This time of year is always an odd transitional period for me. My mother and many of my friends who refer to me as Greenman do not do so lightly. I am connected to my very marrow to the green world and all of its cycles. So when the days shorten, the sun goes into hiding and the nights become cold, it takes a considerable amount of effort for me to remain active, outgoing, and energetic, at least at first.
The instinct that comes upon me first is to sleep. To curl up in the dark and await the coming of the spring rains and lengthening days, but I, sadly am incapable of hibernation and so soldier on I must. Many things keep me delighted, alive and focused during these grey days and among them are gatherings with friends, adventures, laughter and peaceful times with my loved ones, the enjoyment I get out of the animals I keep and my houseplant jungle.
Every available piece of sunshine in our home is populated by plants, odd mixes of flowers, trees, greenery and strange visitors inhabit tables, windowsills and the floor, anyplace that the light can reach them.
We currently keep begonias, cacti, aloes, palm trees, a fiddle leafed fig, two Malabar chestnuts, a lime tree, two clementine trees, an avocado tree and six species of orchids, along with a tillandsia or two and a small group of rescued African violets.
I have lived for short periods of time without plants in my homes, but in truth, the lack of them has made those places more aptly called way stations, or temporary dwellings than actual homes. I need them, I need the air they share with me, the scent of them, the clean, green, beautiful joy of their presence and like many of my predecessors, I talk to them, commune with them, checking in daily to see if they need to be repotted, watered, spun to balance their time in the sun, or just if they need a bit of attention.
Yesterday I was lucky enough to be invited to do something amazing and I wanted to share it with you.
Gypsy and I belong to the Orchid Society of Western Pennsylvania and contrary to what you might think, the Orchid society is not filled with stuffy rich people who take every opportunity to look down on others with some kind of horticultural elitism. No, these people are loving, caring, knowledgeable fanatics who are in their own maniacal way, the most devilish enablers I have ever come across in any hobby.
I obtained my first orchid over a year ago from the bargain rack at Lowe’s. It cost about $2.00 and looked like it was almost ready for the dumpster. It was bone dry, the leaves were droopy and its solitary flower spike looked pathetic and I couldn’t resist it.
For all of the hundreds of varieties of plants I had kept, I had never tackled orchids because their care intimidated me. Gypsy and my good friend Barb make fun of me for saying that, as they have seen what I am capable of with plants, but even so, I had avoided orchids for nearly forty years.
So, having gained my first orchid, I needed, wanted to know more and so we jumped into the orchid society and were promptly swept into a world of flowers that made even my vivid imagination feel inadequate. There were varieties, colors, configurations and sizes of blooms that I still have trouble wrapping my brain around. We have seen blossoms ranging in size from as tiny as the head of a pin up to ones that hung ten or twelve inches in spread and looked like something from an alien landscape, we are thoroughly hooked!
Returning to yesterday, our orchid society regularly sends members to volunteer to help the Master Orchid grower at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Georgia Wahl, and realizing that offering to help would get me behind the curtain at one of my favorite places on earth, I jumped at the chance!
So, from 9:30 until 12:30 yesterday, I, along with three other members of the society worked on orchids for the upcoming Orchid and Tropical Bonsai show which will kick-off on January 14th. I won’t tell you what we did, because I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but it was an awesome, educational experience and we laughed a lot! This is something I notice among garden people, we seem to be more alive, more willing to let loose, be free and immerse ourselves in joy.
Working on the project put us back in the growing, working greenhouses where few members of the public ever are permitted to venture and I took full advantage, wandering during breaks to look at their vast and varied orchid collection, the leftover poinsettias from their winter show and greenhouse after greenhouse filled with thriving, beautiful and rare plants that had me very nearly needing a drool bib to keep my shirt clean.
For the life of me I cannot imagine why people don’t immerse themselves in the exquisite pursuit of life and attempt to cement their relationship with the rest of the life on the planet. Exploring the diversity of life in those long glass houses was like being gifted with three hours of summer, or a brief morning in some tropical Eden, where the very air was infused the Earth’s breath.
Do you keep plants, do you love them, and does their infinite variety interest you, fascinate you, draw your eye, heart and mind? Consider joining a garden club, buying a field guide and learning what grows around your neighborhood, or seeing what you can grow on that lonely little windowsill that seems perfect for something green.
I will leave you with some pictures that will give you a minor glance behind the curtain… Want to see it for yourself? Find a way in. You will be glad that you did… We green people are a lot of fun.
Looking down the length of the Orchid Greenhouses
So many beautiful plants!
A tiny dendrobium orchid with leaves smaller than a pencil eraser…