Jan 17, 2011

The Poor Orphan Child(ren)

The words to an old Carter Family song have been running through my head of late. Many of the garden blogs I follow have had recent posts about house plants -- that being the only thing green going on in most northern gardens. Much eloquence and obvious horticultural skill is displayed in many of these blogs, and many have gorgeous photos of, currently, happily blooming orphans, I mean orchids.

Well, in my house they are truly orphans, which is why the Carter Family song springs to mind, slightly modified to fit the (botanical) circumstances:

I hear a low faint voice that says
'My caretaker seems dead'
And it comes from the poor orchid child
That must be clothed and fed

I love my orchids, I really do. And I have the very best of intentions to coddle and spoil them as they so richly deserve. But alas: my choice of indoor plants has increased in difficulty (and cost) in inverse proportion to my level of consistency and commitment as the decades have passed.

In the first youthful days of my gardening passion, I cooed and petted each tiny sprout and shoot and proudly dragged each passerby out to admire my latest efforts.

This must have been my first pot of forced bulbs. Notice the attractive 'curtain' (an old wool blanket inherited from my grandmother) behind me and the hideous sofa/daybed (our sole piece of furniture besides a piano). We were living in our first nonrental home, a 50 foot-long pink trailer (the term 'mobile home' was a bit grand for it), parked on a hillside in the middle of a clearcut redwood forest...... but that's another story.

About 5 years ago I fell in love with orchids and decided I was old enough, responsible enough and knowledgeable enough to deal with what I perceived as inevitable failure. Orchids were 'difficult' 'demanding' and probably, 'impossible'. But after becoming acquainted with terrestrial orchids through my work with flower essences, and after learning that there are a lot of hardy orchids that -- gasp --- grow out in our very own forests and bogs -- I decided, hey, they can't ALL be overly sensitive prima donnas.

Well, to cut to the chase here, I found that no, they aren't all fussy, they aren't all demanding, and they bloom for a really, really long time. BUT! I don't really have the winter light to produce blooms on the more tender kinds, ie I have lights, but they are in my cool sunporch and I'm not going to spend lots of money heating it for the oncidiums, cattleyas and other tender, complex hybrids.

The heroes of my orchid clan are phaelonopsis (moth orchids)

and paphiopedilums (lady slippers).
They are as bullet-proof as orchids get in a cool house/sunporch. That being said, I am totally intimidated by the whole drama of repotting and tend to let my plants go for years and years without repotting. Also, I totally lose interest in anything other than the outside garden from March through November, thus consigning my orchids to pretty much pure neglect.

The result of this bad bad, unplantsmanlike behavior is that I lose a few of the toughies every year to neglect. I lose almost all the finicky ones to neglect plus unoptimal conditions. And I buy a few new ones every winter whenever I come across a good deal at the grocery store or nursery, a 'good deal' being under $20.

Orchids are amazingly cheap considered as extremely long-lasting 'cut flowers'. And considered this way I can rationalize buying a few new ones every year while the old ones either dwindle away or tough it out. And I am always pleased when they do rebloom.

But this is a new year! It's time for gardening resolutions! Inspired by Kate of the High Altitude Gardening blog, I am going to soak my orchids for 30" every Sunday. Yes, I am. Well, just this once on Monday instead. I have brought in a plastic tub and they are in there right now. Aren't they excited? And if I never do it again, at least they had Paris. Just this once.

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