I knew a guy named Tom, once, who lived with a progressive friend. Tom put a shapely tree trunk in his bedroom that fit perfectly from floor to ceiling. He also converted part of the back deck into an orchid room. Some orchid connoisseurs go to great lengths to provide optimum humidity and other climatic particulars, and Tom was one of them. We lived in north Florida at the time. I was impressed with his collection; though they were the first living orchids I’d ever seen (outside of decapitated corsages) so I was no expert, there were a lot of them on many shelves, of different colors, foliages, growth habits. He impressed upon me what great lengths one had to go to to keep them thriving; he assured me it was difficult. He knew the scientific names and cultivars of all of them. It was greek to me. He was smart, and cute; I think he found me wanting. I was cautious and constrained, and thought him too short; he moved on. I’m grateful, though, that he introduced me to orchids.
It took decades before I got my first orchid, but after that I collected one a month during a difficult year, and gained a reputation as an orchid whisperer. Since then, all of ‘my’ new orchids are rescued or rehomed. When Connie, who had even more orchids than I, moved away she gave me her collection of ten or so. They’re mostly still alive and blooming, along with most of my originals or spawn of from 15 years ago, and a few more gifts and adoptions. It turns out, they’re not that difficult at all, at least the most common grocery-store variety of genus Phalaenopsis. I’m grateful for all the orchids that have come my way, for the beauty and the lessons they’ve brought. (Caveat: I’m sure there are good ecological reasons not to support the orchid ‘industry.’)
I confess, I haven’t learned the genera of all the orchids I have. I did know more of them at one time, but have forgotten for lack of use. They all seem to do just as well in my dry house in western Colorado as any of Tom’s did, or any of the other orchid collector’s I’ve met, who sold them for a nursery, and had a good-size greenhouse in her suburban DC backyard. Her collection was suffering some fungal plague or other pestilence, and looked over-crowded and overly humid. I simply watch for what they need: if their leaves grow very dark green, they might want less light; if they get pale, they need more. Don’t let them dry out completely, feed them now and then, clip off bloom stalks a third of the way back. Keep them in a saucer, water with tepid from the top, mist them when I can or rinse leaves under a soft stream or spray of tepid tapwater; repot them now and then.
Most of them get indirect southern exposure most of the year; I rotate a few blooming ones out of the sunroom into the kitchen or living room just so I can enjoy their flowers. When they fade I trade them back into the sunroom; all year long there are usually at least two or three in bloom, and it seems to keep them all happy. The Phalaenopsis I call Cynthia has bloomed non-stop for more than three years since she gave it to me to babysit for awhile. I am grateful for this orchid, and for the one called Fred which he gave me on my birthday a couple years ago, and for the one called Jere from which I’ve shared several offspring; for Shawn (because that was the name on the pot when Connie gave it to me), which I just divided for the first time last month, and for all the Connies including a couple of exotic varieties; and for the two newest Christys, who are still acclimating in the east windowsill and haven’t settled on a spot yet. And for all the others.
My very first orchid, Lava Glow, still grows though reduced to a core of just a few new leaves. Others have been divided and shared through the years. I count at this time – I just counted, to be sure, and have more than I thought, twenty-three orchids, of which six are in bloom and several more budding. I am grateful that there are always orchid flowers in my house. I’m grateful for moderation in orchids as in all things, grateful to be able to nurture a few beautiful creatures in exchange for their contribution to this house, grateful to be alive in the same world with orchids.