At the most recent meeting of the Ocean State Orchid Society, we learned about hardy orchids, the species you can grow outside in your garden. The speaker was Christopher Bell, of A&P orchids, a passionate and very knowledgeable young plantsman.
Like most gardeners, I have admired Lady Slipper orchids growing in the woods here in Rhode Island. When I lived in Quebec, they grew there, too. These cypripediums can be grown in YOUR gardens, with some soil amendments and winter protection. Bell explained that as with many orchids species, cypripediums demand good drainage. They also need to be mulched well with pine needles or oak leaves for winter. Bell prefers these mulches because they do not break down as quickly as maple leaves. Bell told us that cypripediums should be planted in a northeast facing exposure, in front of a large object such as a boulder, big tree or your house.
Several other genera will also grow outside in RI, again with winter protection. Calanthes, Bletillas, commonly known as “hardy ground orchids,” the glamorous Habenaria radiate (known as the “egret flower”) and Rose Pogonia, which grows in the wild here. Several club members said they have seen them, but I have never had the pleasure.
It never occurred to me that I could plant orchids in my garden and that they could actually thrive in this climate. Many gardeners treat these plants as annuals and just let them die over the winter, but I don’t think I’d want to do that.
I might summon my courage and try growing a couple of these. All of them are available at A&P.