The onset of autumn heralds the flowering of many orchids; glorious flowers that last for weeks, bringing delightful colour points to the garden. Although I’m not an orchid expert or an avid collector, this is a group of plants that attracts a devoted following, and I can easily see why.
Aside from the aficionados, many people consider orchids to be difficult; but I think this is more to do with how exotic they look rather than how difficult they are to grow. In fact, many orchids are very easy to grow. In New Zealand, cymbidium orchids are the most well-known. They are ideally suited to growing in our climate and are perfect for beginners.
I grow mine in either terracotta pots in coir fibre (I prefer this to orchid bark, but either works well) scattered around the garden or as bare-root plants lodged in the crook of large trees.
Potted orchids are ideal for filling in temporary bare areas or cutting the long-lasting flowers for putting in a vase inside. For cutting, a straight, upright stem is preferred. This is easily produced by tying the emerging stem to a stake. Employ liberal applications of slug pellets to prevent slugs and snails feasting on the emerging flowers. Cut the stem just as the topmost flower opens for maximum vase life.
I prefer to let the cymbidiums in my trees show off their flowers naturally, allowing them to gently cascade down from their perch. The glorious Australian dendrobium speciosum orchids can also be grown this way, producing frothy displays of white, cream or yellow blooms that fill the garden with scent.
One group of orchids I struggle with is the ethereal moth orchid (Phalaenopsis). I’ve been determined to grow these in the garden all year round but with no success so far. A decent cold snap seems to send them into terminal decline and snails absolutely love them. I’m resigned to growing them in pots in shady spots over summer, bringing them inside as the new flower spike begins to emerge in autumn.
At the other end of the scale, the seemingly indestructible and gorgeous little crucifix orchids produce many months of colour, scrambling their way through surrounding shrubbery and over any solid obstacle with abandon, occasionally dropping an offshoot that will take root wherever it lands.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention at least one of our (mostly tiny) native orchids, of which, surprisingly, there are over 160 species. My favourite, and the most commonly available, is the Easter Orchid (Earina autumnalis). This dainty little beauty is found throughout New Zealand. It is usually is smelt before it is seen, with it’s lovely perfume permeating the surrounding forest. Having orchids in your garden really does add the finishing flourish.