When I saw that one of my favorite florists, Saipua, would be offering an orchid class this month, I wished I could hop a plane to New York to take part (but being nine months pregnant with twins kind of makes that a non-starter). In any case, I was inspired; because they're greenhouse-grown in mild climates, cut orchids are a perfect topic for this time of year, when the flower markets are relatively bare.
Since I only use California-grown material in my studio, I'm always on the lookout for local treasures, and finding locally grown cut orchids can be kind of a hit-or-miss proposition. Most of the cut orchids we get around here are grown in Hawaii, and on the East Coast, lots of them come from Florida.
Orchid stems we can get from local growers are usually the blooms cut from plants that haven't sold; many of the growers will snip and sell the flowers after the last buds have opened, then board up the plants until they begin to bloom again. From a practical point of view, this means it's hard to count on the availability of any given variety, and yet it also means fun surprises at the market all year round!
A few bits of advice about working with cut orchids in your flower arrangements at home:
• The beauty of cut orchids is that they last for ages and ages. Depending on when it was cut, you're likely to get two or three weeks out of an orchid stem. They're fabulous for mixed bouquets because even after the other materials are long gone, you still have a gorgeously detailed bloom to display. Orchids even last fairly well out of water, so if you've got extra blooms you can sprinkle them in a dish or use them as garnish for a party dessert.
• Certain orchid varieties bloom in long, dangling stems with many flowers, and since orchids can be pricey, you can try and extend your dollar by carefully cutting long stems into shorter ones. Cut very close to the bloom so that the flower itself hides any stumpy evidence of the cut.
• When working with varieties with long stems as described above (like cymbidiums or catteleya) the lower part of the stem will be woodier, so you can use its vertical strength to your advantage, allowing the blooms to draw the eye upwards; the ends of the stems will have a more naturally dangling form, so you can use them almost like a vine, curling down over the lip of your vase or even around the handle of a pitcher or cup.
• Orchids are so intricately detailed when you examine them closely, and while such detail may seem to get lost in a mixed bouquet, you can also make it work for you in subtle ways, by pulling out color and pattern drawn from the orchid's intricate center and using other materials that call attention to those accent colors and shapes. Then again, sometimes the best way to display a special orchid stem might be all by itself in a simple glass vase. Try winding your stem up the middle of a tall glass cylinder to support its weight while still highlighting each individual bloom.
(Images: Susie Nadler; Caitlin Atkinson for Flora Grubb Gardens; Sylvie Gil)