Roadside orchids

Pyramidal orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis) growing on an English roadside ©Plantlife
A few days ago, friends here In Northamptonshire reported on some orchids they'd found. They were growing in the grass on a roadside along a very quiet country lane. They thought there were about forty early purple orchids (Orchis mascula), so I went up to take a look.

Sure enough, there they were (below) – about sixty five of them as it turned out - scattered through the long grass, their vivid colours standing out from quite a distance. They were all together, none for miles on either side. Lovely.

Early purple orchids (Orchis mascula) growing on a Northamptoinshire roadside.And it so happened that this find coincided with the a new burst of publicity for the campaign by Plantlife, the British plant conservation charity, aimed at protecting the plants growing on Britain’s roadsides. [Their website helps Brits ask your local council to protect roadside plants.]

Just a mile or two away plants of the bold tawny spikes of the uncommon parasitic plant, the knapweed broomrape (Orobanche elatior) grow on their only host, the greater knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa), along another quiet lane along with literally miles of meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense)

Close to home over in Pennsylvania, I’ve noticed that roadsides are often the only local location for a number of interesting plants. The only clumps of false Solomon's seal (Maianthemum racemosum) (below) that I’ve seen nearby are on roadsides and I’ve also noticed more may apple (Podophyllum peltatum) and Dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) along roadsides than anywhere else.

Partly, I presume, this is because the deer tempted to eat roadside plants are more likely to be killed by traffic and so the plants are more likely to flourish.

The key factor, of course, is mowing. Just a few hundred yards from those early purple orchids the roadside grass has been shaved like a suburban lawn. Why?! Once a year is ideal, unless the mower turns up at flowering time; mowing too early can prevent flowering and seeding and debilitate the plants. In many areas of Britain, local councils are saving money by mowing less and in some areas special marker posts are used to warn the mowers off.

And then, today, the Journal of the Hardy Orchid Society arrives and there’s an article about a stretch of roadside in Essex, east of London, which is packed with orchids. Along a busy, relatively recently constructed road, there are 350 bee orchids (Ophrys apifera) and 250 pyramidal orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis) - a dramatic increase from 50 bee orchids and 60 pyramidal orchids six years ago. Much of this increase is down to reduced mowing brought on by budget cuts.

So, when you’re stopped in traffic, look out of the window and see what you can see. When you’re a passenger, keep your eyes peeled. But please, when you’re driving, keep your eyes on the road!

  False Solomon's seal (Maianthemum racemosum) growing on a Pennsylvania roadside=

Guest post: one of judywhite's favorite orchids

Paphiopedilum primulinum var.flavum. Image ©GardenPhotos.com (all rights reserved)
Guest post from judywhite, author of Bloom-Again Orchids.

One of my favorite indoor orchids is also one of the easiest to grow. Even in the middle of summer, when most of the gardening attention is outside, and the majority of houseplant orchids are flower-less, gearing themselves up for fall and winter blooming, one very cute plant is still shining away on the windowsill.

Paphiopedilum primulinum (above, click to enlarge) is a tropical ladyslipper orchid species from Sumatra, only discovered as recently as 1972. It’s so named because of the classic primrose yellow color on the pouch and in its wavy petals, often also with green in the top (dorsal) sepal. There’s another version of it that adds pink to the color palette (var. purpurascens), which is equally adorable. (The yellow version is var. flavum, also known as var. album.) Whichever the colors, everyone who sees Paph. primulinum is instantly smitten.

Besides its obvious flower charm, this species keeps blooming sequentially, one bloom at a time, over many months, and, in fact, can be in dainty flower almost constantly over years. Each flower lasts about a month. The only time you will have two flowers at once (as pictured here) is when the oldest one is just about to fall off, which it will do abruptly, generally without shriveling up first. The plant is small and compact (except for the ever-elongating flower spike) with a total leaves span of about 6 inches (15cm) wide. The flowers are about 2.5 inches (6.4cm) long.

Paph. primulinum makes a good parent in hybridizing, and one of its best offspring is the primary hybrid Paphiopedilum 'Pinocchio'. Image ©GardenPhotos.com (all rights reserved)Pinocchio (glaucophyllum x primulinum) (right, click to enlarge), which keeps the sequential blooming but adds clearer pink coloring, bigger blooms, and often two or more flowers at a time.

Grow the species and its hybrids on a windowsill that gets any exposure except north – it doesn’t need too much intensity, and it even does fine under four fluorescent light tubes. It likes average room temperatures where night temperatures don’t get much below 60°F (16°C) in winter. Water thoroughly about twice a week, so that it just stays damp, and use a fine orchid mix in a small but deep pot. Weekly orchid fertilizer is appreciated but I find that it blooms well even when you forget for a while.

I got my yellow Paph. primulinum at the very splendid Parkside Orchid Nursery (2503 Mountainview Drive, Ottsville, PA 18942; 610-847-8039; [email protected]). British orchid fans can find it at the Yorkshire mail order nursery, Orchid Species.

judywhite is the author of Bloom-Again Orchids - 50 Easy Care Orchids That Flower Again & Again & Again

Helleborine orchids in our garden

While I've been woozing over my jet lag, judy has been inspecting the increasingly prolific orchids in our Pennsylavina garden.

Epipactis helleborine, Broad-leaved Helleborine Orchid. ©GardenPhotos.com (all rights reserved)
It’s that time of year at the lake when the hardy Epipactis helleborine orchid is in bloom again. It’s not a native orchid – only one Epipactis, E. gigantea, is a native American. The Broad-leaved Helleborine Orchid is from Europe originally, and, in fact, in some places in the United States (especially Wisconsin) this beautiful plant is invasive, so much so that it’s called the Weed Orchid. It’s been naturalized in the States since at least 1879. (I read that originally it was introduced by American colonists as a medicinal plant, theoretically good for gout. There are scientific studies showing its in vitro activity as an antiviral against HIV-1 and HIV-2 as well as influenza A.)

Here in our 1400ft (425m) high Pennsylvania mountain garden, though, the helleborine orchids just kind of pop up, usually one at a time in scattered spots, often gone the next year, and we are rather fond of the gently random nature. Although they spread by rhizomes, ours seem to spread more by seed, so clearly we have conditions conducive for the necessary mycorrhizal fungi that help the seeds germinate. Generally these orchids grow in semi-shade, but sometimes in lots of sun, and though supposedly Epipactis prefer moist – or even wet – environments, ours are exceedingly adaptable and drought-tolerant, a good plant for dry shade.

Broad-leaved Helleborine Orchid, Epipactis helleborine,daylily,fern. ©GardenPhotos.comHelleborines make tall spikes of little half-inch to three-quarter inch (1.2-2cm) flowers; some of our plants have nearly 50 blooms, with the inflorescence reaching over 2ft (60cm) high. This year there seems to be a vast number of pollinators on the ones in the most shade (I’ve noticed bees on them), and the flowers, which open successively from the bottom up, are turning into seedpods almost immediately upon opening.

Last year I took some seedpods and scattered them around the various garden beds, so there are some unexpectedly nice woodland plant combinations this month. With green sepals and lavender-tinted petals, the helleborine flowers are looking lovely with a lavender-toned Japanese painted fern cultivar (Athyrium nipponicum var. pictum) that we’ve lost the tag of, amid the lacy sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum). A few are blooming under the Hydrangea arborescens ‘White Dome’, which is also in full flower, and one helleborine has struck up the tallest presence our main garden border in a fair amount of sun; it’s opening much later than the others.

The name “helleborine” supposedly is because they resemble hellebores. I don’t get it. No part of them, not the flowers, and definitely not the plant habit, look like hellebores in the least to me. I’ve even got the two growing side-by-side. Linnaeus must have been a little drunk on Swedish schnapps when he named the species.

Mad planting ideas for our country town

OK, it’s blood boiling time.

LecuanthemumGR14872 The local council back in my home town in picturesque rural Northamptonshire in England’s East Midlands has a plan. They want to “enhance the appearance of the town”. Sounds splendid, doesn’t it. Who could complain abut that? Not so fast.

The council’s own little magazine reports: “The project will start with the town boundaries to improve the various approaches to the town. Flower beds will be created and the areas improved in such a way that will attract wildlife as well as making the entrances to the town have much more impact.”

No. Not “flower beds”. No no no. See the steam coming out of my ears?

I know, coming from a garden writer that may surprise you. But the main approach to the town, from the east, is shown in the picture. Not a “flower bed”, but there’s already a lovely display of native ox-eye daisies. They follow the native spring cowslips. And there’s even a rare campion in there somewhere. Orchids will surely arrive eventually, they did at another site in the town. What’s wrong with that?


This wildflower planting was created when the new bypass was built in the 1980s and was inspired by Dame Miriam Rothschild a pioneer of planting native wild flowers in gardens, public places and roadsides. She was born and lived all her life just two miles away and also established a business growing seed of native flowers and developed new techniques for restoring the richness of meadows which had been reduced to grass monocultures by the use of weedkillers.

We have an internationally recognised local pioneer of natural roadside planting whose example the town has already followed. And the best they came up with is flower beds?! Perhaps the council would prefer Carpet bedding,Carlisle,Gardeners Tips. Image ©http://gardenerstips.co.uk (all rights reserved)something like this? (right, click to enlarge - thanks to Gardeners Tips for the image)

Years ago, Pamela Schwerdt who for over thirty years was joint head gardener at Sissinghurst Castle, perhaps England’s greatest garden, took me aside to persuade me to write about the increasing popularity of planting beds of big yellow daffodils at the approaches to villages and country towns. “They just look wrong,” she told me. She was cross, and she was right to be. I’ve sounded off about such thoughtless planting in national newspapers and magazines repeatedly over the years and here on this blog last year.


And now flower beds are planned for the approaches to my own town. No. Not only do we have the inspiration of Miriam Rothschild to guide us, but we need just look out of our car windows as we drive through the local lanes and see the richness of wildflowers, both colourful and unusual, to be inspired again. And let’s not forget that the maintenance involved is minimal. We just need to remember the miserable weed-infested flower beds that greet us as we approach another local town for the point to be rammed home even more surely.

So: no flower beds, no big and blowsy ‘Carlton’ daffodils, no petunias or mega-marigolds like yellow dishmops despoiling the entrances to the town.

OK, I feel better now.

Bloom-Again Orchids wins award

Bloom-Again Orchids,judywhite,GWA,Garden Writers Association, awardBloom-Again Orchids, by judywhite, has won the Silver Award of Achievement for book writing from the Garden Writers Association in America. The book now goes on for consideration for the Gold Award, announced in September. What's more, the book has already been re-printed and it only came out at the end of November. As the proud husband leading the cheering crowd: Hooray!

Find out more at the  Bloom-Again Orchids website

Bloom-Again Orchids - the book for people who think they can't grow orchids

Bloom-Again-Orchids1 OK, first of all I'll come clean - I'm married to judywhite, the author and photographer of Bloom-Again Orchids!

So without eulogizing about how wonderful the book is... Let me just describe what it does and who it'll help. It helps people - like me, actually - who are nervous about growing orchids because we think we're going to kill them.

But first, she tempts us. judy's pictures have been exhibited at the Smithsonian so of course they're are stunning. They make you want to grow them all, and all the orchids in this book are varieties you can grow easily. Here's a slide show of pictrures from the book.

Orchid Stock Images from Bloom-Again Orchids - Images by GardenPhotos .com

And they're easy to find in stores, too. judy visited Home Depot, WalMart and Lowes and local nurseries - I know, I went with her - and also checked on the varieties on sale in other parts of the country. From all these she picked out those varieties we can all grow and all get to flower again and again without special care. She wanted only to write about orchids we can all get easily without having to spend a fortune at a specialist mail order supplier, and only those we can all get to bloom again and again.

Judywhite:Bloom-Again Orchids Of course, they need care and attention so she explains just what each needs, in an easy and engaging style and with the help of some simple checklists. And judy (left, click to enlarge) should know, as well as being a former Trustee of the American Orchid Society she's also the author and photographer of the award-winning Taylor's Guide to Orchids.

So there you have it. An inexpensive book about orchids which we can all find in your local store or nursery and which we can all get to bloom again and again. Simple, really.

You can order Bloom-Again Orchids in North America here

You can order Bloom-Again Orchids in Britain here (and for Brits: Home Depot, Lowes and WalMart = B&Q, Homebase and Asda)

"That OK, dear?"
"That's fine, honey."

Shameless orchidaceous nepotism!

9781604690552l My wife’s new book has just been announced. It’s called Bloom-Again Orchids: Tips and Tricks for Glorious Displays Year After Year by judywhite. The title says it all, really. And it's great!

People think orchids are difficult to grow and of course some are. But this book is about orchids which anyone can grow and which are readily available across America and across Britain in nurseries, garden centers and even chain stores and markets. They’re easy to find, and easy to grow. And of course they look fabulous.

So if they’re so easy why do we need a book about them? Well, it’s just like plants in the garden – hostas like shade and echinaceas like sun and they won’t thrive unless we give them what they need. Same with orchids, give them the light and the temperatures they need – no problem.

In a lively accessible style, this book explains their features, explains what they like, and gives a glimpse into their background. I looked it over as a work-in-progress, I can assure you it’s a great read. What's more, judy’s stunning pictures will make you want to grow every single one. And of course you can – with a little help from this book.

You’re probably familiar judy’s earlier orchid book, the multi-award winning Taylor’s Guide to Orchids. Be sure to take a look her new book.

Bloom-Again Orchids will be published in the fall. You can pre-order Bloom-Again Orchids in North America here, and in Britain here.

And check out judy's recent blog post about South African Disa orchids over on the new Timber Press blog.

That OK dear? You don’t think I’ve overdone it?

(Actually, it’s a really good book!)

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!

Bring on... The Rockettes

Brassia-rockettes15107-500 My wife, judywhite, has been working on a new book on orchids. She wrote and shot all the pictures for the award-winning Taylor’s Guide to Orchids, the best selling title in the Taylor’s Guide series and she’s recently finished her second, very different, orchid book, which will be out next year.

She passed me the text to look over before she sent it off to the publisher and I was Therockettes500 very struck by the way she described the flowers of spider orchids, Brassia, as “arranged like Rockettes on a spike”.

Now I know very little about these tropical orchids, I have to say, and although I can tell a Brassia from a Brassica that’s almost as far as it goes. But in using just one word you can see exactly what she means. She gives a very precise picture of how the flowers are shown off without resorting to three convoluted sentences describing the arrangement of the flower parts.

I can’t wait to see the book when it comes off the press later next year – especially as she shot all the pictures for this new book too.

Don’t worry, I’ll let you know when it’s available.

Declaration of interest: see first line (above)!

Dazzling disas at the world's largest flower show

DisaDisplay11424-400 Posts here have been thin recently, I’m sorry to say, partly because I’ve been preoccupied with posting for the Royal Horticultural Society from the recent Hampton Court Palace Flower Show – and judging there too. This is the largest flower show in the world, heldeach July in the grounds of Henry VIII’s palace on the southern edge of London.

It was spectacularly wet on the three days I was there, but you can find my posts on the interesting plants I found under canvas in the floral pavilions here.

One of the most impressive exhibits at the show was an exhibit of disas. Not many people have heard of them, but these gorgeous orchids are becoming popular as cut flowers while Dave Parkinson, from Yorkshire, is blazing a trail in encouraging gardeners to grow them. His exhibit was colourful, fascinating and the beautifully grown plants were meticulously staged.

Disas carry from one to half a dozen three-petalled, more or less triangular flowers held on vertical stems and come in vibrant red, orange, yellow and pink shades. They grow naturally on Table Mountain in South Africa.

Although they have a reputation for being difficult to grow, Dave Parkinson told me that it’s more matter of getting the conditions just right. “Grow them as cool as possible without freezing,” he told me. “I grow them without heat and cover them with fleece when frost threatens. Mine have taken -7C and although they looked unhappy the next morning they were soon looking good again. They didn’t let me down.

“And give them wet conditions, the same sort of conditions as you’d have for carnivorous plants. They won’t tolerate high salts, so they take very little feeding, and they reward you with these wonderful spikes of flowers which last up to six weeks in water.”

From all this you’ll gather that disas are unusual in being very colourful and impressive orchids which can be grown in a very low energy regime.

DisaRobertParkinson-500 Having gathered together his collection, Dave began to make crosses to create new varieties, including 'Robert Parkinson'. He has increased hardiness and adaptability to less specific garden conditions as his chief aim and he now has some plants growing outside as a trial.

He also aims to broaden the colour range, for example to add the best scarlet colouring of the D. cardinalis to those with larger flowers. He is also crossing D. uniflora, whose large flowers are carried singly on the stems, with multiflowered types to create varieties with more, but larger, flowers.

It was great to see such dedication, and inspiration, resulting in such an impressive exhibit.

You can find out more about Dave Parkinson and his disas in this article from The Garden.

Dave Parkinson’s website is here, his advice on growing disas is here and his current list of the plants he has available is here.