5 years ago (maybe 6...) a lovely friend bought me an orchid. I kept it on my desk at work and when the flowers were gone, I took it home, put it on a shelf, and forgot about it for the next 4 years (maybe 5...). The orchid didn't do anything spectacular enough during that time to warrant my attention. It was a just another rubbish orchid that refused to re-flower. I assumed that it would slowly die, and when I considered it dead enough, I would simply throw it away.
But I didn't throw it away. It survived quietly on its neglected shelf, and now, well, you can see for yourself...
Enthralled as I'm assuming you must be in this chlorophyll-fuelled drama, I will tell you what happened:
Last Christmas, after a period of willful blindness, I noticed my orchid (P.S. I know that's not how the song goes). The rest I had granted myself over the holiday period had afforded me the energy to look at it. I mean really look at it. It wasn't pretty. It sat there sad and stunted; 3 very pale green leaves askew, a 4th slightly yellow and withering. With no memory of having ever knocked the plant over, the potting medium had curiously vanished. My poor orchid was being supported by the entangled mess of its own desiccated roots.
Having resigned myself to its death, I wasn't attached enough to feel grief, or shame. I just thought, "Well, no wonder you look the way you do. I've made a pretty shit go at looking after you, it's time I put a bit of effort in." So, that's what I did. It was a fairly minimal intervention to be honest. I bought a new pot, some orchid compost and spent some time carefully pruning the dead bits. After reading a bit about what orchids like, I moved the pot from the bookcase, to a spot in front of the bathroom window - lots of indirect light, somewhere a bit humid - and I waited.
Every week, I would water it a small amount, adding a drop of feed fortnightly. The yellow leaf, got yellower, and then brown, and then browner. It wasn't the transformation I had hoped for. Paranoid, late-night google searches told me this was a normal part of the orchid's life-cycle, that I should wait for the leaf to drop - not to pull it off (orchids are prone to infection) - and a new leaf would grow. It did. Straight out the middle of the uppermost leaf, a wee, bright green one, started to appear. I kept watch twice a day, whilst brushing my teeth. Then a little green stub at the base of the plant (a flower stem?). It was a new root.
The browning leaf fell off (ok, I pulled it off, I couldn't wait). The new, bright green leaf was now half the size of the older leaves. The new root had started to dive down, nose first, into the compost. I picked the clear orchid tub out of the ceramic pot it was housed in; the new root had its green nose pushed up against the side of the plastic, its journey temporarily hampered. I surveilled its progress twice a day, after brushing my teeth. The bottom-most leaf started to yellow and wither. Looking down at the top of the plant, a new tiny leaf had started to appear. A little green stub at the base of the plant (a flower stem?!). It was another new root.
This process continued over the next few months, until the plant had completely renewed itself. Brushing my teeth had got interesting. Now I was excited and impatient. Will it flower? When will it flower? Will it flower this year? Or next year maybe? I googled and googled and googled. I had never sought reassurance about a plant before. Is this what turning 30 does to you?
Then finally, a different looking green stub (a flower stem!), at the base of the 2nd bottom-most leaf. I took a photo, triumphant: "Finally, a flower-stem has appeared!" A friend commented, "I think that's a root, maybe?". No, no, I had done my research (courtesy of many a phantom flower stem by that point). I am definitely right. (Am I right? Google? Am I right? Tell me I'm right.) I waited. It stayed the same. I waited more. It continued to stay the same. I was seeing flowering orchids in all places. Every supermarket I visited; every office, every foyer, every home. Mine stayed green. A healthy, vibrant green, granted, but green nonetheless. Then the stub started to grow. Upwards.
"Look, it's a flower stem. I knew it was a flower stem!" I squealed at my partner, who had become well used to me sashaying a pot plant around the house. I wasn't being smug (honest), I was joyous. It continued to shoot, then it started to branch off, and then, finally, it began to bud. A thing that was once so ignored and uncared for, had become a source of such intrigue and reward. I couldn't remember what colour its flowers had been. I was eager (I've downplayed that a bit) to find out.
Now I (and you) know what the colours are, and yet I continue - twice a day, whilst brushing my teeth - to be utterly compelled by this quite ordinarily, extraordinary little plant. Google tells me that, when it has finished flowering, the blooms will drop off, the flower stem will wither and die (I should wait for this to fully happen before cutting), and then the bottom-most leaf will start to go a bit yellow, and then everything will start all over again, like before, but different.
Up until this time last year, I had killed every plant I ever owned from over-watering (take from that what you will). So it was a stroke of luck that I forgot about this orchid. Like with most of the valuable things I have learned in life, it taught me the lesson of extremes: somewhere in the middle - vibrating back and forth - there is a spot (maybe a windowsill) where most things can flourish, given the right amount of attention.
Some tips for growing orchids (and humans):
- For a short time, mere survival can be what's needed
- Periods of inaction can lead to a more appropriate action, later down the line
- A 'better' spot can't be known, if a worse spot doesn't precede it
- Resignation to an inferior outcome, makes a superior outcome less taken for granted when it comes along
- When flourishing is absent, look first to the method and the environment - change something
- Too much attention can garner similar results as too little
- Transformation may not be seen on the surface, but roots tell a different story - dig deep
- Dead leaves are part of a cycle, not an ending
- Patience needs cultivating when growth begins, but slower than hoped for
- All things have the capability to flourish, you just need to find out what is required to nourish