12/07/2016 06:45 EST | Updated 12/07/2016 06:45 EST

Growing Orchids Taught Me Some Parenting Truths

Chris Gramly via Getty Images

It's not an accident that my orchid collection has grown as my son has grown. In the early days of caring for a baby, I could not entertain the thought of trying to keep a plant alive. Then, as he was able to care more and more for himself, I was drawn into the world of orchids. It started innocently. I won the white orchid table setting at my cousin's wedding, received the occasional gift, and succumbed to temptation, every now and then if I saw a particularly lovely one at the grocery store.

I suffered the fate of many orchid beginners, enjoying the flowers when I brought a new plant home but never able to get one to re-bloom. I cared for a handful at a time but my collection never grew because plants died as often as new ones were introduced.

After consulting books, websites and online forums, I realized there was no substitute for meeting people face-to-face. Eventually, I attended an orchid sale at my local botanical garden and joined the orchid society. Most members were very generous with their knowledge and warned me that it was a fine line between beginners and the obsessed but I was not deterred. I wanted to learn the secret to getting these beautiful plants to thrive under my care.

During the course of every meeting, there comes a time when we get to see the orchids that have been brought in for judging and, sometimes, the growers will tell us how they managed to coax such beautiful blooms from their plants. As I listened to these stories, I learned that there were many ways to raise prize-winning orchids. Often, the accepted "rules" were not just bent but broken beyond repair.

The first question every beginner asks is "How do I make my orchid bloom?" The experienced grower knows you can't make an orchid do anything. You can, however, find out what conditions your orchid prefers, do your best to provide those conditions and hope for the best.

My orchid collection has stabilized to about three dozen and I'm regularly rewarded with blooms. It took persistence, patience and learning to trust my instincts instead of trying to follow the rules. I had to learn to read my plants and give them time. Orchids are unpredictable. Occasionally, a promising plant forms buds that never bloom. Other times, a plant that I'm just about to give up on surprises me.

The first time my son caught me talking to my plants, he wasn't sure what to make of it. Since then, I've heard him, on more than one occasion, say a few encouraging words to them as he admires their beauty. Now, when he hears me whisper, "grow, thrive, bloom" as I water and return each one to its spot, he smiles as if he knows I'm not just hoping for the plants.

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