Just over three years ago I adopted three orchids. I found them in a hardware store, leftovers from a Mother’s Day sale, months before. The three were a sad lot. I made a deal with the manager and brought them home for $5. I blogged about how I nurtured them back to life. Two of them even bloomed again. I felt pleased, even proud. Then, two years later, I watch the weakest one die. I felt sad but also knew it didn’t have much a chance to begin with. I gave her my best, I thought, the other two will thrive.
Three years later only one survives and she too is beginning to wane. I turned to Google to find out where I went wrong and Google, in turn, led me back to the orchid, the substrate to be exact. It’s vital, I read, to have a healthy potting medium. The medium in my remaining epiphyte, sphagnum moss, was rotting. I took the sage advice and replaced the moss with fir bark.
I’m embarrassed to write this. I know that soil health is important. It is the foundation from which all plants flourish… I know this. I fertilize my other plants and keep a mental log of when to change the dirt and when to repot. I look for mold and fungus gnats and I am cautious in my watering. But, for some reason, I didn’t do so much with my orchids. Perhaps it was because they are epiphytes… they don’t need me as much; they are more efficient at finding their own way. Or perhaps, I just took them for granted: they can take care of themselves.
There is a two meter high rhododendron across the street. She sits on public land aside a path that leads to the sea. She is dying from thirst. I noticed the shrub's distress a week ago. It shocked me—why hadn't I seen it before? And then, why hadn't anyone watered her?
A friend on the island told me she was collecting grey water for her garden. I thought how difficult it would be for me to do the same. I live in an apartment, I told her, I have no garden and my sink is too small to accommodate a pail. I then remembered the orchid and my subtle arrogance that the plant should take care of herself. I thought again of the Rhodo, abandoned in the face of climate change, a victim of human excess. My excuses became pitiful as my complicity betrayed itself.
I now have a small pail in the sink and a larger one in the shower; I am collecting up to three buckets of water a day. It may not be enough but I am going to try and save that Rhododendron.
Vancouverites, on average, use 300 litres of water a day. That's each and everyone of us. Is it really necessary?
Here are some ways to reduce water consumption in the home.
- Put a small container in the sink to catch rinse water from veggies and fruit. Place a pail in your kitchen so you can empty out this container often. Water your garden or other plants in the neighbourhood with this grey water.
- Place a pail in your shower to collect water as you wash.
- Keep the water off while brushing your teeth. Spit into the toilet so you don't have to rinse out the sink
- As for the toilet, if it's yellow, let it mellow...
- Store drinking water in the fridge if you like it cold, i.e. don't run the tap water.
- Don't fill your sink to wash dishes. Soap up a sponge to wash the plates and cups and then rinse sparingly. Collect as much of this water as possible. (I do a quick rinse first to get off most of the soap.)
- Turn off the shower when soaping or lathering your hair.
- Launder your clothes less and do so in larger loads.