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25th June 2017

Epipactis gigantea .
All is safely gathered in. At least all the hay is safely gathered in. I drove down the motorway past the Glastonbury Festival last night, perhaps they had been gathering hay as well. Smug rejoicing makes for a pretty song. Almost all of the hay on a friends meadow anyway. Almost all of the hay on a friends meadow is safely gathered in before some light rain made it impossible to lift. Not such a catchy song all of a sudden, but the rain was welcome.
While I was away, Epipactis gigantea took a chance and opened. It is such an easy orchid to grow that I have killed it repeatedly. I tend to think that because it is easy it will be tolerant. It is the sort of orchid that rejoices in drawing attention to such imprecision. It is easy in any slightly moist, well drained, acid to neutral soil, free from competition and divided frequently. It may seem like a lot, but these are not uncommon garden conditions. Falling short of these simple requirements, I have killed it repeatedly.
It hasn't been a good year for orchid flowers in the countryside around me. I don't think it is anything to do with this year but sometime in the past it was a bad year for seeding or establishment. Perhaps last winter was just too mild to initiate flower buds. Something happened or didn't happen, probably some time ago, and that may have been the cause of it. I think I'll write a song on the subject.
I saw a 2m patch of the Epipactis growing in what is now the foliage garden at Wisley a few years ago. It drew attention to the vigour of the plant. They failed to divide it frequently enough, it exhausted the soil and now it has gone. Not difficult and not tolerant.

25th June 2017

Pogonia ophioglossoides .
The Rose Pogonia comes from the eastern coast of North America covering much the same area as the genus Sarracenia and growing in the same sort of habitats. It was almost inevitable that I would want to grow it among the pitcher plants. It has been vigorous but I don't see many flowers.
There are a handful of species in the genus. I was delighted when I was offered some rhizomes of P. japonica. It has been less vigourous but more floriferous than the Rose Pogonia but I have struggled to see any other difference. I wasn't sure whether I was doing something wrong or if I just had a shy flowering clone of P. ophioglossoides. It is easy to divide but not easy from seed, so it is quite possible that all the plants in cultivation, at least in the UK, are a single shy flowering clone. On the other hand it may be another orchid that is easy to please but exact about its requirements.
Searching the internet for habitat pictures turned up a shot of pitcher plants growing on the edge of a bog encircled by the flowers of the Rose Pogonia growing slightly further up the slope. I repotted one of my plants into a tall pot, raising it another 10cm above the water table. This year it has flowered but none of the lower plants have done. It could be chance, or a number of other factors, but I think I was keeping it too wet.
With flowers of both species to hand, I can now say that my Rose Pogonia has smaller flowers and a strong green colour at the top of the labellum.
Only a fool could confuse them. Smug rejoicing.

25th June

Bletilla Coritani .
I have had similar "orchid trouble" with Bletilla over the years. They are easy if they are planted in suitable conditions but suitable conditions are not easy to arrange.
As I get older I think I am becoming more stupid. Perhaps I am just becoming less egotistical and the underlying stupidity breaks through to the surface more easily. Fortunately I also have a lifetime of growing Bletilla badly to look back on and attempt to sort the success from the failure.
My first insight came when a nurseryman pointed out that Bletilla grow their roots in autumn and must be divided and repotted by the end of August or they don't establish. He had repeatedly split plants in spring and watched them languish. They just don't produce any new root at that time of the year.
They flower in mid-summer so it is clear they are adapted to grow in the warmth. Not enough summer warmth has been my frequent failing, having split the plants in the spring as the new shoots emerge. There is nothing wrong with hindsight as long as you learn from it. Now I grow them all in my alpine house. Warm, slightly shaded and moist when they are growing.
They succeeded well enough last year for me to risk some cash on Coritani, a hybrid between B. formosana and B. ochracea. Neither parent is particularly hardy, I have killed them both in the past so I am hoping that B. Coritani has some hybrid vigour and that my cultivation has improved. Flowers this year inspire some optimism.

25th June 2017

Disa bivalvata .
Are orchids endlessly fascinating (to a minute fraction of a percent of the population)? Perhaps it is just the satisfaction of the Times crossword or a particularly fiendish Sudoku. Orchids take a bit of working out. People keep their labours with the Times crossword to themselves. It may be that it is entirely personal and of no interest to others or it may highlight the underlying moron in us all. Impossible conundrum as we struggle with it. Obvious and inevitable when we see the answer. We can enjoy our own cleverness and conceal the blank stupidity still staring at us from 12-down.
And so to Disa. The giant flowered red hybrids of cultivation are just a tiny and aberrant part of a large genus. We all start there, and it distorts our understanding. I know a clever man who has grown orchids all of his life in his greenhouse. He just can't grow Disa. He puts them in the best quality orchid bark and everything, keeps them nice and warm in the shade. Sometimes it is impossible to get beyond preconception.
I was stuck in the same rut, convinced that all Disa needed moisture. Most of the species are dryland plants, flowering in seasonal rainfall and then retreating to tubers through the dry season. D. sagittalis looks much happier in an ordinary pot on the bench than it did in the water trays. D. bivalvata has come into flower when rescued from the brink of death by drowning. It grows in the winter rainfall areas of the Cape and flowers as the ground starts to dry in summer.
I have spent the last few days trundling through traffic to see gardens. It seems to me that the trundling is more use than the arrival. I should spend more time driving nowhere. It gives me time to think. Time to stop the accumulated knowledge from making me stupid.