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I recently came across this amongst some scribblings of mine from the late 1980s and realized that it’s just as true a quarter-century later as it was then! The thought occurred to me that the novice orchid grower might be able to use a bit of help in navigating the shoals of vague and ambiguous phrases dotting most advertisements, catalogs and culture books. So herewith I present The Chatsworth Lady’s Essential Guide to Orchidese, in no particular order whatsoever.

Easy to grow: Almost sure to bloom at least once during your lifetime.

A challenge: Will probably never flower, but will survive if given a special diet, a yearly vacation in Tahiti, and its own valet.

Fussy: Only a masochist would buy this one.

Compact grower: Can be counted on to not take over the entire growing area.

Vigorous grower: Stock up on plant stakes and 18” pots. A machete would be useful too.

Miniature: “Is that the flower, or an insect?”

Adequate humidity: This is a toughie. Let’s just say that if the plants are trying to crawl toward the kitchen sink, the atmosphere is probably too dry. On the other hand, if your glasses fog up when you look at the flowers, chances are you’ve overdone it.

Balanced fertilizer: An orchid grower attempting to carry one tub of 30-10-10, one of 10-30-20, one of 18-18-18, a watering can, a scoop, and a proportioner – all at the same time.

Minimum night temperature: The temperature below which a given orchid will awaken you in order to ask for an extra blanket.

Pest: (1) Any insect that is likely to damage an orchid plant. (2) Anyone who interrupts a repotting session.

Good air circulation: Ideally, something midway between the air movement needed to blow out a single birthday candle and that which would require tether lines to keep the plants on the benches.

Award quality: The plant may receive an FCC (First Class Certificate), AM (Award of Merit), HCC (Highly Commended Certificate), CBM (Certificate of Botanical Merit) or other American Orchid Society honor. If not, it might qualify for the PAA (Pest Appeal Award), AWB (Absolutely Won’t Bloom), DLC (Dropped-Leaves Certificate) or GC (Garbage Can).

Evenly moist: The mythical ideal potting-mix status. While the precise definition has yet to be established, it is generally agreed that a fair-sized insect traveling from the top of the growing medium down to the drainage hole would neither drown en route nor kick up an appreciable cloud of dust.