When I was growing up, I believed that the most glamorous corsage any woman could receive was either a huge purple or white Cattleya orchid. My dad believed that too and usually presented both my grandmothers and my mother with either this type of showy bloom or a couple of Cymbidium orchids for most special occasions.
When I lived in College Park, Maryland, I visited Kensington Orchids just off the Beltway outside of Washington, D. C., and bought my first Cattleya orchid plant. When I lived in Belmont, Massachusetts, I was fortunate to belong to the Massachusetts Orchid Society and to get to know Dick Peterson, then editor of the American Orchid Society Bulletin. When I moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, I was one of the founding members of the Charlottesville Orchid Society and served as its first president.
Orchids became a wonderful hobby that I enjoyed for many years. By 1980, I had left these wonderful plants behind along with my first husband and it was not until the past couple of years that I once again began to incorporate orchid growing in my gardening efforts.
Most people think that growing orchids requires a greenhouse and extensive equipment. Fortunately, that’s an erroneous idea. Anyone with a sunny windowsill or a set of grow lights can successfully grow blooming orchids.
The easiest variety is the Phalaenopsis or “moth” orchid. You see these in local garden centers, grocery stores and at plant shows. They are delightful plants because the blooms last many weeks. The buds form on slender fingers that arise from rounded leaves at their base. The reason Phalaenopsis are so easy to grow is that they like the same temperatures that are found in most homes. Now a new way of watering makes growing them even easier. You just lay a few ice cubes once a week on the roots—never in the center of the plant!—and let them melt.
Orchids are epiphytes. Most do not get their nutrients from soil, but from the water and air around them. The bark that holds the plant upright is merely for support. You can buy this bark at local nurseries or plant centers—and the fertilizer that is specific for orchids as well.
Other varieties of orchids that grow easily in a home are Oncidium (many of which are yellow and are called “dancing ladies”), Cymbidium (some of these plants have 30 to 40 palm-sized blooms at a time), Cypripedium or Paphiopedilum (slipper orchids that like cooler temperatures for the most part), and Miltonia (pansy-like orchids).
It is easy to learn about orchids either on the Web or in the hundreds of books written about their culture. The fascinating world of orchids contains an estimated 25,000 species. Vanilla, a flavoring used in most kitchens, is an orchid; Pink and Yellow Lady Slippers, wildflowers found here in Tennessee, are orchids as well.
Some orchids self pollinate but others are pollinated by bees, wasps and other insects, some of which look like the orchid itself.
Don’t be afraid to try growing orchids. They are not only lovely to look at but will give you great pleasure as a gardener when you discover that first blossom that was created under your care.
Just remember: you probably won’t be able to stop with only one plant. Orchids have a way of becoming a pleasure-filled habit!