"Orchids make winter more bearable," says Julie MacKenzie, who belongs to the Bucks County Orchid Society in Pennsylvania. Garden writer Virginia A. Smith wrote in an article for Philly.com that six years ago, Julie wandered into a greenhouse looking for a Christmas gift. She emerged lovestruck - for orchids.
"It was yucky wintertime and the orchids were so colorful, so beautiful and cheerful, I was captivated," MacKenzie recalls.
Since then, MacKenzie and her husband Geoff have studied up on this strange and storied plant and filled their home with up to 100 of them - mostly crowd-pleasers such as Oncidium, Vanda, and Phalaenopsis.
Today, more than $123 million worth of potted orchids are sold in this country annually, most between October and Mother's Day, when gloomy skies call us to recall the colors of warmer days. Their popularity is second only to poinsettias and is way ahead of chrysanthemums, roses, and other favorites, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"For $25 or less, you can get a Phalaenopsis that will be gorgeous for three months, while $30 in cut flowers is done in a week," says Tom Purviance, co-owner of Parkside Orchid Nursery in Ottsville, where he grows about 100,000 plants, mostly unusual tropical varieties, for hobbyists and collectors.
A good beginner orchid is the widely available Phalaenopsis, often called moth orchid because its round, oversized petals resemble a flying moth. It comes in many colors - white is famous - and in solids, stripes, and spots.
It grows low and compact, likes consistent watering and fertilizing, and prefers a temperate atmosphere. It adapts well to windowsills or fluorescent lights and blooms for several months, from autumn to spring. Some go year-round.
In summer, they hang from trees or decorate the deck. In winter, they thrive on windowsills or under lights, creating a heavenly, tropical feel. What could be better to warm up the winter?