Saturday, April 28, 2012


     Atop the windowsill, just behind my kitchen sink, lives a Phaleonopsis orchid. From its waxy-smooth emerald leaves and wandering air roots to its splendid crown of creamy violet-speckled blooms issuing from three slender, nodular stems, this orchid requires a surprisingly minimal amount of my attention. My friend, Brenda, gave it to me as a house-warming gift about a year ago when Brad and I moved to Rome, Georgia. Honestly, I've always been a little bit intimidated by houseplants. My first houseplant was a Peperomia with deeply ridged, heart-shaped leaves that looked succulent enough to eat. I received it on my thirteenth birthday from one of my 8th grade classmates. I thought it was a wonderful present, quickly finding it a home on the desk in the room I shared with my younger sister, next to the aquarium which housed our goldfish, Ward and June. It seemed so grown up, having a houseplant in our room. Although I tried my best to follow the care instructions, my little plant soon withered and died, most likely victimized by inadequate sunlight, an excess of Jobe's plant spikes, and aggressive over-watering. Ward and June followed suit shortly afterward, apparently having succumbed to the fish tank's improperly adjusted pH balance. It appeared I wasn't much of a green thumb. Since then, I've had maybe six other houseplants, all of which have met a similar fate, mostly because I can't seem to remember that they need frequent watering.
     When Brenda presented me with this lovely orchid, my heart just about stopped. It was so elegant and graceful, replete with stately stems and sensual blossoms, yet all I could think about was the inevitable demise it would surely suffer in my herbicidal hands. From the looks of it, I assumed this plant would be particularly fussy. Brenda, sensing my obvious reticence over accepting her lush green gift, assured me that this was indeed a low-maintenance plant. "It's an ice cube orchid, Kris. Just give it three cubes of ice once a week, and it'll be just fine!" It sounded too good to be true. How could a spectacular flowering plant like this require so little in the nurturing department? In disbelief, I placed the orchid on a sill in the kitchen, sometimes remembering the weekly watering with ice cubes, but most of the time not. Spring became summer, and the blooms shriveled and dropped, the detritus littering the windowsill. For most of the fall and winter, two bare stems protruded from the tangle of floppy leaves, the air roots spilling out over the sides of the pot as if plotting a daring escape. Those few months were bleak and strange for us. We'd moved to Rome in April so I'd no longer have to commute from Atlanta, and in November, both Brad and I lost our jobs. Dejected and depressed, I forgot all about the orchid. I worked my 90 day notice, finishing at the end of January, and Brad found a new job in Atlanta. Once again, our lives were topsy-turvy, with him commuting and me unemployed, and it was clear that we'd have to move back to Atlanta, just 10 months after moving to Rome.
     I spent most of the end of January and February, packing for our impending move. It took several days to pack up all the non-essentials in the kitchen, and as I started bubble-wrapping the knicknacks on the windowsill, I figured Brenda's poor, neglected orchid would most certainly be a casualty. I took it down and examined it for signs of life. Much to my surprise, there was a new inflorescence, bravely peeking above the leaves, along with a number of buds on the existing columns. I staked the rogue young stem next to one of the taller ones, tossed in three ice cubes, and within a few days, the orchid was in full bloom. That was mid-February, and since then, it has never stopped flowering. Sunday is ice cube day, and I haven't forgotten once. Our kitchen windows get strong morning light, which burned a spot on one of the leaves, so I've started putting the orchid on the counter until the danger of direct sunlight has passed. I feel an odd kinship with this plant: what hasn't killed us has made us stronger. Whether efflorescent or senescent, our basic requirements are minimal. As long as we receive a bit of nutrition, some sunshine, and a little love, we can repair what's broken, and conserve our remaining energy for new growth.


  1. I loved it. Very true, what doesn't kill us makes us stranger.

  2. I like what IYAAYS says "what doesn't kill us makes us STRANGER" :-) as well as

    "As long as we receive a bit of nutrition, some sunshine, and a little love, we can repair what's broken, and conserve our remaining energy for new growth."

    1. TonyB, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger and stranger...I like that!

  3. Kris, that’s a beautiful orchid plant! Wonderful story about the orchid and it felt like the renewal of the orchid was a symbol of hope for you. Yes, “what hasn’t killed us has made us stronger,” is a good metaphor for life. I’m good with houseplants but I’ve never had much luck with orchids. I’ll have to try the ice cube trick.