For almost twenty years, this Hong Kong orchid tree has welcomed me home every day. I recall the evening we planted it. It was at the end of a hot Saturday when our little family drove to a nursery in Moon Valley in search of a tree exactly like those which provided shade during our weekend strolls through the Biltmore Fashion Park. At the time, this open-air mall boasted a row of what I finally learned were Hong Kong Orchids. My then two year old loved to stand on the tips of her toes and stretch each of her piano-player fingers high into the sky, hoping to pluck one of the enticing pink blossoms that hung there, blooms as worthy as lilies of Georgia O’Keefe’s attention.
So enchanted was Sophie by these, that she wanted a pretty pink tree for our yard. Naturally, I had the perfect spot, because right in front of her bedroom window, she should have something magnificent to look out to every morning. Too, it would fill, at last, a space previously occupied for over seven decades by a grapefruit tree that had given up the ghost.
My girl was at that tender age when she needed to and wanted to hold my hand everywhere we went, on a mission to find a stray cat, a hummingbird drinking from Mexican honeysuckle, or the pink tree, the one that was proving to be more elusive than we had anticipated. The nursery was all out of mature orchid trees, and the saplings were wholly unimpressive. It was anti-climactic at best when we finally found, attached to a single green stalk, all of three feet tall and the width of my little finger, a price tag identifying it as the coveted Hong Kong orchid. Nary a bloom just a couple of leaves drooping sadly from the top of the stalk. The young man who sold it to me was very charming and assured me it would be providing “all kinds of shade” for us in no time. Skeptical, we bought it anyway, and off we went.
More to appease this tired little girl and her mother, than to show off any horticultural prowess, her daddy planted and staked what he called a skinny little excuse for a tree in the vacant spot. Then we began tending it. Like the watched kettle, it was naturally unresponsive to our vigilance. Then, almost magically, not unlike Sophie herself, it grew up all too quickly. Beautiful, independent, fragile and alert, with a strength that sometimes takes my breath away.
Bending and swaying just when it should, at all the right times for almost twenty years, our pink tree is a survivor, standing up to scorching, record-breaking temperatures, frost, intense monsoons, and even a “haboob” in spite of our abandoning it for the cool central coast of California. Unfazed, it was waiting for us when we returned as if to remind us that we live and move in its shadow.
This, my favorite tree, for many years, annually inspired a shock of petunias in the flower beds, geraniums, fragrant pink stock, freesias that remind me of my father planting bulbs, and snapdragons. Too, it played a role in the color of paint I chose for my front door – I had entirely too much fun mixing colors, one of which was “black raspberry” to create something that would complement the pink tree. And as I remembered this week while reading through old scrapbooks, the tree was the inspiration behind Sophie’s first foray into poetry for which she earned a blue ribbon and honorable mention in her grade school’s annual poetry contest.