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(Inside) Winter Flowers!

February 5, 2013


One of the best features of my hundred-year-old house is its really deep windowsills. I think it makes the house look better and more importantly, it provides a lot of space for my collection of houseplants (from left to right, Paperwhites, Meyer Lemon, Calamondin Orange, more Paperwhites and some kind of Echeveria).


Even as winter in the DC area has gotten milder it is still cold and not much is really active outside, so I turn to my indoor garden for color and to keep my idle gardening hands busy.

Among lots of other houseplants, I have a collection of orchids, maybe ten or twelve. They are all different varieties, from Cymbidiums to Vandas. I purchased them at various places, from real orchid collectors and I admit, even from the grocery store. I have been known to go to garden centers and buy their out of bloom orchids. I figure they’re all pretty and the out of bloom ones are 50% off!

I am in no way an orchid expert, but I am pretty proud of my pets this year. My secret is benign neglect. I keep my little darlings inside from basically November through May and let them re-charge on my back deck for the summer months. I water them more often in the summer (maybe twice a week, but DO NOT overwater, as they will drown quickly), since its hot out there on the deck, and I keep them in a semi-shady area so their leaves don’t burn. In the winter I put them in a sunny window and water them maybe every eight or ten days. When I remember to I feed them.


This year I have had six of my orchids bloom for me, and the chocolate scented Oncidium (above) had multiple glorious sprays of flowers that lasted all summer. If I was into that sort of thing I’d have entered her in some kind of contest. The photo below is from the web, but I had the real thing!


My Brassolaeliocattleya (say that five times fast!) “Copper Queen” (another web photo, above) rebloomed as well, after a vicious attack last year by my cat Simon.


My Black Jewel Orchid (Ludisia discolor, above) was a victim of the same attack, but also recovered well. I have lots of new, velvety, pink and black striped leaves and sprays of miniature cream-colored flowers.


The Vanda (not sure of the variety, above) and the Cypripedium were surprises for me this year. The Vanda had taken a couple of seasons off and was on the “if I don’t get flowers this year you’re going in the garbage” list. It must have heard me because it’s covered with buttery yellow flowers and lots of new growth.


The Cypripedium (above), also known as Lady’s Slipper, for its prominent Labellum” or “Lip”,  is one of my most exotic-looking orchids. It is Chartreuse and dramatically striped with Burgundy/Oxblood. It is also, wonderfully, covered in dark purple hairs and warts—makes it look like it comes from a dark and dismal swamp.

Cypripediums are a terrestrial orchid, with familiar roots that gather nutrients from water and soil, as opposed to most of my other orchids, which are epiphytes. Epiphytes have rootlike structures, but they are exposed to the air and gather nutrients from humidity and the bark of their host plant. That’s a simple version of what happens—for more information look here.

My biggest challenge is my Cymbidiums. I admit that they did not come from a glamorous orchid grower—they came from a local giant Home Improvement Super Store. They were on sale and in full bloom and were maybe $10. That was at least five years ago. Maybe six. My “if I don’t get flowers this year you’re going in the garbage” list is hard to get onto and even harder to get off of. I talk a big game but I’m a softie and haven’t banished these pots full of leaves yet. I hear that they like a bit of a cold snap in order to encourage blooming. So I’ll give them another year and maybe I’ll repot them. But if they don’t bloom this year they’re in the garbage!

One of my favorite places to browse for houseplants is Logee’s Greenhouses in Connecticut—they have really unique plants and lots of good information on how to grow them. Definitely check them out!


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