Extravagant Beginnings


We always seem to return to where we began. As with so many things in life, I find my first instinct is the one that’s usually right. When dining out and making a selection from a menu, it is said that you should go with your gut feeling and stick to your first choice, no matter what others at the table may say to sway you. When choosing a coat from a choice of three, that first pull toward one is usually the indicator that it’s the one you want. The same holds true for my taste in flowers.

When I was a young boy, I was enchanted by the magnificent over-the-top gaudiness of the orchids and roses that seemed always out of reach. While a neighbor grew some lovely specimens of the latter, I didn’t get to see the former until I was a little older, when I went to work in an orchid greenhouse for one summer. As much as I loved orchids, weeding out hundreds of tiny pots with a pair of tweezers was enough to quell (but not kill) my passion for growing them.

It wasn’t that they were difficult. (I’d gotten a dendrobium to rebloom a year or so before then, a burgeoning collection of Phalaenopsis was flourishing, and a steadfast cattleya could be coaxed and counted on to bloom once a year.) My fiery Auntie Naty grew a large collection of orchids at her New Jersey home, summering them beneath an arbor of wooden slats in the warmer months, then overwintering them in her basement until the sun returned, and her green-thumb touch ran in my father’s blood.

Still, their finicky needs (humidity is a difficult thing to come by in the cold and bitterly dry winters of the northeast) and out-of-bloom leathery-leaved dullness pushed them down on my list of interesting cultivars, and so they fell out of favor until a few years ago, when I found a stunning Oncidium on sale at Trader Joe’s. I brought it home, and its leaves were just as pretty as the shower of bright yellow blooms it produced. Even when they faded, the plant stayed handsome, so I put it in our bay window and forgot about it. A year or so later, I almost missed the new flower spike that was growing at an angle toward the light. I turned the pot to the sun, and my attention to the orchid that I’d never much noticed after its first bloom. Since then, it’s grown healthily and I had to divide it for escaping the confines of its pot.

On a recent trip to Faddegon’s, I once again became enamored of the glorious blooms that were each a story in their own right. Every blossom told a complicated tale of how it came to be, and how it could continue. I remembered what fascinated me all those years ago, and I found myself rediscovering the thrills of such a fascinating genus.

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