Orchids. They are hard to resist when we walk into one of those big box garden and hardware stores. They are perfect and stunning in full bloom. The most common that most of us see are from the family Phalaenopsis (fal-en-op-sis). Ana wanted one, and despite misgivings that it wouldn’t last, and knowing full well that orchids are moody, I relented. But then we got it home the poet in me thought it just seemed so lonely. A few weeks later I went and picked up Phalaenopsis numero two.
Within a month the flowers fell away. Though I didn’t have a great deal of hope they’d ever come back, I wasn’t giving up that easily. Strange as it may sound, plants in the house sort of become family. When a plant dies, I’m affected by that loss. We have a giant Rosemary bush that comes in every winter. When I take a bit for cooking, I am in the habit of thanking the plant. So I was not about to give up my now barren orchids.
They’e closing in on on their second birthday, my two orchids. And no, I do not have names for them, but I do have a rather unique way of nurturing them. The boys, as I call them, much to my wife’s quiet amusement, are in full bloom again. Each bloom lasts the better part of a couple of months before falling away. There are a few months between blooms.
In truth, the plants themselves are pretty hardy little critters. Found on almost every continent, in every sort of climate, Orchidaceae sport about 25,000 variations. They’ve been around for better than 120 million years, through ice ages, cataclysmic climactic changes-though none as precipitously fast as the current one-meteor impacts and the demise of the dinosaurs. They can survive alot of abuse, but not much in the way of neglect.
Certainly the success we’ve had has a great deal to do with their physical environment. Their box gets a warm and filtered southern light all day long through heavy wooden blinds. Our house is pretty dry, though the orchid’s proximity to some humidity when we run the shower, and being near a heater keeps it comfortable for the plants. During the day the room stays between 65°- 75°F (18°- 24°C), and a bit lower at night. The soil is the loose bits of wood the Orchids prefer, with just a bit of dirt, maybe a 10/90% mix, soil to orchid mix. The soil is covered with very loose bit of dried moss. The box is 24 inches long and about 8 inches deep. We keep the plants at either end of the box, so that they have the maximum amount of room for roots. They recieve two cups of water spread over a week, or about a cup every three to four days. I never have excess water in the base.
So those are the basics, but I’ve heard from a number of friends that despite doing all of that they still have little or no success with orchids. But plants are living things and are affected by their environment, not the least of which is the person who cares for them. This was quite apparent to me during the war, in which the plants and trees closest to the fighting, near refugee camps and other terrible places appeared unhealthy and deeply affected by the tragedy, sounds and tension around them. I have long contended that plants and animals, while perhaps not possessing the sort of emotions we understand for people, that they move along a scale of rising and falling tension.
Somewhere early on I began stroking the leaves of the orchids and greeting them each morning, or each time I watered them. I’d like to believe they were responding to my soothing voice and caring words. Maybe that’s true, but maybe it was the tone and its positive energy. The stroking? In the wild they’re brushed against by other plants, animals, which likely is a natural way of dealing with some parasites that might settle for a feast on those fat and beautiful leaves. I’m recreating that, I suppose, with that gentle touch.
I all comes down to this single concept: love. Definitely plants, like a house pet don’t understand love in human terms. My cats understand, after reaffirming this pattern again and again, that when I use the word love it is always accompanied by a treat, a touch or something else pleasurable for them. I’d like to think that concept of pleasure, and the communication of harmony and peace is somewhere kept in our common DNA. Anyways, it seems to be working. Two weeks ago the boys bloomed. There are new shoots and new leaves appearing, so we’ll see…
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