Frances Susanne Brown
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Orchid Love

I’m not sure when my obsession with orchids became, well, an obsession. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I have a problem. But the rest of the world may not agree.

It started about ten years ago when we lived in Florida, where orchids thrive indoors or out, and are plentiful and inexpensive. I bought two white phalaenopsis orchids in full bloom. They are touted to be the easiest kind of orchid to grow and maintain. It only took me a month to kill one, about three months to kill the other.

Now let me clarify the definition of “kill.” Most people believe that once the blooms dry up and fall off, and the spike itself turns into a stiff, brown stick, the orchid is dead. So very NOT true. Orchids can bloom several times a year under the right conditions, but during their resting stage, they are boring-looking, thick-limbed, hatless gnomes. Patience, less frequent waterings and feedings, and time are all that’s needed for the plant to throw up another spike toward the heavens and bloom again. Mine, sadly, were really DEAD-dead. The thick green leaves shriveled up. On one plant, they turned into nubby, brown shards. On the other, they paled to yellow and actually fell off.

I mourned my second orchid fatality, but the tragedy spurred a kind of challenge for me. I WOULD learn how to care for an orchid, and not kill another one. Enter orchid number three.

My third phalaenopsis traveled with us from Florida to Texas to North Carolina to Massachusetts over a period of four years. It didn’t bloom after losing those initial flowers, but the leaves remained green and reasonably healthy looking. Once we were settled in our permanent home in New England, I repotted the thick-limbed gnome, fed it, and talked really nice to it.

The spike went up in late February, developing three buds in a very short time. They got bigger, and bigger, and then…poof! I woke up one late March morning to a fully-opened white flower as big across as my palm. Two other, slightly smaller blooms followed. The flowers remained so perfect for such a long time, my son teased that he’d glued silk ones onto my previously sad looking orchid. They didn’t wither and fall until early July. Followed, miraculously, by another spike! This one had four, smaller blooms that lingered in radiant beauty until early September.

Which is when, I suppose, the obsession began. While walking through the garden department of our local Home Depot, I encountered a display filled with healthy phalaenopsis of various colors. But straying just beyond this brilliant display, I discovered another half-dozen plants sequestered up against an exterior, concrete block wall. They were wilted, most of their blooms were gone, and their leaves were doing that same shriveling up or turning yellow thing my first specimens had done.

I bought three of the sorriest looking plants for a fraction of their healthy companion’s price, took them home, and nurtured them. But not until after giving the manager of the garden department a piece of my mind, and lodging an email complaint to the corporate office, accusing my local store of “orchid abuse.”

I am happy to report that at this very moment, a year later, the three blooming orchids in my collection are those very same three, half-dead, doomed specimens. Two of them just sent up new, second spikes.

And today I wandered into the same store’s garden department thinking, “Beware: the orchid lady is here.” I was pleased to discover no wilting or unhealthy plants, only a lovely display of phalaenopses (is that the correct plural form?) in full bloom. I chose a yellow and pink variety I do not currently own.

As the checkout girl was struggling to scan the bar code on the bottom of the pot, I warned, “Don’t hurt my blooms!” But alas, one of the flowers succumbed to excess pressure from the clear plastic wrapping. It lay, dismembered, at the plant’s base.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “Let me go get you another plant.”

“NO. I want this one. It’s okay. I’ll take it anyway.”

The look on my face must have told her I was a very, very serious orchid addict. Although I did not ask, she insisted that I accept a 20 percent discount off the minimally damaged plant. And, she was right. I am a very, very serious orchid addict. This latest adoption raises my collection to a total of thirteen.

Oh my, that will never do. Thirteen is bad luck, right? Wait right here – I’ve got to run back to Home Depot and pick up another one.

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