Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Orchids - the hardy type

For all of those who think they can't grow orchids, I would recommend you try some of these hardy types to grow outside in your garden.
This first one is Spiranthes cernua 'Chadds Ford'. The species is native to bogs and damp meadows, grows 6 to 20 inches tall (ours tend to be tall), and bloom late summer through fall with spikes of sweetly scented, white orchid-like flowers. Makes sense, orchids with orchid-like flowers. The common name is Nodding Lady's Tresses. The leaves are a basal rosette. This U.S. native has a preference for acidic soil. Zones 4-8. Spiranthes cernua prefers to not be disturbed or moved once established.
Next is a more unusual one - a vining orchid that thrives in shade. Codonopsis lanceolata grows up a support to a height of about 10-15 feet - our still young plant makes it to about 8 right now. It circles the support (ours grows up a Japanese maple) without strangling it. I've found it to be a good idea to put a small fence, maybe a foot tall around the base because rabbits have found it tasty in the past. It didn't kill it, but it stopped growing for the year and waited for the next year to grow again and bloom, and the blooms are too special to miss.

The blooms remind me a bit of a PawPaw or some species Clematis rather than an orchid. They are maybe an inch across or a little large and are borne singly up and down the stem. I haven't noticed any fragrance. This really does thrive in shade. I don't think ours gets any direct sun at all. Actually I'm not sure this is properly speaking an orchid, but is commonly referred to as a climbing orchid. Zone for this is 6-8. Bloom is later in the summer.

Calanthe tricarinata is a very orchid looking orchid. These leaves seem typical of the Calanthes with their shiny green finish and pleats. The leaves may be evergreen in very mild winters, but I sometimes think it is better when they leave for the winter as they often look pretty ratty in the spring and will be replaced with new ones anyway. Flowers on both of the ones I have pictured start blooming in late spring.

I do love the color on these flowers - the yellows and oranges - and the fringed lower petal. The bloom stalk can have quite a few individual flowers. It is native to Pakistan, through the Himalayas and on east to Japan. The leaves are probably almost a foor tall with the bloom stalk rising above that. Zone 6-9. It likes shade and a woodsy soil.

Last, but not least, is Calanthe discolor. This one is often listed as zones 6b-9, but we have no problem growing it here in 6a. The flowers have burgundy back petals and a white or pale pink center petal. It is native to woods in Japan. This one is smaller, only about 10 inches tall. Like the tricarinata, it may loose its leaves when the winter temperatures go below 10 degrees. This is quite easy to grow and makes a nice clump over time. While the tricarinata I planted about 8 years ago is still only one stem.

I do grow some tropical orchids in the house, but none will ever be as easy to grow and get to bloom as these lovelies from my outside garden.


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