A constant stream of questions comes flooding through my inbox on a regular basis. I try and answer as many as I can but it’s quite an arduous task. It suddenly occurred to me that maybe I should start answering these questions publicly where everyone can benefit from the information or add their own thoughts and experiences to the mix. Please forgive me. I can be a little slow at times. This first question comes from an advice column I began writing last year for the now defunct and sorely lost Budget Living Magazine.
Question: I get orchids as gifts all the time but promptly kill them? How do I care for them?
Orchids have cultivated a reputation as difficult, but your plants are probably Phalaenopsis or moth orchids, a trendy gift-store variety that are surprisingly living room friendly.
The secret to indoor gardening is all about approximating a plant’s natural habitat in your home. Moth orchids are tree-dwelling jungle plants native to tropical regions where the air is steamy and warm. Setting up a tree in your living room is not necessary!
Grow It: Your plant will be comfortable away from direct light in a room with a steady temperature around 70º F. If you are comfortable so is your orchid. Grow your plant in a terra cotta pot with holes in the bottom and specially prepared orchid bark for good drainage. Give it a weekly 30 second dunk, pot and all, in a lukewarm bath. Allow the top of the soil to dry out between baths to avoid over-watering. Orchids thrive on lots of humidity. A simple humidity tray will do the job of fancy gadgetry. Line a leak-proof tray with an inch of aquarium gravel or river stones. Add water to just below the surface of the rocks and set the orchid pot on top without pushing the pot into the rocks. Constant “wet feet” can rot the roots — the trick is to provide a warm sauna rather than a long soak.
Go Further: Moth orchids are unique in that they can rebloom on the same spike. Most other orchids bloom only once per year. To encourage another round, cut dead flowers off just before the next joint on the stem. You should see new buds in 8-12 weeks. Once the flowers have gone, cut the entire stem off close to the plant base. Your plant will flower again before next spring. Enjoy!
For More Information
1. Wilma & Brian Tittershausen. Gardener’s Guide to Growing Orchids: A Complete Guide to Cultivation and Care, London: Anness Publishing Limited, 2001.
2. Orchid Lady
Living room gardeners needn’t be limited to corner-store variety orchids. Paphiopedilum, aka ‘slipper’ orchids (not to be confused with the cold hardy North American Lady’s Slipper) are an exotic tropical that produce a stunning, solo blossom sometime between late fall and spring. Each bloom lasts as long as 2-3 months and many varieties have dramatic, mottled foliage providing interest in between blooms.
Grow It: In the wild, Paphiopedilums (Paphs for short) grow underneath trees where they received indirect, filtered light, making them the perfect match for those of us cursed with small windowed apartments. Look for yellowing leaves as a sign of too much light. Repot your paph every two years with light and airy orchid bark. Give your plant a quick soak, pot and all, in room-temperature water. The bark mix should never dry out but should not be constantly soggy either. Choose a hardy hybrid variety like ‘Maudiae’, or ‘Gold Dollar’.
Check out The Orchid Mall to find a local vendor or The American Orchid Society for more information.
See more photos of my favourite paph: Paphiopedilum Maudiae ‘Claire de Lune’ x Minnie May – How’s that for a race horse name!
I recently discovered that what I have been identifying as ‘Deadly Nightshade’ since childhood is actually ‘Bittersweet Nightshade’ or ‘Woody Nightshade’ (Solanum dulcamara). I can see where the mistake could be made in terms of similarities in their foliage but both the flowers and berries are completely different. Deadly Nightshade’s Latin name is Atropa belladonna.
I know this might not seem like a big deal to some, but the plant I now know to be ‘Bittersweet Nightshade’ grows fairly rampant in these parts and growing up we were consistently warned against eating the tantalizing berries. Everyone I know has referred to it as ‘Deadly Nightshade‘ for as long as I can remember!
Further proof that common names can lead to confusion. While it might seem too chi-chi or difficult, it really does help to learn the botanical name too. And if you’re extra geeky you can look into the Latin and find out what the name says about the plant. I purchased “Gardener’s Latin” by Bill Neal a few months back and it has proven to be a really terrific and easy-to-follow beginner’s guide to understanding botanical names. Unfortunately, the book disappointedly omits ‘solanum’, a popular genus, but did include ‘dulcamara’ which you can probably guess translates to ‘bittersweet.’ However, if you’ve been reading this far and are interested, according to Botanical.com:
…Solanum is derived from Solor (I ease), and testifies to the medicinal power of this group of plants.
I think it’s important to go against the grain of traditional gardening magazines that focus on hyper-perfect fantasy garden porn and show you that there is no shame in a less-than-perfect garden.
Here is a photo of the street garden taken just last week. Keeping up with the garbage and the human pest damage is an impossible mission but the rest is completely my responsibility.
I was just thinking… seems like THE HOLIDAY SEASON is here, or something. I am very good at shutting out that which I would rather not see but with the powers that be pummeling us over the head with it earlier and earlier every year, it’s kinda hard to miss. Really, I don’t hate the holidays, what I hate is the assumption of obligation and the fact that while so many people start out with good intentions MANY seem to be in a passive-aggressive snit by mid-December. I think we should all just agree to collectively stay in bed in our pajamas watching 80′s era teen movies and call it a day. How’s that for Peace on Earth!
I don’t like giving or getting a bunch of useless crap that carries all kinds of layers of guilt and I sure don’t condone adding to that burden by HANDCRAFTING something that will only find it’s way to the thrift store pile once the guilt wears off — that’s a drag for everyone involved. However, I also really like making and receiving homemade gifts. It keeps me off the cold, winter streets and away from the madness of the mall, and becomes it’s own form of Holiday-related art therapy. I enjoy thinking about the giftee and hatching a plan to make something suitable to them, their personality, and taste.
I compiled this list of Affordable and Homemade Holiday Gifts for plant lovers a few years back. Some of the projects are kits or items I have made and some are ideas that give the gift of time rather than material goods. For example, I have been making these Herbal Bath Teas for a long time and often make a few extras as a gift to myself. A Garden Help I.O.U is one of the best gifts I can think of for a gardener since many of us could use an extra hand with some of the difficult chores.
Sure you can buy inexpensive Forced Bulb Kits just about anywhere these days but I guarantee you that what you can put together for the same price will be of a much higher quality. Most of the kits I see come with ugly plastic pots and lousy soil — don’t let the fancy box fool you. Many of them have been sitting on the shelf so long that the bulbs are dessicated, diseased or dead by the time they reach the recipient. You can put together a much nicer kit using a thrifted ceramic container, quality bulbs purchased at a local nursery (where you can hand-select the bulbs yourself), and a bag of reasonably good soil. Don’t forget to let your recipients know they can save most bulbs and plant them out in their garden next year. Amaryllis bulbs can be kept for several seasons too.
Of course I can’t write about gifts for gardeners and burgeoning gardeners without mentioning the 2007 You Grow Girl Calendar or the You Grow Girl book. The book itself also has instructions for a number of projects I have made and given as gifts including: a groovy gardening apron, chalkboard pots (don’t forget to include a stick of chalk), herbal teas (including easy-sew, reusable tea bags), gardener’s hand salve, gardener’s journal, and more.