Gardening, and Life, Unforced

I failed, again. The orchids died during the winter. I just can’t grow them.

Maybe impatience, watching too carefully and an improper setting too close to heating vents doomed the orchids. But that’s okay. Because I’m through with the needless trying, in gardening and other aspects of life.

I’m no longer envious when I see others in the flow, doing something so easily. Well, maybe a little. But I don’t need to try to duplicate the ease of others now.

Because I have my own zone. My garden, for instance, is distinct, unique to me. The blooms fit my personality. Like the old-fashioned, predictable zinnia, which in my garden is anything but.

Aunt Re had her African violets, which were perfect, not a spot on them. In fact, you had to stare a moment to make sure they were real.

She was a sweet woman, a worrier. The violets must have liked being made over. She kept them in a room with a big sliding glass door covered by drapes she would pull open and closed throughout the day, carefully calibrating the light just so.

She never had the children she wanted, and lavishly loved her nieces and nephews, making us feel special. We all responded in kind. Most of us, to this day, when asked about our favorite relative, will answer, “Aunt Re.”

Then, there’s the baking. For years, I’ve made a little southern butter cookie called brown-eyed Susans. They have a chocolate splash on top with a sliver of almond. I’ve given out the recipe, but no one makes it the way I do. That and pecan bar squares, which a friend in Tennessee told me how to make and people often request it now.

Once, a woman I knew who was an excellent cook insisted I was giving out those recipes with altered ingredients on purpose, so others would fail. Which was ridiculous. I’m happy to share and even offered to hold a “baking class” to try to find out what these cooks were doing to make the cookies hard.

With all baking, for instance, I follow the specified time broadly, but I watch and check too. Sometimes the items just need to come out of the oven sooner and that can’t be predicted.

I know when something is done by looking at it, touching it, sometimes. Plants are the same way, the ones I grow just feel right to me, they look right. So the orchids are the last ones in my wasted effort category.

Like relationships with the people we care for, I don’t force them or try too hard now. There are so many beautiful blooms out there, so much love. And I am safe in the knowledge that somehow, like these surprising Hymenocallis bulbs, they will find me.


Published in: on June 8, 2010 at 7:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Orchid Surgeon

I dreaded it, the trip to the surgeon. This was oral surgery, routine, they said. But this was my son going under the knife and it was new to us, to him. And even though he is growing fast and towering over me, he is my baby, still. And always will be.

So I pretended to be brave and walked us in with brisk authority, into the shiny new building and nice but initially non-descript waiting room. My heart was pounding too hard. I kept dropping things.

Then I saw the orchids. Not just one or two but many of them, lining the sills of the very long bank of windows. Windows that stretched the entire length of the very long office.

What in the world? I actually thought that.

I filled out the paperwork for the “routine” procedure for an impacted permanent tooth being remedied by what I frankly considered to be a medieval sounding solution. Even then I was already being distracted by those orchids.

As we waited, I watched the door to the surgery suites. Because the truth is I was looking to see whether there were more orchids back there. And there were!

“They belong to one of the surgeons,” said the employee at the front desk. My son’s surgeon by any chance? Yes. He had kept those orchids for years. He had bought some, others were gifts.

At that point, I relaxed.

The doctor had an easy manner and the procedure went perfectly. I did not watch. But the surgeon attached chains to my son’s braces and wrapped them around his recalcitrant upper tooth after making an incision. And then those chains started doing the work of dragging the tooth down into its proper place.

Of course I had to ask about the orchids. The surgeon tried to claim he had no real secret to why they were so beautiful and kept reblooming. He gave credit to the filtered light of his office windows. He also said he made sure the plants were not watered too much. And they receive a bit of orchid fertilizer too. But other than that, he said, keeping the orchids was no big deal.

But I knew better. Because the moment I knew he was responsible for those beautiful orchids flowing down the entire side of that office I relaxed, completely. I knew my precious child would be fine. That he was in the skilled hands of a man who also had taken exquisite care of long rows of the fragile orchid. Orchids that rewarded him, and every person who walked into that room, with surprise riches — bloom after bloom after bloom.

Published in: on February 25, 2010 at 3:18 am  Comments (4)  
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Hothouse Flowers, Waiting

I’m waiting for seeds to come in for the winter sowing I was just told about by some very helpful gardeners who have taken on my needy hothouse spirit as a salvage project.

But in the meantime, I found orchids. Orchids! Inexpensive ones languishing on a sale rack at Lowes.

These potted plants did not look good. But they were cheap, $8 and $7. I didn’t have time to be rummaging through this rack due to the long list of errands bedeviling me now that the holidays are bearing down. But the orchids were calling to me. They might as well have been cute little kittens or puppies meowing or yipping behind wire pens, their certain death looming without my intervention.

I reasoned that if I picked up a flower that flourishes in the hot air of the tropics, then I might do more than just make it through the winter too.

So I combed through the inventory. I picked two that looked the healthiest. I checked them thoroughly, not just the blooms, but along the entire stems. The two I selected had strong, healthy stems and leaves. Good roots snaking up out of the pots. That’s because most orchids grown indoors are really air plants, I read, and grow up high in the crevice of trees.

I picked up some Special Orchid Mix for potting by Better-Gro. And some Orchid Plus food. I got the plants home and repotted them in the new mix, which seemed to be bits of bark, really. The instructions cautioned that orchids like to sit up high, with roots peeking up out of the mix. I also repotted another orchid I had gotten on sale at the start of the cold weather. Then I fertilized all three.

The lot of them perked up immediately.

This is the little one. I almost didn’t see it hidden back behind the bigger orchids. I love this one!

And the bigger purple and white spotted orchid. I love this one too!

This one I got some weeks ago at Whole Foods. It had gotten cold, early in the fall, and I was not happy. The white has a special place in my heart now.

The orchids are especially important to me because we had our first big snow of the winter starting last night. This is next to bed where my flowers were just two months ago:

So the orchids are holding me steady. They are placeholders for other blooms that aren’t here right now. Those flowers are alive, though, in my mind’s eye, in my heart, waiting to be brought to life again. With seeds my new friends told me I can start through winter sowing soon. Then there will be vibrant color billowing in the warm wind and luminous sun again in a few short months. Just a few months to bring me back to this again:

Published in: on December 19, 2009 at 10:13 pm  Comments (2)  
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