. Tiny cattleyas in red and orange (down from the pink, yellow, green and purple ones I had at one point. But cattleyas are cheap) with their two leaves and big flowers. A bunch of oncidium/intergenerics in reds, greens, yellow, pink, purple, orange, brown, all shapes and sizes. A beautiful white Oncidium with a lion’s face speckled with rusty spots, blossoms half the size of my hand or the tiny little thing with red blossoms smaller than a tooth. A vanda orchid that eats from the air around it, trailing its roots through the air until the purple/blue blossoms begin blooming. Two orchids that I don’t remember what their species is. Some smell good, some don’t smell at all. All are parasites that feed on wood and debris.

Maybe they are a little like a good story. You can’t force them to grow really. If you do, they may be spectacular and showy for a little while, but then it takes months to coax them to real health. They don’t respond well to coddling or obsessive care. They need space, air, a little love, and a lot of freedom.

If they get just the right things, the rewards are ten times that of other flowers, because it was so hard to find that balance. Stories are the same way. You can’t force them without adverse results. A little love goes a long ways. The story has to grow slowly, mature, build a network of roots and have a strong support. If it gets everything it wants, it will bloom and last longer than any show-piece flower.

Orchids are admired by everyone that sees them, although very few people have the patience to grow them. Stories are the fodder of every person from the poorest child to the richest king, and the gods themselves. But few people have the patience to grow them, to let them mature.

They don’t realize that every second is its own story. Everything we do adds another facet to that piece. Over time, each of us has the most unique tale to tell, the most beautiful flowers to display.

It all just requires patience, freedom, and a little love.

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