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Orchids on the rise

Empusa pennata Mantis_RST83-TP. Image: ©Robert Thompson Specialist societies are an essential element of serious gardening all over the world. They do fine research and share it freely with anyone who cares to join or look over their websites and they organise shows, lectures, and visits to gardens and to see plants in the wild - events of all kinds.

But many are having a tough time. After all, gardeners are feeling the pinch like everyone else and when that mass of payment reminders arrives at the end of the year it’s tempting to cancel one or two memberships. [So, memo to societies: Change your subscription year from January-December, to, say, May-April.]

But one specialist society which is flourishing is the British-based Hardy Orchid Society (HOS). Of course Americans might wonder what, exactly, they mean by “hardy orchid” – cymbidiums are hardy outside in Florida, after all. Well, we’re talking about native European orchids and those from similar temperate climates around the world. So as well as Mediterranean ground orchids like the bee orchids and their many allies (Ophrys), a huge range of other cool climate American and Asian natives like ladyslipper orchids (Cypripedium) are covered.

The society deals with every aspect including how to grow and propagate them, conservation, photography, names and classification, and orchids in their natural habitats.

CypripediumGiselaPastel24829-600. Image: judywhite/GardenPhotos.com Founded in 1993, most of the almost 700 members are in Britain but there’s also a substantial number in other parts of Europe with a happy few in the USA.  Of course, members outside Britain can’t usually get to the many field trips (eleven scheduled for this year) but the HOS is worth joining for its quarterly full colour journal alone; it’s packed with good information – and the photography is spectacular. For example, amongst nearly 50 very well produced photographs in the current Journal the amazing image at the top of this post (click it to enlarge) is on the cover.

Shot in Italy by photographer and writer Robert Thompson, it shows a praying mantis camouflaged on the flowers of Orchis italica as it waits for prey. What an astonishing image. (The image is ©Robert Thompson Photography. Thank you, Robert, for allowing its use here.)

And these beautiful and fascinating orchids are only going to become more popular amongst gardeners as plants from commercial propagation, tissue culture and seed, become more widely available and less expensive. The continuing development of selections and hybrids which are more robust in the garden, like Cypripedium 'Gisela Pastel' in the second picture (courtesy of judywhite, author Taylor's Guide to Orchids - thank you) is also very encouraging and helps take the pressure off plants in the wild.

And you can find out more about it all by joining the Hardy Orchid Society. And by the way: the membership year for the Hardy Orchid Society already starts in May!


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luise h.

Thank you for the photography links.The images are beautiful!
I already grow Lady's Tresses and Bletillas.They are multiplying nicely.This year I will add some form of Ladyslipper.These hardy orchids are so much easier to grow then their tropical counterparts.Who would think that under all that ice and snow orchids are sleeping?

Graham Rice

I'm glad to hear that you find these hardy orchids easy to grow... Have you tried the variegated bletillas?

luise h.

Yes,Graham,variegated are the only ones I have.I like how variegated foliage brightens up shade.I cant remember the exact botanical name,but I have white flowering and purple flowering.Last year I also planted a pale yellow.
Cant wait for spring.

Graham Rice

These bletillas are good as cut flowers too - if you have enough of them to cut!

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