-by Beth Dugger Brown-Taking care of animals is easy. If it’s is hungry, feed it. If it’s tired, rest it. If it’s sick medicate it. Animals are complex organisms, yet simple to keep alive. There was a string of holidays where I received animals for gifts. I can’t remember them all, but I do fondly remember a quarter horse mare and a bobtailed cat. I had good times with both of those living gifts and easily kept them alive and thriving.
Plants? I do not have the same success with them. I’ve tried to keep potted, leafy things alive and happy. Usually I end up leaving shade-lovers out in full afternoon sun. I’ve drowned arid-loving ones and dried out the wet ones. I killed a cactus once. It took a few years, but it happened.
Imagine my intimidation when I received a beautiful delicate blooming orchid. I had heard that orchids were finicky and difficult. They only bloom once every 15th moon phase or something like that. On that fateful day I felt up to the challenge.
I named it Lina. It came in a little plastic pot surrounded by fancy gold paper made to enhance little plastic pots. I set it in the window and watered it when it looked wet. A friend who knows about all things plant came by. He picked Lina up, and the water was dripping off the clear plastic pot. He said I was going to drown it if I left it like that. And drowning is the leading cause of orchid death. I repented. From then on, I let Lina sit in the sink and drain.
After the bloom died about two months later, I repotted Lina in a special terra cotta orchid pot with special slits to let out the water. I learned of such pots from the almighty Google. I bought a special potting mix and a bag of orchid food. I trimmed Lina’s dead roots and placed her gently in her new soil and pot. I put her in a window that received morning sun, her preference, so I was told. The leaves grew. Nothing looked dead. I was giddy. Every ten days I watered her. I fed her when she looked hungry. Then, a big white spot showed up on the big leaf. Anxiously I went back to Google, who said not to worry. I tried not to.
Lina started drawing gnats. The gnats annoyed Lina and the person that spent the most time around her window. He started saying mean things to Lina. I was offended. I learned that re-potting Lina would get rid of the gnats. Trimming the dead roots and adding new soil, I got rid of the gnats. I put her in a new window that offered more light and added a bed of gravel to the little tray Lina sat in. I put water in the gravel to create the humid environment that Lina required. Experts say if your orchid is happy in her conditions, you continue providing the same conditions. So I did.
New leaves appeared. The big leaf grew. Life was good. I dreamed about the bloom that would appear over time—once every 20th moon cycle or so. The people that doubted my orchid-growing abilities were changing their tune.
One day, a summer shower came up. I thought Lina might want to be out in the rain, pretending she was in her native rainforest. After the shower, I put her back on her gravel bed. Looking back, I think she became depressed when she realized she wasn’t in her native forest. She rebelled against the gravel bed by slowly turning a leaf brown. I panicked. Then, after I thought about it, chalked it up to a rebellious spirit. She would outgrow this over time. I continued with my TLC.
A month went by. She lost a leaf. I told myself it was growing pains. Another month, another leaf, then another. Her roots were still healthy and white. I learned that orchids can go dormant and look dead, but not be dead. I still watered but I wasn’t convinced that she was a big eater. I didn’t feed her a lot. I repotted-again (the third time). I decided that maybe she was a little hungry, so I gave her a bite. Wrong. Bad wrong.
The day came when I had to admit defeat. There were no leaves, no healthy roots, just dried up dreams in an orchid pot on a gravel bed. No forthcoming bloom, not even a gnat. Lina had passed onto the orchid ever-after. Drat.
The moral of this story? When in certain stores that showcase lovely plants in cellophane wrapped plastic pots, resist the temptation. Only the very skilled should be gifted with those. If you really love someone, do not give them an orchid. Orchids are heart-breakers. And mean. Give your loved one a cat or a horse or a goldfish. Better yet, take no chances and go with a stuffed animal. Or a gift card.