The Orchids

DiscussãoThe Black Orchid (A Nero Wolfe Group)

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The Orchids

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Ago 2, 2006, 7:02 pm

I realize many of us enjoy the focus on food in Stout's mysteries, but how many of you are fascinated by orchids? From my sole reading experience on the subject, Orchid Fever, it seems that in horticultural circles, Wolfe is far from unique in his obsession and eccentricity. (The only people emerging as sane from the book were a lovely Asian family, appreciative of subtlety, with Zen-like calm.) Though orchids may generally breed, as well as need, a hothouse atmosphere - and even prove 'dangerous to know,' - I am, myself, drawn to their beauty.

Do you find them appealing? Know anyone who grows them? Dislike the things? Or find your existence ruled by them?

Ago 2, 2006, 7:34 pm

Nobody in this house is obsessed, but we do have some growing outside. If I can find them, maybe I'll post a pic on my Flickr account.

Part of the appeal, I think, is that Wolfe's growing them indoors and in the Northeast. The first isn't a big deal, but the second seems positively loony. They're much better suited for a climate like mine (Hawai'i).

Ago 2, 2006, 7:44 pm

Orchids are lovely, but mostly too fussy for me. If you want a great book about orchid obsession, try The Orchid Thief.

Ago 2, 2006, 8:10 pm

I'm certainly not orchid obsessed. As Linkmeister points out, they're hard to grow in the northeast. But after reading so many Wolfe books, I'm certainly more "orchid-aware" than I would be otherwise. A few months ago I stayed at a lovely little hotel in Key West with a cozy outdoor dining area that had little planters hanging from the trees, each containing one orchid plant. If it weren't for reading Nero Wolfe, I probably wouldn't have realized they were orchids!

When I was a teenager, my doctor (pediatrician? or is that only for younger kids?) would always ask about what I had read recently. He also read Rex Stout and he grew orchids. This was in New York City, so it wasn't just Wolfe who grew orchids in the northeast. I don't think Dr. Smith had quite as big an operation as Wolfe did, however.

Growing up in New York, I think part of the early appeal of the Wolfe books was the fact that they were set in the city. I knew a lot of the places and could easily imagine a lot of the others. I good friend of mine lived in a brownstone in the east 30s. I always pictured Wolfe's street looking similar.

Ago 2, 2006, 8:41 pm

LisaLynne, I remember being interested in it. Thanks for jogging my memory!

I'd love to see a picture of your orchids, if you think of it, Linkmeister. Perhaps even upload it to the group page, with your permission? While I can't imagine they're black, any orchid would be appropriate.

Ago 2, 2006, 8:56 pm

I've never tried to grow orchids, though often tempted by the simpler, more forgiving varieties. Even so, I'm afraid my cat would shred the lovely leaves and petals, or I'd be neglectful for a day or two and find it ruined; effective deterrents, not only as a possible waste of money, but as I'm one of those people who feels involuntarily guilt about killing defenceless plants. :) - Which I'm adept at!

However.... they are lovely. Or can be.

Wombat, perhaps your doctor was one of the members of the gardening club who came to see Wolfe's 10,000 plants in (I think) 'Eeney Meeny Murder Moe.' :) You seem to have been enviably provided with aids to imagining the books; which is wonderful. Though I 'envy' you all the sensory knowledge and familiarity, I'd love to have had worthwhile books set where I grew up... and am glad for Stout to have been (and be) read by an ideal audience.

Ago 2, 2006, 9:46 pm

They're certainly not black. They're a very purple variety called dendrobium. I just took some pictures and uploaded them to My Flickr account.

These are similar to the kind you find next to your place setting at some of the more pretentious fine-dining restaurants in Waikiki. ;)

If you want to upload one, either get it from Flickr or let me know and I'll mail copies to you. My e-mail address at my profile is good.

Ago 2, 2006, 9:57 pm

My early view of orchids was heavily influenced by Chandler’s description of them in the Big Sleep (Chapter 2):

Marlowe: “…with nasty meaty leaves and stalks like the newly washed fingers of dead men…”

Some years ago I happened upon an exhibition at a local Shopping Centre (Mall), and was taken aback by their bewildering colouration and chaotic variety. I now annually attend the local orchid society exhibition, but have never seriously considered growing them. I’m afraid Chandler “got to me” before Stout.

Do I find them beautiful? No, I can’t honestly say I do. I don’t find Munch’s the “The Scream” beautiful either, but dragging my eyes from it is an effort. I don’t aspire to become any more like Theodore.

Ago 3, 2006, 7:34 pm

Darn it. I really don't have a budget for books, but thanks to LisaLynne's recommendation I just bought The Orchid Thief for $4.95.

Thank you, ma'am!

Ago 3, 2006, 7:38 pm

Oooh... Linkmeister: my congratulations, and you must let me know how it is, also! I have NO budget for books at the moment, and too many unread, but it is very appealing.

Thank you for the pictures! I'll go upload one now.

Ago 3, 2006, 7:44 pm

Cogitno: I can understand that. I, too, came to Chandler first. And there are orchids I find anything but beautiful... yet they remain intriguing. Fascinating, if (as Chandler felt), predatory and repulsive as well. A bit like some of his 'heroines'.... But for me, those are in the minority.

Nonetheless, I'm glad you've the sense not to emulate 'our' Theodore!

Ago 4, 2006, 12:54 am

I have two orchids - a yellow lady's slipper outside in my Zone 3 garden and a potted one on the kitchen windowsill. The potted one has never bloomed and I can't recall what it is but it was a gift from my brother-in-law last Christmas so I can always ask him. He's the family orchid collector - he has lots of them. Probably has never read Stout though. Maybe that's what I should give him for Christmas this year :)

Anyway, orchid collectors are all over. The Muttart Conservatory here in Edmonton has a large collection, many of which were (I think) left to them in someone's will.

Ago 5, 2006, 9:43 pm

Tardis, you and Linkmeister, far apart as you are, sound fortunately placed - any orchid outdoors here would simply shrivel up.

Stout for Christmas seems a wonderful return on an orchid plant, to me. :)

Ago 5, 2006, 10:39 pm

Eurydice - orchids can actually be quite tough plants - there are varieties for many ecosystems. I think one common element, though, is that they don't like really dry climates so I can see why they wouldn't like where you are :).

I would hope Stout for Christmas would be a good thing (I'd sure appreciate it) but I don't know how much of a reader he is. Still, if I pick a title that has lots of orchid-lore it should help. Any suggested favourites? I haven't re-read any of mine lately.

Ago 5, 2006, 10:51 pm

It's not as dry here, on the Gulf Coast, as in West Texas (say), but it does seem like a difficult climate; though perhaps orchids like us better than I think. :)

Black Orchids has a good title for the job, but the second story is really one of Stout's odder creations. - Not an ideal introduction. So I'll think about it, and hope to see others' suggestions. Thankfully, there's a little time.

Ago 6, 2006, 2:12 am

There's The Red Box, where Ms. Fox is buried under plants.

Then there's the short story where Andy K. (can't think of the spelling of his last name) has to be kept out of jail so he can help out in the plant rooms while Theodore's off to take care of his ailing mother.

Ago 6, 2006, 2:30 am

Yes - that's 'Door to Death,' published in Three Doors to Death. Good thought.

Ago 6, 2006, 3:04 am

I cannot recall any story in the Nero Wolfe canon centered around an orchid(s), or orchid-lore. Two novellas feature them: And Four to Go includes the Easter Parade story where Archie is asked to arrange for the theft of a "True Pink" during the Easter parade; and Three Doors to Death, the story of a murder in a Hot House (Wolfe is searching for a temporary replacement for Theodore). While orchids feature at the commencement of each story, they are not really central elements. The Black Orchid is similarly constrained.

It is surprising in retrospect, that Rex Stout never centered a story around orchids. I hope to be proved wrong: a Wolfe story I have forgotten would be Christmas gift for me.

If a Nero Wolfe Story is preferred over say, The Orchid Thief, "The Black Orchid" would make an excellent (I had to replace 'satisfactory') introduction: Wolfe out of his element (out of the Brownstone), petty orchid jealousy; a clever plot; Archie and young ladies; Archie teasing Stebbins and Cramer; and Wolfe conniving to obtain an object of His desire. While the second story, "Cordially Invited to Meet Death", IS a little odd, it introduces Wolfe in the Kitchen (concocting corned beef hash); Cramer pounding at the brownstone door;and a surprising, and particularly well described, villain.

Before I am credited with a prodigious memory, I should add that 1) I have just finished re-reading "The Black Orchid"; and 2) My off-line library database includes 3rd party reviews, and therefore, plot elements

Ago 6, 2006, 3:12 am

Corned beef hash! That's the one where the southern belle explains that the required ingredient Fritz and Wolfe have been missing is chitterlings (pronounced chit'lins), right? Wolfe has to admit a woman might know something about food in that one.

Ago 6, 2006, 3:14 am

Cogitno, I confess the first story in Black Orchids is one of my favorites; just reading over your comments on that and the other has more or less changed my mind. Copies of Black Orchids are available in mass market paperbacks for very little - perhaps one could be paired with The Orchid Thief? Or, if he's not very fond of reading, with a gift of stout? In honor of Wolfe's drinking...

Glad your memory doesn't rival Saul's (and humble mine)! ;)

Ago 6, 2006, 3:35 am

Is it true that Saul has relatives in Texas? It would explain a lot!:)

I confess to re-reading The Black Orchid after finding my rating to be lower than that of more expert readers. I changed my rating.

Ago 6, 2006, 3:43 am

Is he supposed to? (What then of my unrequited love??? ;) Am I to be reduced to mere family loyalty?)

Ago 6, 2006, 4:10 am

Good grief!!!! I take it back. It was a jest; mere conjecture; the idle musings of a rain-sodden winter Sunday. Forgive me:-C I would not have it on my conscience that anyone about to read Jim Thompson, should do so under any emotional distress whatsoever.

Ago 6, 2006, 4:16 am

Linkmeister: That's the one. Wolfe suffered her hand on his arm!

Ago 6, 2006, 5:46 am

Cogitno, I forgive you.

You have sported with me, trifled with feelings I hold sacred, and yet still - still, I tell you - I find it in my heart to forgive you. :D

Ago 6, 2006, 7:37 am

Eurydice, thank you.

I would have liked to post a link to a photo of Wilsonara Eurydice as gratitude but have been unable to find one. A similar lack of success with hybrids named 'Nero Wolfe' and 'Archie Goodwin' (these are the Grex names ???) - both share a common parent in 'bulbocodioides'.

Ago 8, 2006, 5:24 pm

I just finished The Orchid Thief and reviewed it for LT. I enjoyed it. Obsession in all its forms is something I find interesting, and this variety isn't overly harmful (except to the early orchid hunters!)

It's a very fast read, too, which doesn't hurt, since the to-be-read pile ideally should diminish, not expand!

Jul 17, 2013, 9:31 pm

I like orchids, but have not had any luck growing them. Probably, because I don't have a greenhouse type room in my home. Loving plants and working with them is relaxing and they are beautiful in a world of ugly.

Jul 18, 2013, 11:37 am

cyannris - I think they are lovely, but I've always been hesitant to buy one. I seem to be able to kill the hardiest of houseplants. :) Although, I do have a cactus and a succulent living for over a year now.

Editado: Jul 18, 2013, 6:48 pm

The phalaenopsis (moth orchids) that they sell in supermarkets (at least around here in CA) are tough as nails. They grow fine indoors in bright indirect sunlight or maybe a little direct sunlight, and moderate watering. Buy them in bud and they will bloom for quite a while. Reblooming is iffy, but if the light is right they will do it and just keep blooming. I had one that bloomed nonstop for over a year and then when I thought it was done it put out more flower stalks. I was so tired of having to appreciate it every time I walked through the room that I threw it away. Dendrobiums are easy to bloom too. Others are harder to bloom, but easy enough to keep alive and hope. Unfortunately they are not often attractive as foliage plants. Hot dry air through the winter will set them back. Spray now and then. The stuff Nero Wolfe did is a lot harder. He was breeding and hybridizing and that requires expertise. And in the 30's there was a lot less knowledge about it.

Every state in the USA has native orchids that grow wild. When I was a kid in Rhode Island the woods behind our house was full of big purple lady's slippers in the spring. The neighbor kids used to pick them to make bouquets for their mothers. Enraged my father.