Maverick Life

Opinionista

Orchids: the burdensome birthday present of rare beauty and perpetual pain

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Jeremy Maggs is a veteran journalist, television and radio presenter, and MD of communications firm, Bold. He is the author of ‘WIN!’ and ‘My Final Answer’.

Much like a pale northern Scandinavian supermodel, these rare creatures of beauty only like indirect sunlight and, unlike many of my birthday friends, do not like to be overwatered.

On the little table in the hallway, brimming with tokens of generosity and parcels of pleasure, this thin, delicate, floral interloper looms tall over all of them, casting a menacing shadow over the Sally Williams nougat box and the novelty black load shedding tie with a luminous flashing clip-on knot.

At some point in our adult birthday cycle, we’ll all experience the sheer panic of receiving this difficult gift. As friends and family sensibly thrust bottles of wine into our hand or a discreet envelope with a welcome voucher from Exclusive Books or Nespresso, one unthinking person will buck the trend; go against the grain; swim upstream or zig when others zag.

One minute you’re moving to the party rhythm of Bobby Darin and thinking how kind everyone has been to come to your little celebratory soiree, and the next you’re hoping Uncle Mac uses his knife to good effect on the infernal guest who has given you a present of perpetual pain.

On the little table in the hallway, now brimming with tokens of generosity and parcels of pleasure, this thin, delicate, floral interloper looms tall over all of them, casting a menacing shadow over the Sally Williams nougat box and the novelty black load shedding tie with a luminous flashing clip-on knot.

Trills the gifter to the giftee, “Don’t overwater it and it’ll give you hours of pleasure,” before heading straight for the single malt you thought you’d hidden successfully behind the litre bottle of bargain Bell’s and a platter of pigs in a blanket.

Receiving a Woolies Berry or White Phalaenopsis Orchid is much like our relationship with Eskom – tense and fraught, and with never a chance of it ending well.

When I received my first one on a landmark birthday, I marvelled at its three-lobed lip triangular flowers; the thick, leathery elliptical leaves and its thick, silvery-white, aerial roots.

I placed it on a sunny bookshelf, gave it a pudding basin full of water and promptly forgot about it. It’s death I can only imagine was slow and painful.

Much like a pale northern Scandinavian supermodel, these rare creatures of beauty only like indirect sunlight and unlike many of my birthday friends, do not like to be overwatered.

Interestingly, this variety is also called the moth orchid because of the resemblance its flowers have to moths in flight.

But ponder this before you get too excited and invested in these plants. Moths are also linked to ghosts and death, and the Bible verse Job 13:28 says, “Man wastes away like a rotten thing, like a garment that is moth-eaten.”

Over many years, other orchids have come and gone from my life. 

Some have simply sulked to death, others have drowned in stagnant water, and one or two have heard what an unfriendly environment my home is and have simply willed themselves to paradise, sometimes in a matter of hours.

On about my 10th try, some smartass suggested I house the plant in my bathroom as the “moist shower humidity would create a nourishing and conducive environment”. Any port in a horticultural storm. And it thrived for a while – until a combination of Rand Water repair issues and the liberal use of a new cologne consigned it to an early death and a lonely funeral on a compost heap.

Orchids, I’ve now come to believe, should only be given to and housed by special, gentle, loving people. A home where they are given a little light spritzing when needed, where their owner is happy to wiggle a finger into its soil to do a little moisture testing and where Spotify plays a gentle light classical compilation during the morning shaving routine and not the Global News Podcast, particularly where climate catastrophe is the lead story.

So, on my next birthday, might I kindly ask for the Woolies “Micro Succulent in Glass”, which it seems will respond well to minimal or even no care, the odd tot-measure of liquid and a robust current affairs programme about global warming. DM

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