By Marni Jameson
“They cost how much?” DC, my husband, asks, as he twists a finger in his ear hoping he hadn’t heard correctly.
“With or without the container?” I ask, to stall before I repeat what I’d paid for the tall grouping of white potted orchids that now graced our dining room table. I mumble the amount, which even I admit was high when you’re talking about fresh flowering plants that will die, and in my hands, probably soon.
“But they will last!” I assure. “You watch!”
I hoped I was right.
I had been out with my friend Susan shopping for a few home accessories. High on the list was a centerpiece for my dining room table. It needed to be big and spectacular. We found a gorgeous blue and white ceramic container for $60, but it needed something in it.
Everything we imagined didn’t seem quite right – succulents, fresh fruit, silk flowers – meh. Then we both said at once: Orchids!?
Graceful, stately, sculptural, and elegant, blooming orchids have elevated any room I have ever put them in.
I didn’t want corner-drug-store orchid plants. I wanted fantastic orchids. I knew a flower shop nearby that specialized. Though I thought the shop might be a little beyond my means, that didn’t stop me. Susan and I handed the ceramic container to store owner Genevieve Enstad, who whisked it away confidently and brought it back filled with six towering 30-inch-tall Phalaenopsis orchid stems dripping with giant white blossoms and as many buds. The arrangement looked like something you’d see in a swanky hotel. I handed her my credit card. $90 for three pots containing two stems each. I coughed.
Back home, I carefully placed the potted orchid arrangement as if it were a precious newborn on the dining room table.
Susan gasped. I gasped.
“It’s perfection,” she said.
“I was afraid of that,” I said.
“How much?” DC asked.
All this happened 10 weeks ago. Meanwhile, the orchids have looked lovely and required almost no care. Unlike vases of fresh flowers, these plants did not need fresh cuts or daily water changes. But now the blooms were off, and nothing less would do.
“Is this going to be a habit?” DC wants to know.
I explain it this way. Having fresh flowers in the house to me is like having fresh fruit, or fresh water – in other words they’re as essential as chocolate. Even when my budget is tight, I will stop getting my nails done, buy whatever coffee is on sale, keep the house colder in the winter and warmer in the summer, space my haircuts three months apart, and stop eating out, but I will still buy flowers, just simple loose stems – a bunch of yellow mums, white daisies, or pink tulips – from the grocery store for $10 a week.
“So,” I reason, “I can either spend $10 a week or $90 every 10 weeks. The potted orchids actually save us money.”
“According to Marni math,” he says.
I head back to Ginny’s Orchids with my container, and hand it over to Enstad, who has been selling orchids for 31 years. She passes the container off to a helper to refresh it, while I pull up a stool and – because you can always learn something from anyone who’s been doing the same thing for 30 years –ask her some questions.
- Why orchids? “Because they last so long,” Enstad said. A healthy orchid plant properly cared for will bloom for one to three months. Plus, they’re architectural. It would take a whole lot of flowers to make that kind of statement, and the flowers would be dead in four days.” (I file this argument away to tell DC.)
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- How did you get started? She started buying orchids from a nearby greenhouse and reselling them at the local farmer’s market. Soon she got asked to provide orchids regularly for a major bank building, and her commercial and residential client list grew. Today she runs a bustling shop off tony Park Ave., in Winter Park, Fla. “We’ve grown steadily every year,” she said, customers streamed in needing, like me, an orchid fix. END OPTIONAL CUT
- I’ve bought orchid plants that last three weeks, and some like yours last months. How do you pick a good one? “Start with the source,” she said. Search online to find a good quality local orchid grower. One reason her orchids last is because she picks the plants directly from the greenhouse and drives them straight to the store. “They are not sitting on a hot truck.”
- What do you look for? You can tell a healthy orchid by its leaves. They should be firm not limp, and solid green. Look for undamaged stems that have half flowers and half buds, so they look good now and keep blooming. Avoid stems that have dark shriveled buds, a sign the plant has been stressed. And though she sells orchids in a variety of colors, 70 percent of the orchids she sells are classic white, which tend to last longest. Kaleidoscope orchids (two-toned flowers often yellow with purple veining) are also hearty.
- How can you help them last? The less you do, the happier they are. Overwatering is the biggest mistake orchid owners make. These are air plants. They can survive hanging from a tree with no moist soil around their roots. Water them only when they’re completely dry. Push your finger well into the medium. When it feels like the desert, water it. Let the water drain completely. Orchids don’t like to sit in water. And don’t water them with an ice cube, she said, dismissing a popular urban myth. Put them in a room with a window so they get light but not direct sun, and keep them away from air vents, burning candles or fireplaces, and bowls of fresh fruit, which emits ethylene as it ripens, which will cause flowers to ripen quickly, too.
- Pick the right pot. Half an orchid’s appeal comes from its container.
- More for your money. Once the orchids are done blooming, trim their stems back, put them outside (in warm climates) out of direct sun, or stick them in a tree, and look forward to another round of blossoms.
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of three home and lifestyle books, including Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016). You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.