A green space for urban gardeners

The mystery of orchids and the Mother’s Day garden timetable

Orchids. There’s just something about them.

And to the envy of mere mortal women, they manage to achieve the double feat of being beautiful and mysterious. And it’s hard to put your finger on just what makes them so entrancing…

Like a good mystery buff, I first became intrigued with the exotic flowering plant after following the exploits of fictional detective Nero Wolfe.

Author Rex Stout painted an intriguing portrait of the brilliant private detective who, in unraveling the evil men do, got a first-hand look at the uglier side of nature.

Not only did his stately brownstone — from which he solved his cases — provide refuge from this ugliness, it also was where he escaped to his beautiful world of orchids.

He owned thousands and devoted the upper level of his home to them, caring for and nurturing them as though they were his children. He was an obsessive and devoted hobbyist.

Of course, today we can all share in the orchid appreciation, albeit on a more basic level, as they’re available for reasonable prices in your local garden store. The one in my neighborhood had orchids set out in abundance in the days leading up to Mother’s Day.

I love that orchids last for weeks (make sure you pick specimens with several unopened buds on them), much longer than a similarly priced bouquet of flowers. And, if you have a little Nero Wolfe in you, they can be coaxed to re-bloom.

(One friend of mine brags about an amazing orchid that flowered continually in her Chicago apartment for more than a year!)

Searching for rare and more elusive orchids than you’ll find at the nursery has become a part of popular culture’s collective consciousness — beyond Wolfe — over the years.

The 2002 movie “Adaptation,” an off-kilter fictionalization about the effort of writing a screenplay based on Susan Orlean’s book “The Orchid Thief,” earned multiple Oscar nominations and cult status.

And recently I watched an entertaining installment from 2005 of the popular BBC mystery series “Midsomer Murders” (series trailer above) titled “Orchis Fatalis,” in which a community’s passion for a one-of-a-kind orchid led to, you guessed it –murder.

Speaking of murder, the chilly Chicago weather has killed my plan to get some of my seedlings and a few purchased plants transferred to my containers on the balcony today. Typically, Mother’s Day weekend  is the point at which it’s warm enough to put the plants outside on the balcony here in Chicago without fear of cold.

But with a high of around 50 degrees forecast for today, my plants will just have to hang out inside for a bit longer. It makes me feel a little less guilty about getting my seeds started so late. Hopefully, the chill will get chased away for good later this week.

In the meantime, at least it’s bright and sunny outside and my lovely orchid is contentedly blooming inside.

Happy Mother’s Day.


  lynne Jordan wrote @

I assume I am the friend who bragged about the orchid – maybe not, but I shoulda been!! I had an orchid given to me, (bought at a hardware store) that I nicknamed the magic orchid because it never stopped blooming all year long. It sat in my south window and if it wasn’t in bloom it had big swollen buds about to burst open. It was & still is the “magic orchid” – going on years now! No special care is taken. It’s magic!
I may even take the plunge and plant this year…

  City Diggity wrote @

You are the one I was referring to in the post. Good to know your orchid is still bringing the magic! Hope Shana is showing you some Mother’s Day appreciation 😉

  lynne Jordan wrote @

Happy Mother’s Day!

  Pam’s English Garden wrote @

I have never grown orchids, but would like to try. To me they are very mysterious. Hope your Mother’s Day was wonderful!

  Stephanie wrote @

Avis, have you tried to grow moth orchid (Phaleanopsis)? I learnt that they are easy to bloom in cold climate. I consider myself a newbie in growing orchid as well. I have one orchid that has yet bloom in my garden!

  City Diggity wrote @

Phaleanopsis is what you find most often in stores here. Haven’t yet had one re-bloom for me, though. I always forget to water it after it stops flowering. I’d like to become a real orchid hobbyist some day, when (and if) I have the space. You can grow all kinds of great ones in your climate, so I can’t wait to see if you get addicted once the blooming begins.

  Anadrol wrote @

I got orchid for my birthday last year and it didn’t stopped blooming all year long too! I guess it’s because it was given from the heart 🙂 The magic is in true love/friendship!

  Jo wrote @

I bought myself an orchid in 2008 and then had another bought for me for Christmas of that same year. Both of them flowered for about four months, and once the blooms faded I cut off the flower spike at the base. Eventually a new flower spike grew and both orchids flowered again. One of them is in flower now, and the other has just finished flowering so will have it’s flower spike cut again.

  City Diggity wrote @

How often did you water it after cutting it back?

  Jo wrote @

I’m quite neglectful to my orchids. I water them once a week with water from the tap which I have left to stand overnight. I let the water run straight through the pot so that it isn’t stood in any water. I’ve never fed them either.

  Wendy wrote @

Yes, there is definitely some mystique to orchids that make them fascinating.

I have a tiny tiny orchid that’s been blooming on my sunny bathroom sill for about 3 months now – this is really good for me. Makes me feel more confident about orchids. May try another one at some point.

  linda wrote @

I love them. I have a Phalaenopsis orchid my oldest daughter gave me for Mother’s Day several years ago. Some years it blooms, some years it doesn’t. I almost killed it forgetting to water it for over a month a couple of years ago. It recovered but has yet to bloom since. Maybe next year!

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