For Families

The succulent and the orchid

July 27, 2020

I love succulents. They are easy to care for in a hot country with little water. You can just break off a piece and put it in the ground, and it will grow. Of course it needs care, especially early on: water and the right soil. Succulents thrive in hot summers and survive cold winters (they have their limits, of course) and just get on with it till the summer comes again. They are good at adapting to different environments.

I also love orchids. Fine ,beautiful, intricate and mostly very sensitive. They need exactly the right growing medium, exactly the right amount of water, a place where it is light, but no direct sunlight. They don’t like draft. There needs differ from those of succulents. They are more demanding and cannot be left alone at home while you go on holidays for three weeks. They always need the right conditions to grow in.

Nobody in their right mind would expect an orchid to be a succulent and say: Why are you so sensitive!? Why are you so fussy? Why did your blooms dry out? Why don’t you bloom more often? Why can’t you just be like the succulents? you are so demanding!

Aspies are like orchids. They are intricate, sensitive to the smallest changes, beautiful, they need to be touched with utter care, if at all, they need feeding and exactly the right environment to thrive and show their delicate and fine features. 

If you get the gift of an orchid, without any knowledge of what they need, you might do all the wrong things: give too much or too little water, forget to keep them out of direct harsh sunlight, see their blooms falling off before they opened. But you love your orchid, and you will ask friends who know how to grow them, and go to the nursery and ask for advice. And the more you understand your orchid, the more blossoms it will make, the more times it will blossom and give you pleasure when you see it, happy and resilient in its right spot. 

Of course you also love your succulents, because they are equally beautiful and intricate and because they are easy to take care of. You might even neglect your succulents from time to time, because the orchid takes all your time and energy. You cannot just focus on you orchids. You have to cut the succulents back, water them when there has been no rain in a long time, and enjoy the times when they have flowers, which is a short, special time.

You as gardener also need support and care. If you feel overwhelmed by the responsibility for keeping every plant happy in a small garden or house, which is too hot in summer and too cold and sunless in winter, you need to get the help of and experienced gardener who can support and advise you and if necessary get a gardener in who can take care of your garden while you have to attend to your job, and your own needs. 

Some people have green fingers, and others don’t. There is no shame in that. Don’t be scared or ashamed to ask for help: I have no idea how to look after orchids, I get it all wrong. They seem not to like me, because they wither away, and I am just so much better with succulents. I feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities of knowing when I give too much or too little water. And I have not found the spot in my house or garden where they are happy.

You are allowed and encouraged to get in an experienced gardener, or an orchard enthusiast or specialist who will look after your plant, figure out what needs to be changed in the environment, and teach you by example. And if you have one of the very rare species who are extremely sensitive and need different growing conditions, these specialists will also take some time to find the answer. Perhaps there is a fungus, perhaps there is an ant nest, perhaps the growing medium is wrong. 

Together with your orchid-loving friend or specialist you figure out what your orchid needs. And because you tried alone for a while, you probably have noticed things about the orchid, that you are not even aware of, or that other people have told you is wrong. And you followed their advice instead of trusting your instinct. Because what do you about orchids, you might think. Friends, neighbours (some of those who have never had an orchid), or the internet give you lots of advice. Some of it is good, and some is really bad. But you try and try, and sometimes feel like giving up.

The more you know your special orchid, the more you trust yourself with what you know, the more you can provide the environment where it can thrive and where it gives you the gift of its beauty. Always with the knowledge there are lots of other people with orchids who understand and who can support each other.

-Written by Karin Huyssen, Clinical Psychologist and diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder