Orchids are the supermodels of the plant world - stunning and alien in appearance, delicate, graceful - a symbol of love, luxury and the deceptively powerful. Ancient Greece associated the orchid with virility and strength. In Taiwan, where the orchid is considered a feng-shui plant, business-people send Phalaenopsis as new year gifts, representing good luck and prosperity for the year to come.
There’s no surprise, then, that orchids are amongst the most highly coveted of ornamental plants. They’re one of the oldest flowering plant genera on the planet, surviving and thriving where other plants and beasts have met with their evolutionary Book of Revelations. Believe it or not, they survived the dinosaurs!
So, if all this is true, why, then, do I seem to be leaving an orchid-shaped trail of destruction behind me? If a plant can survive for millions of years, why can’t I keep a single plant flowering in my living room? There has to be something I’m doing wrong.
Out of respect for these beautiful mysteries, I opted for optimistic, making sure that my living room can be a welcome domain, not a doctor’s waiting room of dropping blooms. And I found out that caring for an orchid flower, isn’t such a trial. I’d just been doing it all wrong.
Sound familiar? Well, read on.
The Soufflé Of The Flower Kingdom
The truth of the matter is that orchids are the soufflé of the flower kingdom - the more you fuss, the more they flop. An orchid is an epiphyte. [WOAH there, Mr Technical… It just means that it’s a plant that grows on another plant. But it’s not a parasite, which damages its host by sucking up nutrients from it.
The orchid’s natural habitat is on the side of trees, on rocks, on the earth or under it . They’re air plants, meaning that they receive most of what they need from the air and, as such, appreciate good air circulation around the roots. They often survive on little, so give them a little and they’ll reward you a lot.
Over-watering and over-feeding is the main reason for orchid-shaped graveyards. Don’t panic! With some arms-distance love and care, they will thrive.
What orchid do I have / should I get?
Orchids were once rare and super-expensive, but thanks to improvements in farming methods, we can all enjoy the exotic beauty of an orchid in our homes and gardens.
There are around 30,000 species of orchid and more than 100,000 registered hybrids. I can feel your blood pressure rising. Fear not! For when it comes to orchids widely available in supermarkets and garden-centres, the vast majority are either Phalaenopsis or Dendrobium. And they have simple needs!
Phalaenopsis are sometimes known as Moth Orchids and are the easiest of the orchids to care for, so are ideal for the novice grower. They have round flowers with a pronounced lip that grows on tall stalks, accompanied by fleshy, oval leaves, usually around the base of the plant.
They produce beautiful, arching spikes of 10 or more blooms and can flower as often as three times a year and can stay in bloom for months each time. The plants are beautiful but shy, so they love the shade. The strength of the plant is in its thick leaves and thick roots. Their flowers are usually white, purple or pink, or a combination thereof.
Dendrobium are often referred to as Cane Orchids. They have smaller flowers that grow in rows and clusters, arising from thicker canes than Phalaenopsis. There is often several white or purple flower clusters per plant. The leaves are narrow and emerge from the side of the cane, travelling up towards the blooms.
The leaves are the Litmus Test
Caring for an orchid is a bit like learning to care for a cat. They can’t talk to you, so you learn to recognise the signs they give off that indicate what they want. Unlike a cat, however, an orchid probably isn’t asking for food!
The leaves of an orchid plant are the Litmus Test to the plant’s happiness - you just need to know what you’re looking for.
Orchids should have bright green leaves. If they go dark green, they’re not getting enough light. Yellowing leaves mean they’re getting too much light. Too much water will make the roots rot and the leaves will turn yellow and probably drop off completely. 
The general rule is if the leaves are thick and fleshy, it’s a warm grower from the tropics, whilst orchids with long, thin leaves usually prefer a cooler climate.
There are 3 main ways to care for an orchid
Varieties to maintain even moisture (not wet or soggy) at all times:
Varieties requiring consistent moisture during active growth, then allowed to dry out between waters when not actively growing:
Varieties to keep nearly dry between waterings: