The cymbidium orchids began to open their blooms yesterday.
It is amazing how a plant can thrive with sublime neglect if it is in the right place. This yellow cymbidium was cultivated by my husband's grandfather over 40 years ago, before cloning made orchids abundant. It was one of the few orchids in his vast collection that stayed in the family after he passed away.
We've been lucky to find the right micro-climate in our yard where it flourishes without much attention. Living in the San Fernando Valley, hot summers might wilt or scorch this specimen, but we have an area in the yard we call "the canyon." Part of a natural stream bed, it is the "v" where two north-facing slopes meet. It can become an actual stream in a down pour.
Here a native elderberry, hollyleaf cherry, and a redwood tree (a previously living Christmas tree) are growing well and providing mottled shade most of the day. The orchid gets just enough sun to burst into bloom each spring.
I don't feed it. I don't bring it in during the winter; other plants protect it from possible frost. It gets rainfall or water once or twice a week. It currently has four flower spikes.
When I fail with various native plants, I blame myself. The most common reason for a plant to fail is that it just isn't in the right place. Southern California yards can have a range of micro-climates. The front of our north-facing house has pockets where the plants never have direct sun: cool dry shade. The very top of our hill slope has an area that experiences direct sun most of the year combined with heavy clay soil that repels water: hot dry sun. The hollyleaf cherry can survive in both micro-climates, but most plants can't.
Even a change in the other plants can alter a micro-climate creating opportunity for plants that weren't thriving before: Cistus begins blooming.
Success can help us repeat success - a second cymbidium has joined the elder honorable bloomer and it too is thriving. If a plant is struggling, don't be afraid to move it. We planted a desert willow in the canyon and it wasn't happy. Out on the front slope it has doubled its size. Maybe we've found the right place for it.
Native plants are by definition in the right place. They have native pollinators and are accustom to California's weather patterns. Find the right place for them in your yard and they too will thrive with sublime neglect.