Perhaps no flower has a more exotic reputation than the orchid. Although the popular rose certainly has had its share of admirers throughout history, the orchid’s striking beauty, intoxicating scent and quality of mystery have made it almost the definition of a “glamorous” flower.
Adding to the air has been the layman’s perception that the orchid is very choosy about its growing conditions; only a greenhouse would do, and even then they’d have to be babied if you wanted them to thrive.
Well, that’s not exactly the case. It turns out there are thousands of species of orchids. And while there are certainly orchids that do well in greenhouses, there are some that can also do well in a home’s window or even outside.
One of the flower’s biggest proponents is Lorrie Baird, a senior gardener at Longwood Gardens who is the special collection orchid curator. She oversees the care of about 6,500 plants in the East Marlborough gardens’ five greenhouses, which include many different types of orchids from around the world. The base of the collection is plants gathered by the gardens’ founder Pierre du Pont, with other orchids being added over the years.
Baird said she often fields questions from home gardeners wanting to venture into the world of orchids.
“Light is very important,” she said of the plant’s needs. “The biggest problem (a potential orchid gardener might have) is figuring out which window to put it in” and what kind of sun their particular plant requires.
Baird said often the plants purchased at local home improvement or gardening stores are phalaenopsis or moth orchids. She gave some general advice on growing “the most common orchid you can find anywhere.”
“They ideally like an east-facing window,” the senior gardener said. “The nice morning sun … so the really hot afternoon sun passes them by.”
No need to put them in a new pot after you get them home, Baird said.
“Probably when you buy it, the plant is already flowering. You don’t want to put it in a new pot until it finishes flowering. All you need to do is water them and enjoy them.”
As for watering: “What we usually tell people is once a week. Water them until you see the water draining out of the pot.” And food? A “very weak” fertilizing solution of “a quarter teaspoon” for every gallon of water is what she recommends.
If a beginning orchid grower should see the roots of their plant growing through the bottom of the pot, please don’t cut them, Baird said. “It’s just a way to get more oxygen.” She advises just putting them back into the container when the plant is repotted.
Baird does acknowledge that some orchids can be “very feisty,” that is quite particular about their light, temperature and humidity needs. And contrary to what some may believe, there are orchids that actually prefer cooler temperatures, a number of which are grown in Longwood’s air-conditioned greenhouse.
“I think a lot of people think orchids are extremely hard to grow, but they’re not,” Baird said. She suggested getting more information from area orchid clubs or on the American Orchid Society website, www.aos.org.
The orchid’s appeal to the orchid expert runs very deep.
“I’m discovering things about orchids daily,” Baird said. “They’re so beautiful … It’s hard to find anything wrong with them.”
Longwood Gardens is holding its Orchid Extravaganza through March 30. The event is free with garden admission. More information is available at www.longwoodgardens.org or by calling 610-388-1000.
Natalie Smith can be reached at DoubleSMedia@rocketmail.com.
Information from the Daily Local News, www.dailylocal.com