Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Green thumbs are not required to grow beautiful, exotic orchids

Green thumbs are not required to grow beautiful, exotic orchids

Jim Gainan Growing Up | Posted: Sunday, March 7, 2010 12:00 am

It’s a widely held belief that simplifying responsibilities and commitments is key to reducing stress. It’s a notion I’ve never been able to embrace.  

It seems that I am drawn toward projects, houses, landscape and people that require a little more TLC than the norm.  I am ‘hard wired’ with the belief that in order for a project, a landscape, a fundraiser or wedding to be the best, it must be very difficult. Until recently, I’ve always been able to ‘pull it off’ based on sheer determination.  There’s nothing more rewarding than the process of completely becoming immersed in something, tweaking every little detail and seeing it through to completion (and in some cases, sending the bill!)  

While this is a successful way to perform at work, I’ve learned that home must be something entirely different.  So, I compromised with myself and decided when we fell in love with our current old house, its inherent complicated nature and made the decision to buy it, I had to change or I wouldn’t survive.

This home and yard was going to be a testament to my new truth that small changes over a period of time will yield great results.  An admitted recovering perfectionist, it hasn’t been an easy change.  There just isn’t enough money in the bank or hours in the day to do everything that I’d like to. If I venture into a project that is going to be very high maintenance I ask myself, “Do I really want to take this on forever?”  If the answer is no, I adjust that plan to involve less maintenance or (I can’t believe I’m saying this) I don’t do it.  

The old saying “Do it right or don’t do it at all” is my new mantra. So, just like life, there are areas in our garden that require pruning, weeding and lots of care while other areas have drip irrigation, weed mat and bark.  It’s a nice balance, which allows for some free time to just enjoy the place with friends and family.

I used to think orchids were only grown by people with really green thumbs or by those who could afford to have someone else care for them. I’ve learned that is not the case.  If I told you that I knew of a live plant that looks exotic and complicated, that bloomed once a year for two to nine months, required a little easterly sun, and some humidity, would you believe it’s an orchid?

It’s true.  The little beauties known to thrive on “benign neglect” are easy to care for, and very rewarding to grow.  Orchids that come from reputable orchid farms are only sold through full service greenhouse operations.  Just like produce, you can tell when you are buying a good one.  Orchids sold by mass merchandisers are not a great choice for the beginner because they haven’t had a great start.  They’re usually smaller, light-deprived and in plastic sleeves.  The success rate is low and part of the reason why consumers believe that they are hard-to-grow.  You want to buy an orchid that has had time to acclimate to our area and that has had the best start possible.  This will ensure your success.

The best overall performer for growing inside the home is the phalaenopsis. Understanding where the orchid varieties are found in nature is key to selecting the “right” orchid for you. Phalaenopsis (fail-ee-nop-sis) orchids are found in tropical areas growing in the bark of a tree. The moisture varies from heavy to dry depending on the season. High winds are also present at times.

We recommend placing the orchid in an area with good air circulation, the proper light (see chart), and humidity. The hardest component to properly achieve in our area is humidity. This can be accomplished by placing the orchid on a bed of pea gravel in a plastic saucer filled with some water in the gravel. The humidity will increase in the little ecosystem that has been created and provide an environment for success. Bathrooms with good light are great, but the humidity from a shower is only advisable in the morning. The water during the rest of the day has to have enough time to evaporate from the leaves of the orchids. If you are a “shower at night person”, the kitchen counter works well also because of the humidity created from washing dishes.

Give an orchid a try. They bloom once a year for a long time. To have constant blooms, you simply add another plant that is in full bloom when the first has expired and so on. With about 6-7 orchids, blooms are possible all year long.   Once you’ve established your indoor orchid garden, your family and friends will marvel at your talent.  Let’s keep the fact that they’re really easy to grow between us!

Jim Gainan is VP/Shareholder of Gainan’s Flower and Garden Center in Billings.