Society fosters flowers to give to patients
A longtime ICU nurse passionate about orchids means good things for a natural foods supermarket and, by next spring, patients at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center.
“The Lake doesn’t know it yet,” said Beth Blackstock, a transplanted New Orleanian who’s now a case manager at the Essen Lane hospital.
What the Lake doesn’t know is that Blackstock and other members of the Baton Rouge Orchid Society are “fostering” the orchids that don’t sell at Whole Foods.
When the exotic plants come into bloom this spring, Blackstock hopes the hospital will let the orchid society put orchids in patients’ rooms, starting with cancer patients.
Blackstock put an orchid in the room of a friend named Mike at Earl K. Long Medical Center.
“He was terminal,” she said, “but I think he knew the orchid was there.”
“That orchid made such a difference for so many people,” Blackstock said. “Mike’s wife, his family, friends, nurses.”
The orchid’s doing well. “His wife calls it ‘Mike’s orchid,’” the nurse said.
While shopping one day at Whole Foods, Blackstock inquired about what happens to the orchids that don’t sell.
“They said, ‘We compost them.’ I almost fell on the floor,” Blackstock said.
It takes four to seven years to grow an orchid from seed to bloom maker.
The supermarket agreed to let Blackstock pick up orchids that don’t sell. In two months, she’d collected more than 100.
She’s hoping that collection will slow with the approach of winter when the lovely plants go dormant.
But she’s prepared to “foster” hundreds more with the help of fellow orchid growers. Our Lady of the Lake has more than 500 beds.
To hear Blackstock tell it, keeping an orchid alive and blooming is as easy as boxing them and putting them in her car at Whole Foods.
“I took the first ones to an orchid society meeting and passed them out,” she said. “They don’t really need rehabbing.”
If an orchid doesn’t look good, the neophyte grower’s first inclination is to water. Don’t.
“When new growers bring orchids to meetings and the orchid doesn’t look good, the roots and the medium are usually soaking wet,” she said.
The trick is to simulate a homegrown orchid’s ancestors’ environment, usually rain forests, Blackstock said.
In the wild, orchids get rained on, dry out and get rained on some more. Growers learn to tell when an orchid’s medium is dry enough to need watering.
A gorgeous orchid flower, purple with a yellow-rimmed pouch, in Blackstock’s shade shed is an exception to the watering rule.
The plant’s forebearers grow on calciferous rocks along South American streams.
“This one likes wet roots,” she said.
The Phragmipedium Memoria Dick Clements hales from Peru and Ecuador and wasn’t known to outsiders until the 1980s, Blackstock said.
Blackstock’s fascination with orchids began at dinner one evening in Metairie’s Clearview Mall.
“People kept going by with these beautiful flowers,” she said. “We stopped one of them to ask where the flowers came from.” There was an orchid show and sale in the mall.
“I had to have one,” she said. “I bought a phalenopsis. I told the vendor, ‘I know I’ll kill it.’”
“The vendor said, ‘No, you won’t unless you overwater it.’”
“That was 10 years ago,” she said. “I’d still have it if I hadn’t misread something online.”
“Orchids love repotting,” the online story said.
“Well, not if you repot at the wrong time,” Blackstock said. “You re-pot when they’re in growth, putting on new roots, spring and summer. If you repot them in the winter, which is what I did, they’re dormant and can’t take up the water. So, the roots rot.”
“My advice is join the Baton Rouge Orchid Society so you don’t make mistakes like that,” she said.