Orchid hunting in Lockdown

Early purple orchid

There are some lovely Wildlife Trust reserves just a couple of miles from where I live on the Woolhope Dome in Herefordshire. Lea and Pagets wood is a place I often visit on my birthday because that is peak bluebell time. This wonderful ancient wood has also always had a fair scattering of Early purple orchids (Orchis maculata) a dozen here and a dozen there. But this year my visit was full of surprises.

Deep in the wood is a new coppice coupe. The wood is well managed by the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust and as a Thursday volunteer I have coppiced here myself on many occasions. Coppicing is the practice of cutting a tree just above ground level and allowing the regrowth to sprout all around the cut stump. If the new growth is protected from browsing by deer, the tree will be renewed and form a coppice stool where several thin trunks emerge from the base rather than one thick trunk. This was done in the past to create useful wood products for fences and tools. Nowadays it is more likely to be done as part of woodland management, providing habitat for species such as dormouse and fritillary butterflies.

Where the trees were cut last winter there is now a mass of wild flowers

The new coppice in Lea and Pagets wood is awash with Early purple orchids, there are hundreds of them. In places there are more orchids than bluebells. I also found a single Greater butterfly orchid, which is in a couple of other spots locally, but I’ve never seen any in the wood before.

So my bluebell walk turned out to be a real birthday treat.

Orchid hunting in Lockdown

Green winged orchid in my garden

Expeditions are quite limited this year for obvious reasons and my orchid hunting is confined to my garden and within a couple of miles of home. Now, I am quite fortunate there. As an orchid grower there are quite a few things popping up in my garden as well as the ones I have put in pots and containers or planted myself. These Green winged orchids (Anacamptis morio) sprang up by themselves in a patch of lawn. I expect I wafted around some chaff and seed scraps a few years ago and these seeds found a tightly mown area of poor grass which is so close to a retaining wall that it is slightly more alkaline that the general lawn and other plant growth is restricted. We innocently created a perfect micro-habitat. We now have 4 in flower and a fifth which is just in leaf this year.

Four green winged orchids in an alkaline patch of lawn

We also have a lot of Common spotted popping up all over the garden. There are a couple of ‘meadow’ patches where they have been sowed and encouraged, these are now showing dozens of new plants, but they are also appearing of their own accord in paths and pots. If they appear in a mown grass path I will transplant them, because they are in the way, anywhere else they can just stay and do their own thing. The garden is well supplied with wild flowers and there are several wild areas which have very little gardening going on, lots of nettles in other words but lockdown offers a lot more time for weeding (I hate weeding) and the beds are looking good.