Orchids. The very word conjures up exotic flowers, strange scents and an air of mystery. That or a dodgy scented bubble bath which has come from a chemical manufacturing plant, rather than the leaves n’ flowers kind….
A big part of their appeal comes from the fact that they were considered rare and difficult to grow. However, the warmth of modern homes, plus new propagation techniques, coupled with the fact that the orchid family is one of the biggest plant families on earth, means that luckily there are a several among its number which are actually affordable and pretty easy to grow.
Phalaenopsis, sometimes called moth orchids, are the most commonly sold type of orchid. They’re so named because the first explorers to see them thought their delicate, shimmering flowers looked like clouds of moths in the tree canopy of their rainforest home. Phals, as the growers call them, come in a huge range of colours and patterns. They’re surprisingly tolerant of the dryness of modern, centrally heated houses.
Zygopetalum is a wonderful houseplant. Their smart, iris-like leaves look good all year round, and they aren’t that difficult to get to re-flower. The flowers are everything an orchid should be, dark, mysterious and long-lasting. They’re a strangely beautiful combination of bright purple, green and brown, with a subtle scent that to my mind is sweet and clove-like, with hints of pepper. I grew mine in a bathroom for years and it flowered for about a month every year.
These two are both easy to grow and with just a little care will live and bloom for many years. The most common mistakes people make are to not give them enough light – a bright north or east facing windowsill is ideal - and to over- or under-water. Dunking them in a bucket of tepid water for a couple of minutes every week is normally enough; slightly less frequently in winter, more frequently in summer if they look like they need it.
And finally, don’t forget to feed them! I learnt this the hard way, nurturing pots of leaves for several years as a teenager before it occurred to me that I was being a bit stingy. During the growing season, apply a special orchid feed, according to the packet instructions. That, I’ve found, is the secret to getting them to re-flower.