How to Grow Native Orchids in Gardens Large and Small
Enthusiasts of our native orchids might well fear that a book on growing these precious and nowadays scarce plants in the garden is simply another threat to numbers in the wild but the very first few pages of this book will reassure them that the aim is quite the opposite and, indeed, those who follow the guidelines in this book may actually help to not only preserve our native orchids but to increase them. The craze for tropical orchids, starting as early as the 17th century, when they became major part of commercial shipping, lead to the depletion of numbers in native habitats. A similar over-collection of native orchids in Great Britain almost lead to the disappearance of the Lady’s Slipper Orchid – now, thankfully, in wonderful recovery.
In previous centuries, the continuing demand for exotic orchids and the inability to propagate them from seed meant that the only way to meet this demand was to return again and again to native habitats to collect plants. The French botanist, Noel Bernard, discovered the part played by symbiotic fungi in the germination of orchid seed in 1890. The American plant physiologist Lewis Knudson discovered how the processes by which the fungus aided seed germination in 1922 and developed a growth solution for the germination of tropical orchids. A form of micropropagation had been used as early as 1891 but was developed further in the 1920s by Gavino Rotor at Cornell University which lead to an efficient method of increasing orchid numbers rapidly. These techniques were developed to satisfy the demand for tropical orchids but are equally applicable to our native orchids.
The book contents are organised into three sections: Understanding Orchids, Cultivating Orchids and Orchid Communities. The introductory chapter gives a standard description of the structure of the orchid plant, normal growing conditions in the wild and suggests a selection of fourteen suited to garden cultivation. The basics of growing in the garden are outlined along with instructions on growing from seed and notes on pests and diseases. All are concise, comprehensive and well-written. I found Part 3, Orchid Communities, most interesting with its notes on creating a garden meadow, an orchid orchard or garden glade. Growing on a rockery was also well covered and also suggestions for the reintroduction of orchids to wild areas, a very worthwhile conservation project.
Those who enjoy our native orchids in the wild may well wish to have some in the garden and this book will certainly guide them on how best to go about it. It is a beautifully produced and presented book, well written and beautifully illustrated both with photographs and paintings.
[How to Grow Native Orchids in Gardens Large and Small, Wilson Wall, Dave Morgan, Green Books, Cambridge, 2019, Hardback, 175 pages, £19.99, ISBN: 978-0-85784-460-6]