One of the suggestions my friend Charlene gave me, when I was preparing to spend my first winter in New England, was "grow lots of plants." She too hailed from south Texas, and understood how green-starved southern eyes can get once northern winter sets in. That was a long time ago, but the advice still holds true.
My mother is fond of noting that both of her Massachusetts daughters seem to have green thumbs. (Each of us plays host to a small forest of cacti, philodendrons, and aloes.) I'm not sure Mom understands that the array of houseplants isn't just decorative -- it's necessary. I love the winter wonderland outside my window, and the fact of greenery in my home helps me sustain that love through the months of ice and snow.
Today I made a happy discovery: my orchid (I think it's some kind of phalaenopsis) is sprouting again. My sister gave me the orchid some years ago, after I led a Passover seder at her house. We'd divided the labor in our usual way: I handled the liturgical end of things, and she masterminded the food and the guest list. As decoration, she placed a potted orchid on each table. Afterwards, she gave me one of the centerpieces, as a thank-you.
I drove back across the state with the plant in a cardboard box. It blossomed for months, but by Rosh Hashanah the flowers withered and dropped, and then the stalk turned dry and pale. I snipped the stalk off at the base and kept watering the pot. The big oval leaves pleased me, springing from their nest of pebbles and moss.
To my delight, the following spring the orchid sprouted a stalk again. I kept watering it, fed it occasionally, and once the stalk was long enough bound it to the same curved stake that the first plant had grown to follow. It rewarded me with a ridiculous abundance of snowy blooms, fuschia streaks at their hearts. I put it on my seder table again.
The following year, the pattern repeated. This year will be the fourth, which is why I've come to think of this plant as my Pesach orchid. (Kind of like my so-called Christmas cactus, though that one actually blooms at Thanksgiving.) Today the new stalk is about two inches long, with a green tip. I have hopes that it will be tall enough to bind, and maybe even flowering, by Pesach.
It seems appropriate that this tropical plant shows signs of life as we approach Tu BiShvat. The sap may not be rising quite yet in the trees outside our house, but my orchid is waking! Blessed are You, Shekhinah, wellspring of all life, who manifest in so many small and exquisite ways.