Wild orchids in our garden

Encouraging wild orchids

Bee orchid with the orchid-eating ride-on

Our neighbour dutifully mowed his lawn for 14 years, then, one day when we popped round for a "petit apéro" I spotted some broad, greyish, striped bee orchid leaves in the grass. I pointed them out to our neighbour who put a stake next to each bee orchid. Then when he mowed, he had to go round the stakes rather than in straight lines. A few weeks later he had bee orchids that were taller, had more flowers and larger flowers than I had ever seen before.

Mowing (or grazing) does not kill downland orchids. The stem is cut off, so there are no flowers, but cutting the grass lets the light get to the leaves flat on the ground. The plant can grow and it does not waste any energy making seeds.

However, if you want your orchids to reproduce and spread, you must not cut the flower stems from the time they start to shoot up to the time that the seeds have been carried off on the wind (about 2 months).

For woodland species, all you have to do is to keep the scrub (brambles etc.) from taking over.

If you garden with care, the orchids will come and set up home - if they wish to - but you cannot force them to come. Please, if you find orchids in the wild, leave them alone. If they wanted to grow in your garden they would already be there, orchids were around a long time before mankind.

In 2000, we counted 240 bee orchid spikes (only one per plant) in the three largest groups in the garden. But as you may be able to see from the photo, it can be difficult to pick them out of the grass which has not been mown for a few weeks - there may be a few hundred more that we missed.

These little black dots amongst the grass stems are early spider orchids. In a few weeks, we will start mowing again. If the grass is not cut, the orchids will die, smothered by scrub.

Finally the trick has worked. The fat capsule holds tens of thousands of spider orchid seeds. The other flowers have not succeeded in attracting the attention of a spider with a pollinia already stuck on its head.

Click the pictures to show them full size

Narrow-leaved helleborine - Cephalanthera longifolia

Wild orchids in our garden

From French cornfield to English garden

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The music is the Chopin Winter Wind Etude Op 25 No11 played by Robert Finley.