Orchid names don’t roll off the palate. Try pronouncing phalaenopsis, paphiopedilum, dendrobium, phragmapedium and oncidium quickly and you’ll find your tongue in knots. Try making the orchids you once fell in love with re-bloom, orchids you carefully transported from a nursery into your house, and lovingly admired until the last blossom had fallen, and you’ll imagine you’re waiting for Godot. And we all know that Godot never arrived.
I have always been fascinated by orchids and have lived with different kinds in hopes that sooner or later the blooms I loved when I bought them, and which delighted me so long ago that I have forgotten what they looked like, will someday return. One time I was so frustrated with the Rip Van Winkle-length naps several of my orchids were taking that I latched onto a service guaranteed to make them re-bloom. All you had to do was deliver your uncooperative, undisciplined, disobedient plants to a particular nursery, which would send them home only after they had returned to the beautiful state they were in when you bought them. I told people I had sent my orchids to summer camp once I figured out how much each orchid’s vacation was costing. This was based on the quarterly bills that started appearing even as my obstinate orchids happily dozed in a tropical, green-house climate. When I fully understood the total cost of this intervention, like other parents of campers, I found myself calling them home suddenly, but unlike other parents I eventually transformed my campers into compost.
Three newer orchids had been sitting in sloth on the fireplace mantle for months when I saw an announcement in the paper last Saturday that an area nursery would be hosting an orchid lecture. The speaker was very knowledgeable and like enthusiastic experts in any field dismissed concerns we had based on past experience. “If they aren’t blooming, you just need to change the conditions. Move them to a different room, let them access light coming from a different direction, water them less, water them more, stress them out. The right course of action will make any orchid bloom.” What he didn’t say was that for some orchids transporting them to the Amazon jungle was likely to be the only right course of action.
Thanks to the lecture, our three persistent non-bloomers have been shuffled off to the upstairs bathroom and four newcomers have settled into their predecessors’ homes downstairs. Despite the cockiness of the speaker about our ability to keep these new orchids a-blooming, it’s pretty clear that the nursery was trying to send a different message in telling us that we could return those we couldn’t get to re-bloom for a twenty percent discount on our next orchid purchase.