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"Will these recover?" a voice beside me asks. Having been raptly contemplating WalMart orchids marked down to two dollars each, I start and look up. An elderly woman gestures dubiously at the miniature roses on the store's Valentine display beside the orchids.

It is now nine days after February 14th, and the rose plants do look pathetic with their red blooms shriveled and leaves falling. That hasn't stopped me from stashing one in my cart, however. "Oh, sure," I reply blithely. "If you can find somewhere cool to keep them until spring. They don't like dry air." And, at a dollar each, how can you lose?

The woman still appears doubtful. "I'm not very good with plants," she says. She edges around me to peer at one of the orchids.

"I think they must have been white," I contribute helpfully. "All the dried-up petals look white anyway."

She puts the orchid back with a wistful sigh. "I can't keep those alive either."

I return to comparing leaves, trying to decide which plant is the healthiest. On my budget I can only afford orchids after they've stopped blooming and been discounted. That means I don't usually have the vaguest idea of what color they are until they bloom again.

But I'm pretty sure I don't have any white ones at the moment. And who can resist the price of two dollars for an orchid? After all, the non-Valentine ones that have languished in the back of the store for weeks still haven't dropped below seven dollars each.

Apparently only outdated holiday trappings induce retailers to slash plant prices drastically. That isn't very enterprising of them, when it would be easy enough to remove the fancy paper from the pots. Not that I'm complaining, of course!

I suddenly notice that my new friend is recklessly crowding maroon calla lilies into her cart. I had planned to get to those next, as they are only two dollars also. And, unlike the other plants, they still appear to be blooming happily. The old woman might not be as vague as she appears, after all. Or perhaps she's just hoping to improve the odds of at least one plant surviving. Is she going to take them all?

I hastily deposit an orchid in my cart, then circle--in an elaborately casual fashion--around the display. Pretending I'm looking at marked-down cards and candy, I finger a heart-shaped marshmallow "lollipop" and cast a sidelong glance at the callas remaining.

The lily lady has stopped accumulating to speak to another customer. "Two dollars!" the plump newcomer chirps. "That's a great price! Did you know those were ten dollars before?"

Ten dollars! I sneak up on the lily lady's blind side to grab one of the pots still on the display. "I'm not very good with plants myself, though" the newcomer adds, smiling at me. Now wiser about the greedy habits of people who claim that particular shortcoming, I smile weakly in return--and back away with my calla lily clutched to my chest.

Of course, it's hypocritical of me to complain about other people's greed, I have to admit to myself as I head for the checkout lanes. I'd probably be much better with plants myself if I didn't have so many of them.

I recall with pleasure the three fading primroses I purchased at Home Depot earlier in the afternoon for only 79 cents each. They and the rose can rest on a cool windowsill in my back room, until time to plant them outdoors in the spring.

Today might be a new personal best for me. Considering that the roses actually come in threes, that makes at least eight plants I've gleaned in one shopping trip. Probably more, since the calla appears to be plural rather than singular as well. And all for a total price of only $7.37. An average of less than a dollar each!

Why am I so gleeful about such bargains? Being a well-read gardener, after all, I've been repeatedly warned to never buy any but fresh and healthy specimens. It's only partly the price that motivates me, I assure myself virtuously, and partly the thrill of rescuing drooping greenery from the big, bad dumpster.

But that would make me all too much like those pathetic females who accumulate housefuls of cats, because they can't stand to see the poor things suffer. Oh, well. At least my plants are less smelly and stay where they are put. More or less.

That should probably keep my longsuffering family from having me committed. Until the no-longer-drooping greenery begins to crowd us all out of the house anyway. In the meantime, I know where you can get a great deal on orchids!