Sometimes it’s nice to share a success story of an everyday guy who grows orchids on his windowsill. I suppose he’s not quite an everyday guy. His name is Howard ‘Buddy’ Wiles III and he is an Obstetrics and Gynecology doctor in Richmond. Although he doesn’t have any professional orchid training, he has figured out a way to grow and bloom Phalaenopsis in his office window year after year.
It all started when his wife, Leslie, who is a Registered Nurse, gave him one of her ‘extra’ orchids from home to play with. She said it had the ‘dwindles’ – a term she uses to describe a plant that gets a little worse each year. Dr Wiles, however, had no problem getting the plant to grow new leaves and bloom profusely. Word caught on that this mild mannered doctor liked orchids and soon patients and co-workers were giving him more orchids. Before long there was a window-full.
I observed his growing space and concluded that this guy must give the same loving care to his plants that he does to his patients. The recipe that works for him is to grow all the same type of orchid – in this case, Phalaenopsis – re-pot them all the same, water them all the same. In effect, duplicate the success he achieved with his very first plant. His new leaves are all bigger than the old ones – a sign that things are on the right track.
When it comes to growing orchids, everyone has their own specific style. In Dr. Wiles’ case, he re-pots all his Phals in clear plastic pots because he likes to periodically look at the health of the roots. He uses sphagnum moss as the potting medium because it doesn’t make a mess and he has to keep his hospital area clean. At times, he puts a few plastic (Styrofoam) peanuts in the pot if there aren’t many roots. He also tries to leave a small air space inside the pot somewhere in the middle as this seems to reduce root rot.
The moth orchids are proudly displayed in fancy decorative pots that Leslie has provided. Twelve containers fit along the eight foot tinted glass window thanks to a generous one foot wide ledge that faces west. Dr. Wiles attributes early spiking/blooming to an air conditioner vent directly over the window which causes the night temperatures to drop into the low 60’s in the summer. The plants bloom slightly out of season – autumn – and just before the normal flowering season of January/February/March. He waters thoroughly once a week in the sink and certainly avoids using ice cubes. Fertilizing is a two part system in which the plants get a solution of a ‘grow’ formula (mostly nitrogen) for the first few months after the flowers fall off followed by a ‘bloom’ formula (mostly phosphorous) for the remainder of the year.
His advice to new growers: “You need more than one plant - maybe five, ten, or twenty. Otherwise, you get bored.”