Hardy Orchid Plants: Growing Hardy Orchids In The Garden
By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
When thinking of orchids, many gardeners consider the tropical Dendrobiums, Vandas or Oncidiums that grow indoors and need considerable care. However, when planting your home garden, don’t forget about hardy garden orchids, the ones that grow outside in the ground and bloom reliably in spring. These are also called terrestrial orchids (meaning in the ground).
Hardy orchid care is surprisingly easy and growing hardy orchids offers a range of bloom colors to put on a show in the spring garden. Growing hardy orchids is not complicated; they grow from rhizomes planted in the part sun, part shade garden in USDA Zones 6-9. Flowers of hardy orchid plants range in shades of white, pink, purple and red.
Hardy Chinese Ground Orchid
Also called the hardy Chinese ground orchid, and botanically known as Bletilla striata, the plant is native to China and Japan. British gardeners began growing hardy orchids in the 1990’s and hardy garden orchids now happily exist in many United States gardens.
Hardy garden orchid B. striata, considered the most hardy, was cultivated first. Then came cultivars Gotemba Stripes and Kuchibeni, both of the Japanese types. Kuchibeni has two-tone flowers, while Gotemba Stripes has striped foliage.
How to Grow Hardy Garden Orchids
Growing hardy orchids here in the United States need a rich, loamy soil similar to that of the woodland floor. Morning sun and afternoon shade is ideal when growing hardy orchids. Some need the winter chill to flower properly and may take a couple of years to exhibit optimum bloom quality.
Hardy orchid plants have shallow roots, so take care when doing the weeding that is a necessary part of hardy orchid care.
Grow garden orchids in soil that drains well. Some of these plants do not like consistently moist soil, such as the upland species, so sharp drainage is required. Others of the wetland species prefer moist soil. Be sure to check hardy garden orchid info for the type you’re growing. Amend the soil with well-composted material prior to planting, if needed.
Limit fertilization when growing this specimen.
Deadhead spent blooms so that energy is directed to the roots for next year’s blooms.
Now that you’ve learned about hardy garden orchids, include them in the partial sun flowerbed. You can tell everyone that your green thumb produces orchids — hardy garden orchids, that is.
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Bletilla striata (Chinese Ground Orchid)
They have thin, pleated leaves that resemble a small palm tree, and they produce about 5 flowers per stem. The Chinese Ground Orchid is a purple orchid white orchids are also common in this genus. The flowers superficially look a lot like a Cattleya , but with detailed patterns of spots and stripes on the lip. (They aren't related to Cattleya they are actually more closely related to Calanthe .) Clumps of them will steadily grow from year to year, until after a few years they put on a very good show with many flowers at a time.
Plant them in a soil mix appropriate for terrestrial orchids. You can grow them in pots too, if you live in an area that's too cold in the winter.
Try to plant Chinese Ground Orchids in a spot where they get morning sun but are protected from the noonday and afternoon sun. Lighting should be roughly similar to what you'd use for a Cattleya orchid, about 3,000 footcandles.
They can dry out a bit without trouble. Try to water just as they reach dryness. Water before they've dried out, and you risk overwatering. Wait too long after they've dried out and they'll wilt, especially if it's a hot day!
Intermediate temperatures are best go for 70-80°F (21-26C) during the day.
Humidity isn't very important for these orchids. 50% or higher is best.
Species Orchid, Hardy Ground Orchid, Striped Bletilla, Urn Orchid, Bletilla
|Family:||Orchidaceae (or-kid-AY-see-ee) (Info)|
|Genus:||Bletilla (bleh-TIL-uh) (Info)|
|Species:||striata (stree-AH-tuh) (Info)|
Average Water Needs Water regularly do not overwater
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)
Where to Grow:
Soil pH requirements:
By dividing rhizomes, tubers, corms or bulbs (including offsets)
Allow pods to dry on plant break open to collect seeds
N/A: plant does not set seed, flowers are sterile, or plants will not come true from seed
This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:
Sacramento, California(3 reports)
Vista, California(9 reports)
Grand Rapids, Michigan(2 reports)
Elizabeth City, North Carolina
Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania
Blythewood, South Carolina
Clarks Hill, South Carolina
Greenville, South Carolina
San Antonio, Texas(2 reports)
Vancouver, Washington(2 reports)
On Nov 17, 2020, JennysGarden_TN from Collierville, TN wrote:
This plant returns to my zone 7b garden here in Memphis, TN every year.
On Jun 19, 2011, Mikeatle from Erwin, TN wrote:
I had this little orchid gem growing in my East Tennessee garden for over twenty years. I planted it under a couple of dogwoods with some purple azaleas nearby. Apparently, it loved the spot because it spread over the years so that each spring there were dozens of flower spikes. The only problem we had with Bletilla was that it normally got a very quick start in the spring, sometimes sending up early leaves in late February. I always kept fabric row cover handy for covering it on chilly nights, which was really the only "work" required to keep the plant happy. When we moved, we did not take any of the Bletilla with us however, I know that the new homeowners have kept it growing. In all, the plant has been happily growing in that semi-shady spot for close to thirty years.
On Oct 20, 2010, galberras from Woodinville, WA wrote:
My daughter grows these in hard clay and morning sun in Spanish Fork, Utah. They are buried in snow over the winter and kept moist in the summer and are very happy and beautiful. I agree that they have to be divided every 2-3 years. I had mine in a pot in Seattle, but my friend has them all over her yard, also in this area. They are very pretty and fragrant.
On May 7, 2010, amscram from Baton Rouge, LA (Zone 8b) wrote:
From two or three tubers planted 10 years ago I now have a rather large stand of these in my garden - and they are showy! Visitors unvariably are drawn to them.
The only problem is that they start sending shoots up in early January (down here in the deep South), and they are frost-sensitive, which means that I have to cover them with blankets and whatnot on cold nights. This past January we had a few nights down to 20 degrees and even the blankets didn't help - thus, only about a third of the flower buds survived.
On Apr 23, 2010, autrevie from Houston, TX (Zone 9a) wrote:
I've been growing this species in different states (NJ-NC-LA-TX) for 30+ years. Bletilla striata appears to tolerate and re-bloom in a wide variety of climates and temperature zones. I now grow clumps outside in Houston, both in beds (amid ferns and bright shade) and in pots. It blooms here every March, sometimes even in late February. Bletilla striata alba also does well. Remember to fertilize!
Bletilla ochracea (the yellow species) is much less robust and I have had problems growing it here in Gulf coast. Perhaps it really requires cooler weather?
On Nov 9, 2009, leiannec from Oakland, CA wrote:
This plant does well in both shade and part shade--seems pretty tough in this climate. Nice to see it come back every year.
On May 4, 2009, MonaBarcs from Livingston, TX wrote:
In my experience this plant is pretty hardy. I've had it over 6 years, it's barely in any soil and got nearly choked out by grass, and this spring it began blooming again. Last spring it did not bloom. I'm watering it twice weekly and it does seem to prefer to be in dappled sun rather than full sun. I'm about to seperate it and put it in better soil so it will grow better and hopefully spread.
On Mar 27, 2009, thida from Fremont, CA wrote:
They do not like the dry hot California sun. I grow them in the shady spot along with other parennials Forget-me-not, Begonia, Fusia, Foxglove, and annual Immapatients in my SF Bayarea northern CA.
On Aug 15, 2008, bahakiwi from Port Orange, FL wrote:
I have a tricky spot around our walkway where it gets part sun and it floods dreadfully. I have not found any plants to survive in it except for lilyturf so when I planted these flowers, I had low expectations. I did not amend the soil and to be honest, I have not checked on them since I planted them a month ago. Last week, I noticed some beautiful purple flowers on one of them and I could not believe it. Finally, some success and even better, it is an orchid, which are stunning. I don't know how they will stand up to our winters yet but it is doing great so far in the summer.
On Mar 30, 2008, jjoyner62 from Newport News, VA wrote:
Contrary to the above notation, Bletillas are easily grown from seed sown in much the same manner as gesneriads. Flasking, the usual method of sowing orchid seeds, is apparently not necessary for this genus. I've been having very good luck with raising seedlings almost to the bloom stage in three years since making the original crosses. I'm looking forward to doing much more hybridizing among the species, variants, and hybrids in my collection.
On Dec 10, 2006, Marilynbeth from Hebron, KY wrote:
Love it! It's a joy seeing the beautiful 'purple' flowers every Spring. I started with one root around 1998 and left it alone and it has now multiplied to about 10 or 12 'stalks' coming out of the ground. It gets the morning sun and seems happy where it is.
On May 27, 2006, sladeofsky from Louisville, KY (Zone 6b) wrote:
I originally had this plant in clay in a partly sunny sight. It barely grew. So I excavated the clay and replaced the top 8" with composted peat. Wow, what a difference! Now it blooms hardily and has spread to make a nice clump. I add my daily coffee grinds and some pine straw throughout the year to keep the organic matter high.
On May 11, 2006, EandEsmom from Ashburn, VA (Zone 7a) wrote:
I love this plant, so pretty and a nice shade of purple when it blooms. I wish this plant would spread faster. I have it is part to full shade and it does great. I started with only one stalk 3 years ago and now it has several. A very underused plant.
On May 2, 2005, ladyannne from Merced, CA (Zone 9a) wrote:
A precious, delicate beauty, slow to populate, and always a joy to see in spring. It blooms for a lengthy time (over a month) but I wish it could multiply a bit faster. Neglect works fine here.
On Mar 25, 2005, JaxFlaGardener from Jacksonville, FL (Zone 8b) wrote:
I planted three varieties of this ground orchid last year ('hyacintha' - purple, 'alba' - white, and 'aurea' - yellow). One of the albas bloomed the first year. The others didn't seem to be doing well, but several of all three varieties returned this Spring and are multiplying from their underground rhizomes in near distance from the original plants, much to my delight! The hyacintha and alba are currently in bloom. The aurea has not yet bloomed nor shown signs of a flower spike. Some of the alba are the white varigated striped leaf variety mentioned here. I have these orchids planted amongst my ginger plants in semi-shade with almost daily watering. A few thousand of them would be very welcome!
On May 16, 2004, henryr10 from Cincinnati, OH (Zone 6b) wrote:
Will also take some pretty good punishment.
Not a tender orchid at all.
Ours is planted in between Maple roots in average to poor soil.
Has returned and flowered now for 4 years.
No Winter care given.
Tough, long blooming and quite beautiful.
On Mar 15, 2004, soilsandup from Sacramento, CA (Zone 9a) wrote:
A nice carefree plant. The purple ones that I have tend to be taller and generally more robust than the white ones. I have some in mostly shade, some part sun/shade, and some in almost all sun and they do well in all of those locations. You do have to thin every now and then but I never have problems finding people who wants some.
On Mar 11, 2004, wnstarr from Puyallup, WA (Zone 5a) wrote:
There is also a white variety, "alba". I have this and the purple variety growing next to the Koi pond. There is also a variety that has foliage edged in white. Multiplies fast but seems to do best if undisturbed and left to form nice clumps. Foliage is attractive even when the plant is not in flower.
Bletilla striata is a terrestrial orchid from China, Taiwan and Japan. The rhizomes form psuedobulbs half in and half out of the soil from which the leaves and flower stems appear early in the year.
Has lance like, ribbed, mid-green leaves. Bears bright purple-pink flowers.
Flowers between April and July
Loves leafy, moist but well-drained soil in light shade in a sheltered site. Needs to be dry in winter when dormant. May also need a winter mulch in regions that get regular frosts.
The main pests are red spider mite and aphid.
Orchids Grow Well in a Shade Garden
Gardeners, looking for a challenging plant, will find it among some orchids tough enough for outdoors. Able to thrive in environments where cold winters are the norm, gardeners who grow indoor orchids will easily recognize the beloved flower forms. Gardeners can turn to Bletilla, Calanthe, Cypripedium or Spiranthes for inspiration, both in species plants and hybrid cultivars.
Hardy orchids are not for the faint-of-heart gardener but those who love plants have found success growing them as natives among a wildflower planting, in a shaded garden or as a cherished, and protected, specimen plant. Gardeners will want a well thought-out site, taking into account the expense, when choosing where to plant these woodland perennials.
Spring Blooming Ground Orchid Bletilla
Bletilla striata, called the Chinese ground orchid, is hardy in zones 5 – 9. As its name implies, Bletialla is a native of China and Japan. Issuing up from the center of the plant, the long leafless stems are lined with quintessential orchid blooms flourishing in spring. The foliage in mass, which reaches approximately 12” – 24” tall and wide, looks like swords of grass but more papery than the leaves of bearded iris, for instance.
Although Bletilla striata may tolerate a full sun location in a northern garden, a partly shaded planting bed is best for plants to thrive long term. The soil should be well amended with organic matter if a humus texture is missing. Mulch is wise to use for protection against drought conditions in summer and freezing temperatures in winter.
Old and new Bletilla striata cultivars include:
- B. ‘Albostriata’ has a strip of white edging the margins along the leaves. The flowers are the usual purple color.
- B. ‘Alba’ has white flowers.
- B. ‘Big Bob’ has lavender sepals and petals but the lip has a hint of white.
Bletilla striata grows from pseudo bulbs. Like other hardy orchids, more plants can be had by digging up and dividing the plants or, in this case, dividing the bulbs. Overwintering and growing the bulbs indoors as a houseplant is another way of saving these orchids until the next spring.
Calanthe Hardy Yellow Orchid
Calanthe is another hardy orchid genus from which to choose. Calanthe discolor and Calanthe sieboldii, a hardy yellow orchid, is limited to zones 7 – 9. Gardeners who wish to push the boundaries of hardiness will consider late spring frosts their enemy something to guard against.
Calanthe orchids have very vertical racemes, up to 15” tall, on a plant whose leaves are more oblong than narrow. This hardy orchid likes shade in a wooded environment and makes good companion plantings for blue hosta and Solomon’s seal perennials.
Cypripedium Called Lady’s Slipper Orchid
Cypripedium, called lady’s slipper, is an orchid with a hardiness range of 2 – 7. Cypripedium has species native to southern areas of eastern North America, making it ideal for woodland wildflower gardens. This orchid plant benefits from leaf mold mulch under a canopy of trees and prefers acidic soils.
The Cypripedium plant grows up to 24” tall with leaves that have an accordion appearance resulting from the vertical veining. Each spring flower is made up of three petals and an exaggerated lip called the pouch, also an iconic feature of many orchid species.
Fall Blooming Spiranthes Chadds Ford
Spiranthes cernua is a fall blooming hardy orchid, which is more reliable for northern gardeners. The native orchid ranges from Canada to the southeastern United States, from zones 4 – 8. The common name is ladies tresses and has a fragrant flower.
Spiranthes cernua f. odoratea ‘Chadds Ford’ was rescued in the 1960s in Bear, Delaware, that since has been bred into cultivation. The hardiness range, distinctive flower spike and native plant distinction makes Spiranthes cernua f. oderatea ‘Chadds Ford’ a good choice for native gardeners looking for autumn flowers.
Protecting Wild and Hybrid Orchids
Protecting the hardy orchid should be part of a maintenance care plan, first consider the site of the planting bed. Culprits that threaten orchids outside can come in the form of two-legged Homo-sapiens or four-legged mammals, as well as insects who want to feast on the succulent plant.
Hardy orchids can be sited as a specimen plant in a private garden to keep it safe from theft or as a collection surrounded by less favored plants to deter wildlife. Slugs like orchids outside, as well as hostas, so use strategies to dissuade slugs from chewing up the foliage.
Although there is an increase in hybridizing orchids, the cost of a hardy orchid is still prohibitive for many. Plant lovers know it is no less dangerous for wild orchids threatened in the native plant world so gardeners must recognize they are the orchids’ first line of defense, by not creating a market for species harvested from the wild.
Shady Loving Perennial Plants with Outdoor Orchids
Gardeners can successfully grow orchids outdoors as long as the correct habitat is provided. Whether a species or hybrid plant, the hardy orchid makes an excellent singular choice for the north side of a building or several planted among like-minded shade-loving plants.
Tiarella, Heuchera and Lilium Martagon perennials and woodland ferns are more plants that, combined with hardy orchids, will grow to make an interesting landscape.
Hi I’m Ann Sanders, a Founder of A Green Hand, a blog dedicated to offering a platform for gardening and healthy living enthusiasts to exchange ideas so we can all play a role in making our world a better place. You can follow me on Facebook
How to Grow Ground Orchids in Containers
Terrestrial orchids, also referred to as ground orchids, thrive in diverse climates, with hardy varieties growing strong in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 9 and semi-hardy varieties found in southerly USDA zone 11. Orchids are commonly sold as bare-root and usually packaged in sphagnum moss to the point of suffocating the plant, making transplantation the first step toward successful growing. Some varieties, however, fare better in pots than others, such as those that tolerate fluctuating, intermediate temperature ranges. Ideal varieties for growing in containers -- inside or outside -- include lady’s slipper (Cypripedioideae), moth (Epidendroideae) and cattleya (Epidendroideae).
Soak 1/2 gallon of sphagnum moss in cool water for one hour. Remove the sphagnum and squeeze the water from it.
Mix the moss and 1/2 gallon of fine fir bark in a plastic container and set aside.
Wash the root hook and hand shears in tepid soapy water and allow them to air dry. Wipe the root hook and the garden shears with a lint-free cloth moistened with rubbing alcohol.
Untangle the root system of the bare-root orchid with a root hook and scrape away the growing medium. Trim back any yellow leaves and any shrivelled, dead roots with garden shears.
Position the orchid in a 6-inch orchid pot and spread the roots out in the bottom. Add enough of the growing medium to the pot so it partially covers up the exposed roots, or about 1 inch from the lip. Making sure the growing medium fills all the space between the roots.
Gently press the growing medium in the pot using a wood skewer to lightly compact it. Water the growing medium until it drains from the pot.
Position the orchid in a window or an area outside that receives full eastern or western sun exposure. Water the growing medium when it dries, approximately every five to seven days.
Fertilize the orchid with a reduced-strength 20-20-20 fertilizer tablet once a month by inserting it about 6 inches deep in the center of the growing medium.
Attach a bamboo stake to the orchid’s spike when it reaches around 12 inches tall with orchid spring clips spaced every 2 inches.
Growing Hardy Orchids in the Pacific Northwest
Lee Neff is a garden writer and occasional contributor to Pacific Horticulture. She lives and gardens in Kingston, Washington, where…
A large patch of Cypripedium formosanum thriving at Heronswood. Photographs by Lynne Harrison
Growing hardy orchids is not for gardeners unwilling to take absurd and sometimes costly risks. In fact, one must steel oneself for either quick or lingering death and accept responsibility for both. Still, the glamour and pride of humbly sharing with an astonished visitor blooming orchids—orchids that live outside year ’round—make it possible to damn the cost and accept such loss. At times, it is best just to embrace one’s annoying need to boast and move ahead. After all, human beings may have collected orchids for over 4000 years, and there are plenty of indoor gardeners whose orchid collections thrive without a drop of humility.
My own infatuation with growing hardy orchids began when I visited my sister Penny in Western Massachusetts one May, years ago. On the hill where she lives, in the pine woodland around her home, there were hundreds of native pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) in bloom, their dark pink pouches rising only a few inches above the deep pine duff. As sisters, Penny and I have wisely cultivated different talents the fact that she, little interested in gardening, had such a display of glamorous, enchanting lady’s slippers filled me with envy. It occurred to me at the time, to dig up a few plants and fly them back to Seattle, but to my modest credit, I did not succumb to that temptation.
This elegant lady’s slipper seems to have been introduced into gardens in the eighteenth century yet, it is still considered one of the most difficult cypripediums to grow. Most of my early inquiries into growing it in this region resulted in either disappointing doubts or tales of hope that ultimately dwindled into failure, so I have not tried to grow C. acaule. A few others are growing it successfully in this region. Steve Doonan, who grows pots and pots of cypripediums from tiny seedlings, says that success with C. acaule depends upon giving it abundant light and moisture as well as an extremely well drained, peaty, highly acidic growing medium (pH of 4.5 to 5).
Instead, I kept my eyes open for other orchids to try, and, over the years, without belaboring the deaths alluded to above, I have begun to collect a number of orchids that have lived long enough in my garden to allow me to state that I “grow” them.
Showy lady’s slipper (Cypripedium reginae)
In the genus Cypripedium, I have tried three species: showy lady’s slipper (C. reginae), large yellow lady’s slipper (C. parviflorum var. pubescens), and C. formosanum. All cypripediums are deciduous and hail from North and Central America, Europe and Asia. I purchased a plant of large yellow lady’s slipper (until recently included within C. calceolus) at a Washington Park Arboretum plant sale six years ago. I know just how long I have had it, because, each year, it adds one more stalk of flowers to its expanding clump. Native to eastern North America, this species has sepals and petals of greenish yellow, streaked with brown, rather than the dark maroon sepals and petals of its European cousin, C. calceolus.
Both of these lady’s slippers are among those reputedly easiest to grow, a list that includes the other two species I have tried (showy lady’s slipper and Cypripedium formosanum), as well as C. kentuckiense and C. henryi, which I have not attempted yet. Hand-carried back from its native American Midwest eight or nine years ago, my plant of showy lady’s slipper flowered well enough during its first two years in my garden that I believed it was “settling in nicely.” But, in subsequent years, it dwindled, and I fear may now have to be counted among the deceased. Originally planted in a brightly lit patch of woodland, it was increasingly shaded as the woodland matured when I try C. reginae again, I will remember that it requires much more light to grow and flower well.
A plant of Cypripedium formosanum, recently obtained from Heronswood Nursery, looks as if it is happy, but I am watching it carefully for signs of sulking. About this species, Dan Hinkley explains: “Cypripedium formosanum is remarkable in our climate. We find that dividing it regularly is the key. Also, replenish the soil with organic matter at the time of division.” Hinkley provides lots of fertilizer Helen Dillon, gardening in Dublin, Ireland, says she is successful with this species by not fertilizing it. The large patch of C. formosanum thriving at Heronswood might incline one toward Hinkley’s approach. In my garden, fertilizing usually consists of an annual dressing of good compost. And, although C. parviflorum var. pubescens has grown consistently with that provision, a more lavish diet might produce more enthusiastic flowering for C. formosanum.
Richie Steffen grows a number of cypripediums in pots at the Miller Botanical Garden in Seattle and offers the following formula for success: moist, well-drained, rich soil lots of leaf-mold a little grit or gravel mixed in with the soil bright light (even good, morning sun) regular fertilization and no competition. In other words, these orchids enjoy all the coddling we can give them. In the case of my diminished showy lady’s slipper, less sun than ideal, less water than ideal, and perhaps less sweet lime (calcium carbonate) than ideal may have conspired to dampen its enthusiasm. Hinkley also believes that the species needs more heat than we can provide “it blossoms for us but does not sing.”
Of course, you could just try growing all cypripediums in pots, as Doonan and Steffen do. And why not try the West coast natives, mountain lady’s slipper (C. montanum) and C. californicum? Doonan obtains tiny mail-order seedlings and grows them in wide clay pots, with the bottoms knocked out to provide perfect drainage but with shade cloth placed in the bottom of the pots to hold in the soil. His recipe for success includes planting these babies an inch deep in sandy, gritty soil and protecting them from extra water by keeping them under plastic in winter. Guarding against slugs and other critters is also critical. With lots of luck, careful observation, conscientious tending, and prayer, you might end up with a choir!
A vigorous hybrid spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza x grandis) flowering against Aruncus dioicus in the gardens at Heronswood Nursery
The modest spikes of common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) against the bold leaves of a corn lily (Veratrum)
Deciduous orchids found in boggy grassland habitats in Asia, North America and Europe, Dactylorhiza species flower in tints of pink, from pale to fuchsia, in late spring or early summer many have attractive dark green leaves with rich maroon spots. Having grown and divided common spotted orchid (D. fuchsii) for over ten years, I feel confident in proclaiming that it has thrived in my garden in partial shade, with an annual dose of compost and infrequent summer water. It divides easily in fall or early spring and makes a welcome gift. However, Hinkley comments on Dactylorhiza, in general, at Heronswood: “We find they need to be moved to new places in the garden on a regular basis, as they seem to begin declining if left in the same place, even if we replenish the soil at the time of division (which they also respond to).” With new species now more available for purchase, success with one of these lovely orchids can only encourage us to try others.
Epipactis gigantea ‘Serpentine Night’ displays purplish foliage and curiously colored flowers
My patch of dactylorhizas is located near an expanding colony of Epipactis gigantea ‘Serpentine Night’. This is a selection of the stream orchid (E. gigantea) that grows wild from British Columbia south to California and east to South Dakota, Utah and Texas discovered by Roger Raiche on the serpentine site known as The Cedars, north of San Francisco, its dark red foliage is a good contrast to that of the Dactylorhiza. Not as small as the tiny, individual Dactylorhiza blossoms, the blooms of the low-growing Epipactis are a remarkable combination of greenish yellow, purple, and orange brown. In my garden, this genus has done well as long as it has received enough light. A patch of E. gigantea planted in deeper shade has grown much more slowly and flowered with less enthusiasm.
Calanthe x Kozu hybrids (C. discolor x C. izu-insularis)
About five years ago, I purchased two Calanthe x Kozu hybrids (C. discolor x C. izu-insularis) from a local nursery. These Japanese hybrids were not in flower, and their evergreen foliage did not immediately recommend them. But it was impossible to resist orchids that were reputedly not too difficult to grow. I planted them in bright shade and moist soil. One has stood up and cheered the other just putters along. When their leaves get a bit tatty looking, I remove the outer ones, which may not do them much good, but seems not to have done them great harm. These Calanthe hybrids, and others from Japan that have been offered more recently, come in a wide variety of colors—red, white, pink, or yellow—reflecting the species used in their creation. Part of their charm is their variability.
Several years ago, I added Calanthe discolor and C. tricarinata to the same garden area that had nurtured the Kozu hybrids. Once again, I have had mixed success. Calanthe discolor, with its small wine red and white flowers, has prospered, whereas C. tricarinata, which promises stunning yellow green flowers with reddish brown lips, has merely limped along. Perhaps the calanthes that have been less successful here want a bit more light or a bit more fertilizer, as Steffen suggests for cypripediums.
Pleione formosana, from eastern China and Taiwan, may be only barely hardy in many parts of the Pacific Northwest
Looking, as Hinkley states, “like bright magenta cautleyas on the woodland floor,” Pleione formosana and its hybrids have proven to be less picky than feared in my garden. Reputedly interested in regular water in the summer and dry conditions in winter, they have adjusted to infrequent water in the summer and the shelter of a large, old camellia for winter protection. From Taiwan and mainland China, these small plants, which grow from greenish, brown, or black pseudobulbs, produce impossibly large flowers in shades of pink and white. Of borderline hardiness in my garden near Lake Washington, they seem to need greater winter protection at higher or cooler elevations.
An eastern American native orchid, Spiranthes cernua var. odorata
Although it languished a year or two before flowering, the East Coast native, Spiranthes cernua var. odorata, has now bloomed for two years in a lightly shaded garden spot that receives regular water. Reputed to be the southern form of S. cernua (which may also be S. odorata), this variety grows from Virginia to Florida and is highly recommended by Plant Delights Nursery (of Raleigh, North Carolina) as an easy-to-grow garden orchid. It grows by underground rhizomes into sizeable clumps in damp spots in the wild. In addition to its pleasant fragrance, it has pristine white blossoms and September flowering to recommend it.
Chinese ground orchid (Bletilla striata) has never thrived in the author’s garden, but does so elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest and in Northern California
Sad to say, I have not yet been successful with Calypso bulbosa, Goodyera oblongifolia, Piperia elegans, or Chinese ground orchid (Bletilla striata), even though the last named is reputedly one of the easiest hardy orchids to grow, and the first three are native to this part of North America. Each of these species requires something that I have not provided—a grittier soil or more regular water, perhaps association with a particular mycorrhiza, or better protection from slugs.
Out there, somewhere, among the more than 30,000 species of orchid in this world, may be other species that would love to grow in Northwest gardens. The challenge is to find them—grown from seed or tissue culture, since collecting wild plants is in most instances illegal and, if not, should be. With persistence, we may find more of these bewitching plants to grow and to brag about with care, we may ensure that these exotic beauties are enjoyed by gardeners and collectors for another 4000 years.
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Calanthe - Hardy Orchids for the Woodland Garden
Only a handful of orchids are hardy and showy enough to grow in our gardens.
The lovely Calanthe orchids from temperate east Asia are certainly foremost among these. If you want to learn more about these exotic garden additions, continue reading.
I think most gardeners would agree that orchids are considered the most exotic and beautiful of all flowering plants. There has been a certain allure surrounding orchids ever since gardeners began to cultivate them. The vast majority of the world's orchids are tropical species which require indoor culture. That leaves some of out. However, there are a few very showy, hardy orchids which can be cultivated outside in our gardens. The most obvious are the lady's-slippers from the genus Cypripedium. However, less well known are the Calanthe orchids and some are surprisingly hardy.
The genus Calanthe gets its names from the Greek kalos, which means beautiful and anthos, which is their word for flower. There are about 120 species worldwide, hailing from temperate to tropical regions of Asia, Polynesia and Madagascar. This article will discuss those few that originate from the temperate zones of eastern Asia. There are only 5 species of note, all considered hardy to zone 6b. In the wild, the hardy Calanthe grow in dappled, deciduous woodlands. In the garden, you should try to simulate similar growing conditions. Mix plenty of rotted leaves, peat and sand into the existing topsoil to create an open, gritty mix that retains some moisture. The growing area should be well drained in winter as too wet soil will cause them to rot. They make admirable companions for Trillium, Asarum, ferns and Hosta. If grown well, they can form quite large and impressive clumps over time.
In late spring, plants will send up pairs of leathery, pleated leaves. These leaves will reach 20 to 30 cm in length. Flower stems arise at about the same time and may reach upwards to 30 to 45 cm with a spike of 10 to 25 flowers come June and July. After blooming, dead-head to prevent seed production as this can reduce future blooming. In milder areas the leaves will remain evergreen but at the edge of their range, the foliage may look a bit tattered come spring. However, resist the urge to cut off the old foliageand neaten things up, as this may cause the spread of virus. These old leaves will die away naturally as the new leaves emerge.
Calanthe reflexa and C. aristulifera are two closely related species that bloom in August
As mentioned, there are only five Calanthe considered hardy to zone 7 (maybe 6 if well mulched). They do well in the Pacific Northwest, Southeastern U.S. and milder areas of Europe. In North America, I have seen them growing as far north as the Detroit area. Alas they are not hardy in my region but northern gardeners don't despair! They may be grown indoors. I have several that are overwintered in a cool basement window (5 C minimum). I grow them as pot plants outside in summer, placing the pots in dappled shade. They remain outside until early November then are brought back into the cool basement again. I grow them in a mix of peat, perlite, rotted leaves, sand and fine bark (the same mix I use for terrestrial tropical orchids like Paphiopedilum and Cymbidium).
Among the most readily available Calanthe are C. sieboldii var. striata and C. discolor
Calanthe sieboldii var. striata is among the most common and robust. This species has brilliant yellow flowers which are among the largest of the hardy Calanthe. The hardiest species is C. discolor. This species has been known to survive in zone 5b when heavily mulched. The flowers are two-tone purple-brown with a white lip. Calanthe tricarinata has quite striking flowers whose petals and sepals are bright green with a contrasting red, heavily frilled lip. Calanthe reflexa is a late bloomer (August) whose flowers are white with a contrasting lavender lip. It is not quite as hardy as the other species mentioned. The rarest hardy Calanthe in cultivation is C. aristulifera, a close relative of C. reflexa. It also blooms in August but has pink flowers. Calanthe bicolor is often considered a species, but in fact, is a natural hybrid between C. discolor and C. sieboldii. Flowers are variable in colour but are mostly autumn tones of bronze, orange and yellow. Most recently there have been a series of Calanthe hybrids developed by commercial growers among the above mentioned species. These are called the Hizen, Kozu and Takane hybrids and are available in a rainbow of colours.
Above are shown C. tricarinata in situ and an example of one of the Kozu hybrids
If woodland gardens and orchids are your thing and you are fortunate to live in a mild hardiness zone, then Calanthe orchids are a very satisfying and exotic addition to your garden.