Growing orchids in your garden

Orchid conservationist Dr Wilson Watt recently gave a fascinating talk to Stonehouse Gardening Club explaining how growing native British orchids in your garden can help conserve and add diversity to the native plant population. Dr Wilson is Technical Director of Bewdley Orchids who have developed a process to propagate native orchids from seed.

An orchid flower stem will typically produce over 300,000 seeds per year. However unlike most plants, the minute seeds have no “energy” and need a symbiotic fungus to invade the seed and provide nutrient. So, Bewdley Orchids have developed a complex process of keeping the seeds in the dark, switching cultures and then growing on results in a flowering orchid after 5 years! Plants can live for up to 20 years and have very deep roots. 

Growing orchids in your garden takes a little care
  • Orchids do best in a grassy area where they can be  left undisturbed
  • Do an Autumn cut and rake up the cuttings – leave the seed on the ground
  • Sowing Yellow Rattle helps keep the grass at low density as it can be too aggressive
  • Common Spotted Orchid and Southern Marsh Orchid are straightforward to grow in garden conditions – do not let Southern Marsh Orchids to dry out. 
Finding orchids in the wild
  • Butterfly Orchids have a strong smell as do Chalk Fragrant Orchids
  • Early Purple Orchids can be seen among the Bluebells in woodland before the tree canopy grows
  • Green Winged Orchid is another early Spring flowerer
  • The Twayblade flower looks less exciting but grows along a rhizome so many flowers in a group can be part of the same plant and Helleborines also grow like this.
  • Bee Orchids are the more problematic in gardens – they will grow, then disappear, to reappear in later years. A group  growing in a gravelly area is needed to self-pollinate as the bee that evolved to pollinate the flower lives in the Mediterranean and our climate is now too cold.

Featured image (left) by Bewdley Orchids of a Marsh Helleborine