By Tara Kaprowy
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — My orchid Yvette is dying and I don’t know what to do. What’s more, I’m not sure I care anymore. It’s been one thing after another in the past six months and I’ve had about enough of her high maintenance. But let’s not tell her that, shall we? Yes, let’s keep that to ourselves for now. God knows she’s sensitive enough as it is.
I got Yvette as a gift three years ago, and I was both thrilled and scared to receive her; all I had ever heard about orchids was how difficult they are to care for. But I was willing to give it a go, so I sat her on the hearth of the fireplace and started giving her four ice cubes a week.
Shockingly, this alone seemed to work and Yvette flourished, not only producing flowers on two spikes each year, but even growing a baby, which intense Internet research taught me is called a keiki. Sadly the baby didn’t survive transplanting, but Yvette lived on, tall and strong and really quite beautiful.
Watching an orchid can be interesting. They do absolutely nothing most of the year until suddenly something happens and they start growing again. And not any kind of growth, a parade of Chinese lantern-shaped pods from which bursts, let’s all agree, the sexiest flower there is.
During those weeks, while I marveled at this growth, I patted myself on the back for being such a great caretaker, since the only way Yvette was doing so well was of course because of my superlative maintenance of her.
Then in October, we got the gas fireplace fixed and, because it was a chilly fall, we turned it on quite a bit. Yvette absolutely did not like this, but because she is rather passive-aggressive, didn’t say anything or show any signs of distress.
Until one week, one of her largest leaves withered and yellowed like tobacco and then one of her spikes up and firmly died. When I saw it, Yvette glared at me.
“See? See what you’ve done?”
I became, in fact, a little obsessed with Yvette then, checking on her all the time, searching for positive signs of growth, delicately touching her aerial roots and wondering if they looked dry. I can admit now that it was not so much that I loved Yvette so intensely, but I was a little in love with the idea that I was the type of person who could successfully maintain an orchid.
Then my best friend Kristin, our moms and I went to an orchid show while on vacation this winter. I’m not exactly sure why we went since we couldn’t take home any plants, but it seemed like a relaxing thing to do while at the beach.
Until we walked in and met The Orchid People. I capitalize this because they deserve their own designation, so foreign are they to the general population. This sub-species is particularly fond of wind chimes and glass beads. They wear loose-fitting attire that is often made of hemp. They seem to have poor vision, since they all wear pince-nez that sit at the end of their nose. And, lest you think I’m simply describing a baby boomer hippie, let’s be perfectly clear: They either don’t smoke or don’t smoke enough marijuana because this is one uptight bunch.
My mom made the mistake of approaching one who had his own booth and asked him about the ice cube watering technique. Given Yvette’s illness, I was quite interested in his answer myself. But then he turned to her, his face contorting in a few opposing directions at once.
“Can you find ice-making machines in the jungle, madame?” he spat.
My mom, stunned, stepped back a little, realizing instantly she had done the equivalent of kicking a dog at a dog-lovers’ convention.
“Well, can you? Can you tell me if there are ice-making machines in the jungle?”
Aggressive. Aggressive was his tone, and my mom continued to step backward.
“No, I suppose not.”
“Well then why in the world would you ever water an orchid with ice?”
We eventually learned the correct way to water an orchid is thoroughly but only when it is thoroughly dry. So, since then, Yvette has been getting a long shower once a week. Is it working? Umm, no, given the deep sore I noticed on her remaining spike this week, which I have no idea what to do about.
I’ve looked on many orchid-tending websites but haven’t found anything to be terribly helpful. And much of the advice is only contradictory — withered-looking leaves can both be a sign of too much or too little water.
And while Yvette whines quietly in the corner, I’ve become weary of her finickiness. She’s pretty, but she’s not that pretty. She’s interesting, but she’s not that interesting. What’s more, I’ve accepted defeat in the orchid-tending field. So it’s shape up or ship out, Yvette. There are plenty of ferns out there that will be happy to take your place.