SHERIDAN — Some artists color their world with paint, some with clay. Pam McClure paints with blooms. For more than 20 years, she has coaxed orchids to fill her home with splashes of exotic pinks, purples and whites.
While McClure humbly states she finds the tropical plants easy, the majority of people who have tried and failed to get another bloom out of a spontaneously purchased grocery store beauty believe differently. Orchids take work.
Twenty years ago, when McClure bought an orchid at a local grocery store, she had no idea it would unleash a self-described obsession.
She remembers thinking, “This is gorgeous. I wonder if I could ever get something like that to bloom?”
When the original flower died and she succeeded in getting it to bloom again, she bought another one. When she got that one to bloom, her collection grew again, and again, and again.
Tiffany Sessin, assistant store manager at Landon’s Greenhouse, said she sees several flower artists who have the “specified thumb” to succeed in growing high maintenance orchids, African violets and succulents.
Sessin has also watched people choose an orchid or African violet, carry it around the store and then set it down, seemingly intimidated. Some people buy the orchid while it is blooming and return it when they can’t get it to bloom again.
“We have had a couple ‘fire station’ drop-offs where people drop off an orchid and say, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’” Sessin said.
But not McClure. She does not know how many orchids she has, and it does not matter. All that matters is figuring out how to make each plant paint her world with another bloom.
Like many artists, McClure has attended workshops and bought books to perfect her craft. She provides the right kind of soil, water and light for each individual plant. When her children moved away from home, she put grow lights in their empty rooms. She also transformed the wet bar in the basement into a grow light station. When an orchid has finished blooming, she trims it back and places it under grow lights to coax more beauty out of it another time.
Some orchids bloom several times in a year, some take a year or two between blooms, and she even has a couple rare ghost orchids that only show off every three to four years.
Like any artist who has crumpled up a painting, though, McClure has given up on a few of her orchids. She was told that dendrobiums were easy to grow, so she bought several. When she couldn’t get one of them to bloom, she got upset and gave them away.
“If you’re not going to bloom, you’re ugly, and I’m not going to have you,” she remembers saying.
Still, most of the time, McClure has a magical touch. Her friends recognize it and will sometimes give her their “sick” orchids to nurse back to health. They often end up in her permanent collection. She has also had friends bring her orchids when they travel and is particularly fond of one she got from Hawaii and another from Costa Rica.
“Living in Wyoming, I think we have such long winters where everything is so dormant and it gets so dreary. The flowers are just enticing to me, and in the wintertime they have life to them and look pretty,” McClure said.
In the end, for McClure, it all comes down to beauty. When her orchids (and nearly 30 African violets) are in bloom, she places them around her house like splashes of paint to please the eye.
“I guess I might have a magic touch,” McClure said. “Everybody says they’ve never seen anybody who has done what I’ve done.”