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Vanda orchids are true miracles of nature, with dramatic blooms painted in webbed patterns of sapphire blue, purple and lavender that sit high above cascades of silvery roots.
But this beauty comes at a price. For many indoor gardeners, this exotic genus of orchids can be an enormous challenge to grow. As soon as they are removed from the coddled conditions of specialist nurseries, they can deteriorate without the right treatment from 3D-printer-perfect to compost-heap fodder in as little as a week.
Fortunately, there is an easy trick that can not only dramatically boost your chances of success but also display the flowers to their greatest visual effect - and all you need to do this is a glass vase.
Vandas hail from the steamy jungles of southeast Asia, where they grow clinging to the branches of trees. Suspended in air saturated with moisture, their roots have evolved into long, draping curtains that absorb water from rain showers and the dense jungle air.
As these roots are often just as spectacularly showy as their flowers, nurseries usually grow the orchids with no potting media at all, to show them off to best effect.
While this works a treat in the carefully controlled conditions of large greenhouses, as soon as they are removed from this environment the plants suffer almost immediate symptoms of water loss. The once fat, plump tangles of roots start to wrinkle, flower petals shrivel and fall, then all growth grinds to a halt and if things don’t improve fast, the plants go into a terminal decline.
The traditional care advice is to take down the hanging plants and immerse them in a bucket of water for a full 30 minutes, before letting them thoroughly drip dry and returning them to their spot. A practice that should be repeated at least once a day, if not twice! Seriously, even I don’t have time for that business. However, there is an easy solution to allow the roots to bask in air with sky-high humidity.
Simply take your plant and lower it into a large vase. This can be either the giant cylinder-shaped ones or a basic fish bowl. The plant’s roots and leaves should help keep it in place in the container, with the fans of foliage largely outside the vase, but all the roots held within. Then part fill the container with water, so just the bottom 20% of the roots sit below the waterline, with the remaining 80% floating free above. Constant evaporation from this reservoir will create a consistently humid pocket of air that is contained by the walls of glass.
In terms of maintenance, you have to do nothing more than keep this level topped up, changing it every week or two to keep it fresh.
If you live in a hard-water area, you may get some calcium build-up on the glass, but this is easily dealt with using steel wool - or use bottled water and avoid the problem altogether.
Suddenly one of the trickiest plants to grow indoors can become the easiest - and encased in glass it will look like something straight out of the Chelsea Flower Show.
Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best.
- Guardian News and Media