Autumn lady’s tresses is the final orchid to flower in the UK. It is fairly widespread, but still rarely seen unless you set out to find it. It is small, usually 10-12 cm tall, mostly green and it chooses rocky places with thin, poor, dry, often calcareous soil. Sometimes it lives exposed on a clifftop, the ones I found were in a long-abandoned quarry in the Forest of Dean. It has become a surprise coloniser of domestic lawns, perhaps because it needs a close cropped grass sward and the lawnmowers of the nation have taken the place of grazing livestock in creating the perfect habitat.
It has a very beautiful, delicate single spiral of small white flowers, reminiscent of a long plait of hair, studded with blossoms.
It is also scented and has a sweet, slightly lemony fragrance.
Autumn lady’s tresses is one of the winter-green orchids. It puts up a flower spike in the Autumn, along with a rosette of leaves which last all winter. This perfect delicate plant will tough it out through the worst of the cold weather, often in very exposed places, storing up food in the root for the next season’s flowering.
The leaves die back when the warm weather comes and throughout the summer months there is no sign above ground, until cold wet weather spurs it into action again.
For me this is one of the most attractive UK orchids, a dainty and perfectly formed living helix to finish the orchid season.
Some of our UK native orchids are really easy to grow in the garden and September is a great time to plant them.
Common spotted orchid will grow in all parts of the UK and wants a sunny spot in a flower bed, alpine bed or a patch of grass under hay meadow management. They are happy with most neutral garden soils from light and sandy to heavy clay. They come up year after year and if they don’t have too much competition, they will double up each year forming a nice clump. If you let them set seed they may grow from seed as the soil fungus that they need to germinate is pretty common in garden soils.
If you live in one of the wetter parts of the country, or you have a damp patch of garden you could also grow one of the marsh orchids. Southern marsh orchid in the South, the Midlands and Wales, and Northern marsh orchid in the North of England and Scotland. They are a deeper purple than the Common spotted orchid and make beautiful garden plants. They are also perennial, will grow to form a clump and may grow from seed in your soil.
All these plants are also great in pots and tubs. Give them a roomy pot with a very well drained mix containing a lot of grit and perlite and water regularly through the spring and summer. For the marsh orchids you can stand the pots in a shallow tray of water, so that they never quite dry out. They make a fantastic display for a terrace or an outdoor table centre.
Take a look at the ‘our orchids’ page to see the plants we have available.