Phalaenopsis or butterfly/moth orchids were my mom’s favorite. In her day, they were raised and enjoyed outdoors in the garden, either attached to live tree trunks, dead tree trunks (remember those anchored in cement disk bases?), or hanging on partially shaded trellises. She had room for at least 150 pots of hanging orchids (half of them over carp ponds to encourage humidity), and hundreds more attached to tree trunks. She must have had a good 40-50 moth orchids and when the end of the rainy season was near, around September or so, many of them would send out spectacular spikes of flowers. Today, many hotels and retail outlets around the world use these orchids in masses of dozens or hundreds even, as they are now raised by the millions in efficient greenhouses in Taiwan and elsewhere. At wholesale, these spectacular orchids cost just $6-8 for a young blooming plant! There is NO WAY my mother would part with her moth orchids for that amazingly low price…
I, on the other hand, have a notoriously black thumb, and rationally argue that it’s cheaper to buy the orchids blooming rather than futz with them all year… So over the past few years, we have purchased dozens and dozens of these orchids, enjoying their blooms for a month or more indoors. But what to do with the plants once the flowers have wilted? We started to plant them outdoors and have a dozen or two thriving on various tree trunks in our garden. I don’t touch them, speak to them or go near them. A gardener comes once a week to look after the yard, spray the orchids with fertilizer and lo and behold, they have rewarded us with spike after spike of orchids over the year, a beautiful display in the yard, all of them visible from the living room. At one point, I counted a dozen large spikes of flowers, a real bounty of say a hundred individual large blooms. My mom would have had a smile on her face, even if I couldn’t claim any credit for raising them!
For the past two years, we have switched from the tree trunks, which are more susceptible to caterpillars, bugs, etc., to a shaded terrace on the side of the house. We had some two dozen pots of moth orchids hanging there and apparently thriving, sending out nice big green leaves, but never once blooming. These ones I visited at least weekly, urging them to bloom, but still not touching them. I read up on orchid care, Sister mentioned they needed darkness at night (we had an outdoor light on at night for security right over the plants), added fertilizer, etc. and OMG, today we have five hanging plants with enormous spikes, some with as many as a dozen blooms! The pots have been moved indoors, in cache pots with moss… Really stunning. And in a sense, this round of blooms is nearly totally free! It’s such a pleasure to have fresh or live blooms in the house, and it’s particularly special when they were all raised at home! We haven’t bought a moth orchid for months now, and we won’t need to for at least a another couple of months more… And then, only with the view to increasing our mini-orchid stockpile… :)