This is the time of year when my houseplants reign supreme. Deprived of outdoor gardening, I focus my considerable nurturing energies on the plants that live inside, with me. I spritz them with tepid water once a day; I whisk away the least dry leaf before it can fall to the floor; and I have to hold myself back from over watering and over fertilizing.
As a result of all this attention, the scented geraniums look more lush now than they do in summer, which they spend on the patio. The rosemary is surviving its indoor imprisonment, a considerable achievement for a captive rosemary bush. But it's the orchids that provide the extravagance and the splendor of the Mardi Gras season. Remember when orchids were strictly the province of wealthy connoisseurs? Now every supermarket, every Home Depot, every Walmart has entire jungles of them, in all colors and sizes, for $19.99 plus tax. I'm afraid that in a couple of seasons orchids will go the way of African violets, which once made us gasp with their profuse, colorful blooms and now, alas, barely elicit a yawn.
But in my house, where there are only two, the orchids still amaze me every time I look at them. One reason that they seem so extraordinary is that the flowers, instead of growing at the tip of a vertical stem like daisies and geraniums, bend the long upright stem at a right angle and bloom along that portion of it, as if to make it easier for us to admire their magnificence.
My favorite orchid lives in the bathroom, where it is continually bathed in humidity from the shower and from the spritzes I give it every time I go by. It is rewarding me by putting out a remarkable row of large blooms, white except for the magenta bit in the center, whatever that is called. The white parts, of course, are anything but white, and have suggestions in them of the entire spectrum, enhanced by a multitude of tiny diamond points that sparkle in the light. Our bathroom is not large, and the orchid takes up a good bit of the counter, so that we bump into it as we use the sink. But I can think of worse things than bumping into an orchid in full bloom when I go to wash my face.
I have always liked to live cheek by jowl with other life forms. During my city-dwelling years, when the view out the window was more of cars and asphalt than of green things, I had plants on every sill. For a time at work I shared a large office with a colleague, and I made myself a privacy screen out of palms and ficuses and ferns that I lugged one by one from my house to the middle of DC on the metro. When I finished arranging the plants, I was practically invisible behind my green wall, and to find me visitors had to make their way, like tropical explorers, through waving, dripping fronds and bracts and leaves (I kept a spritzer on my desk).
One of the things I like best about houseplants is how manageable they are. They stay in their pots. They don't overrun other plants, and other plants don't overrun them. They are not attacked by cutworms or Japanese beetles. All the watering and spritzing and trimming can be done in a matter of minutes, in one's pajamas. They never need weeding. Best of all, like indoor cats, they are right there, in the most intimate spaces of the house, pieces of God's own wilderness tamed and contained for my comfort and delight.