my green vermont

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Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

A hundred years ago, orchids were rare in our latitudes.  Wealthy and obsessive connoisseurs hired explorers to rip them off the dripping jungle trees to which they clung.  In the 50s and 60s, teenage boys would sacrifice a significant amount of their paper route earnings to buy a single, hideously beribonned bloom for their prom date.  But all that changed a few years ago, when someone figured out how to clone orchids.  Now they are everywhere, in supermarkets and superstores, as common as that other winter-blooming staple, the African violet.

You can buy great big orchids, with two-inch blooms soaring atop two-foot stems,  or medium or tiny ones.  I am enamored of my tiny one, which sits on the windowsill above the kitchen sink and has just produced a 3/4\” bloom on a skinny six-inch stem.  The flower is white as snow, and like snow its color varies according to the light, from barely-there lime to delicate mauve.

I thought that if one mini orchid looked good on my windowsill, two, or even three, would look sensational.  But the supermarket where I bought it had sold out, and wouldn\’t be getting any more.  I called three other supermarkets, a garden center, a superstore, a home improvement store–nobody had mini orchids.  Overnight, they were gone without a trace.
But if the store shelves were bare of minis, they were crammed full of maxis, and I consoled myself by buying two of those.  If you are in the market for orchids, this is the time to buy them cheaply.  They are nearing the end of their winter blooming season, and stores don\’t want to be left with endless pots of generic green leaves.

My two plants were showing the stress of a long season in a big store–who wouldn\’t?  The flowers were mashed against the plastic sleeve that was supposed to protect them, and the leaves were forced into an unnatural vertical angle.  I held the orchids in my arms (my husband was driving) during the forty-minute trip home to keep their precious surviving buds from being damaged.

In the house, I cut off the plastic sleeves and picked up the spent blooms and dead buds that had collected on top of the dirt, then misted the plants with water.  The flowers and leaves stretched out and seemed to expand.  I could almost hear the orchids sigh with relief.

I put one in the bathroom, where it considerably dresses up that spartan space, and the other on a high shelf in the kitchen, well out of reach of Wolfie\’s scimitar tail.  And there, thanks to technological advance, they sit, cheering up my drab winter interior just as they once adorned Queen Victoria\’s conservatories.  Who says we\’re not blessed to live in this era?

9 Responses

  1. I always think of them as hard to grow and an absolute luxury. Thanks to your purchase, I'll go to Costco and buy one. They are beautiful and huge.

  2. mrb, I'll pass on some advice from my orchid guru: treat them like regular house plants, let the soil dry between waterings (disregarding instructions to keep them moist), and feed them orchid fertilizer, which is widely available. Happy orchiding!

  3. I often wonder about the relationship between beauty and rarity: something can be beautiful wihtout being rare and vice versa but rareness does seem to heighten the sense of beauty. Does unfamiliarity sharpen perception? Or does the surprise of the new create excitment which makes the experience of beauty more satisfying? Then again when I draw something I find it more and more beautiful which I attribute to the deep attention. At any rate I find a certain sadness in the easy availability of orchids and african violets – they used to move in cloak of mystery that added to their enchantment. On the other hand I could afford one now and draw its portrait.

  4. I too feel a sort of let-down as I stand before the masses of orchids in Home Depot–so lovely, but so ordinary….And I kind of fall in love with whatever I draw–probably because of the quality of the attention, which should make even non-drawing buddhists great lovers.But once you get one of those orchids home, and put it somewhere where it is happy, it stretches out and relaxes, and looks fabulous.

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