The Persistent Orchid

Our persistent orchid has bloomed for three months and shows no signs of wilting.

This post pays homage to a special member of our family, a purple spotted white phalaenopsis. Her origins are unknown, but despite under-watering, over-watering, hungry insects, and sporadic care, our persistent orchid has gifted us with speckled white and purple blooms that show no signs of losing their color or perkiness.  This spring she brightens our foyer in a plain clay pot, her speckled blossoms reminding me each day that she is a survivor, an anomaly in her persistent efforts to defy the odds and bloom consistently, persistently each year.  Like her siblings, she is a rescue orchid – either a leftover from our local supermarket, or a recovering victim of my mother’s over watering.

Orchids love regular feeding, a proper pot with growing medium, and filtered lighting. My persistent orchid has all of those, but not always all of them at the same time. For example, during summers she and her siblings live outside under the privet tree or in the shade of the Leland cypress. They feast on fertilizer and enjoy the light filtered by the tree leaves. However, a variety of insects love to find their way to the leathery leaves which, despite my best efforts, by summer’s end look more like lace than orchid leaves.

Ironically, my relationship with orchids has been equally persistent. When I lived in the islands, growing orchids was easy – just attach a plant to a tree trunk, water occasionally, wait until it blooms, and enjoy. Or, stick one in a pot with pieces of tree fern trunk, put in a shady spot, water when dry, and wait until it blooms. Either, way, growing orchids in the tropics is about as easy as growing daffodils in Georgia. Of course, as with daffodils, if one feeds, waters, or prunes, the blossoms are bigger, brighter, and last longer.

When I first moved back to the mainland, I hung my orchids in the shower where they enjoyed multiple daily showers which provided them more than enough moisture to flourish. This worked well until my family complained that the orchid blooms left no room for proper bathing or hair-washing. Reluctantly, I experimented with a variety of indoor solutions, none of which worked as well as hanging them in the shower.

Now, during the winter, my orchids perch on the sides of our garden bathtub underneath a large window with a shade to filter the light. Once inside, new leaves grow and the plants rest during the long winter months. Yet, although the temperature is perfect, the air is dry with no rainfall to nourish their roots. I spray constantly and feed weekly, but without natural rain they are constantly thirsty and prone to drying. Still, they and I persist through the winter and by March at least one sends up a flowering stem.

The blooms scattered along the stem are my reward and a reminder that somewhere in my DNA lives a vestige of my maternal grandmother’s green thumb. A grandmother who left us when I was sixteen, but who somehow continues to live in my aging body. One of my aunts inherited her gift for gardening, and now, apparently, I have inherited that gift. Each spring, when orchid flowers bloom I am reminded that both during and after life, families are inextricably connected.  Life can be tough, but if we are persistent, like the orchid we will bloom.

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