Every morning for four-and-a-half years, Chris Goodman has come out of his home in the morning and felt a little disappointed.
In the Sausage tree outside his front door, staring at him day in and day out, was one of the orphaned orchids he’d taken in and so lovingly cared for. Despite trying to give it more water, then less water, some plant food and just the right amount of sun, the orchid had continued to “sulk”. Chris knew that orchids could be temperamental but after almost five years, this one had him completely doubting his supposed green fingers.
Then about a week ago, Chris repeated his morning ritual but this time his head whipped around in surprise as he passed by the tree. Something unusual had appeared. His Cattleya midcompton had buds. Emma, his wife, says he almost beat the window down trying to wake her up to tell her the news.
This species of orchid is one of the most sought after in the world because of its startlingly beautiful and colourful flowers. Not to be deceived by its appearance though, this particular individual of Chris’ is quite the trooper too. First it was caught in the microburst we had on Londolozi in 2014. The incredibly intense hail storm mauled this little plant, leaving bullet-like holes in some of its leaves, which are still evident even now. Then the orchid was transplanted from one garden to another and despite it sending out roots, it didn’t look like it ever wanted to flower again.
This is one of the things that Chris actually loves about growing orchids though. The fact that they’re unpredictable. One day they’re nothing more than a strange looking cluster of green leaves and the next they shoot out a remarkably intricate flower, completely different from the neighbour growing next to it.
Because a majority of orchids evolved in jungles around the world, which are the oldest environment on the planet, they are considered the most evolved of the flowering plants. And because they have been around for so long, they are highly diversified, having evolved to fit into very specific niches. In fact there are about 30 000 different species of wild orchid in the world. The structure, the fragrance and the colour of these plants have evolved to help them in the process of reproduction. The orchid’s development of unique structures often permits cross-pollination only by specific pollinators and the relationships are highly specialised. Each orchid species will germinate and grow only under certain conditions. Pollen is usually held together in masses and in many cases must be positioned correctly on the insect for pollination of another flower to occur. This tends to prevent cross-pollination between different species. An orchid’s fragrance, size and colour may attract particular types of insects or birds as well.
In nature we see how nothing is rushed. Orchids, like humans, bloom when they’re settled and happy and conditions are just right, and because its never a given, we appreciate the beauty of that blossoming so much more. Chris takes joy in the process of putting consistent love and effort into caring for little plants like this because after a year or many, they can surprise you with the most unexpected and beautiful flower. He reckons that it’s the not knowing when it’s coming that makes it all the more worth it.
In much the same way that Rob Jeffery wrote about how a lion showed him that without a line in the water you’ll never catch a fish, Chris shows the same is true of gardening. So even if you don’t have particularly green fingers, don’t toss out your next orchid when it’s done flowering. They’re much hardier than you imagine and with a little love and attention, who knows when they’ll surprise you with some remarkable beauty…