Plant Collector: Calanthe orchids

Calanthe orchids - happy growing in our woodland

Calanthe orchids - happy growing in our woodland

Orchids are one of the largest and most complex groups in the plant world – fearfully complicated to try and navigate your way through. Our interest here is in orchids as garden plants and one of the star performers is the calanthe family. These are called ground orchids or terrestrial orchids – in other words they are happy to grow in good garden soil. In the right conditions, you can plant them and leave them alone for many years where they just gently build up and make a better display with more flower spikes. There are well over 150 different species of calanthes and inevitably some will be better and showier as garden plants in our conditions than others. There is a bit of a question mark over the correct name for this lovely soft yellow one- probably a form of sieboldii or striata. Note: I have now been informed that in fact it is Calanthe ‘Higo’ (C. sieboldii x C. aristulifera) which makes sense to us.

Most of the calanthes come from tropical and sub tropical Asia and are generally evergreen. Presumably the forms thriving with us are the sub tropical types because tropical, we are not. We use them as woodland plants and have only once ever had them tickled up by a vicious frost. Their only downside is that they are quite leafy and the foliage hangs on for grim death long after it has become tatty and shredded. They benefit from an occasional tidy up. The new growth comes in spring and is quite lush so that every year garden visitors ask us which variety the yellow flowered hosta is.

Probably because orchids are such a complex plant family, orchid societies continue to grow, show and share when many other specialist groups have gone out of existence. They are a friendly and knowledgeable bunch and if you want to start building up a collection, either joining the local branch or visiting their shows is the best place to start.