The flowers of many of these are very fine, while others possess exceeding interest from their mimicry of various insects, like the Bee and Fly orchises of our own chalk downs and their fringing woodlands.
A collection of some of the best of these is well worth growing, and quite sufficient in itself to take the shape of a very good hobby, including both hardy and half-hardy species, though all would need treatment differing from most ordinary plants. It would be well, therefore, for any one taking up their culture to make a speciality of them.
To see these plants in their native habitats, makes one long for a closer acquaintance with them. Never shall I forget one spring morning on the Appian Way, when the grassy borders of the wide Roman road were bright with patches of C. papilionacea-a painted beauty, not to be confounded with our modest white butterfly Habenaria -and bee-and-spider-like Ophrys of various species, and the delight of gathering new kinds amongst them.
A mental note was registered on the spot that the next venture in cold house experiment, when opportunity offered, might well be on some of these quaint and lovely plants. For here I must confess that I am about to trench on the cultural experience of others, rather than on my own ; yet knowing, by ocular demonstration, how much may be done in this direction, it seems better not to leave out entirely so important a group.
It is quite possible to procure, both from foreign and English dealers, tubers and roots of the most desirable species of terrestrial Orchis, African and American as well as European. The chief difficulty is to make sure of their having been collected at the right season-a too frequent source of failure.
Most of this class will do well in deep pans, in light, turfy loam, alternating as to quarters between a cold frame in summer, and a greenhouse in winter from which, for the half hardy kinds, frost is just excluded. One reason why the interesting South European Orchises are hard to cultivate satisfactorily in our climate out of doors seems to be the same that often arises with bulbous Iris and other alpine plants-growth begins too early, and they cannot stand the crippling alternations of frost and thaw. This trouble is overcome where such plants can be given the shelter of a cold house.
The fine Madeiran Orchis foliosa is well known, and is a robust and very ornamental plant for the unheated greenhouse. It grows to a height of i8 in. and upwards, and the handsome spikes vary in colour from a deep shade of purple to pale rosy-lilac.
Being one of the easiest to manage, and increasing year by year under good treatment, it is one of the best upon which to try one's 'prentice hand. As an example of quite another type, Calypso borealis, a small but very choice bog species, may be quoted. It is scarcely 4 in. high, yet the plants in the Alpine House at Kew attract many a visitor who knows their rarity, and can admire beauty in miniature.
Unlike 0. foliosa, and the Ophrys or insect-like section, which are mostly found in dry, open spots, this little North American gem delights in shade and bog-soil, like our own marsh Orchises, and will do well in a spongy compost of sandy peat and loam, to which some chopped sphagnum moss would be a good addition. The same treatment will suit Goodyera pubescens, with silver-veined leaves.
On the whole, the hardy bog-Orchids seem to be more easily managed than those of the insectiferous section. Most of them can be successfully grown in pots or pans in the compost already recommended and surfaced with living sphagnum, which keeps the soil moist and cool and is as near an approach as can be made to that of their native haunts.
Hardy Lady-slippers (Cypripediums), for example, would form a grand addition to the cold Orchid-house. C. spectabile, the pink and white Mocassin Flower of North American swamps, is one of the most vigorous and best known of these, and finds a place in all good English gardens provided with suitable positions for bog plants.
Once upon a time, when crossing a long stretch of swamp in Canadian backwoods settlements, in a rough country waggon, bumping along as the creaking wheels rolled over the unsteady logs of a corduroy-road, I remember seeing this lovely Cypripedium, for the first time, growing in massive clumps with other ravishing bog plants, and being sternly forbidden to attempt to gather one of them at peril of sinking shoulder-deep in the ooze, if not risking life itself. It was a hard trial at the moment for a young and wilful enthusiast. In such a spot, Mocassin Flowers can be seen at home at their real best.
But I am not sure-since we cannot in our English gardens emulate the wild luxuriance and tangle of the native bog, which is picturesque, but malarial withal-whether the most enjoyable way of growing such bog plants is not on the lines I have here ever so slightly suggested, so seldom is it that one sees them entirely at their ease in the bog-bed.
Two or three species of these hardy Cypripediums have yellow and brown flowers, such as our own rare C. calceolus, reputed intractable under cultivation ; C. parviflorum, smaller-flowered, but elegant with its twisted petals and sepals ; and C. pubescens, a stronger-grower than either, easier to manage, and fairly plentiful. A scarcer North American species, C. candidum, has a white lip, with sepals and petals of greenish brown. There are, besides, other hardy Cypripediums worth growing ; for example, the somewhat uncanny-looking Siberian C. macranthum, with its large purple pouch ; and the stemless red-flowered C. acaule.
Associated with these-for, though they are not Orchids, they company together by nature-one or two species of Sarracenia would be very fitting to cultivate, being seldom quite satisfactory in the open garden, as the pitcher-shaped leaves generally become torn and disfigured. S. purpurea, the typical Huntsman's Cup, and S. flava are two of the hardiest.
This hardy section of Sarracenia would offer a field for hybridisation quite as interesting as the tender species which have already been taken in hand by experts with such gratifying results, as may be seen any spring day at Kew, in the annexe devoted to such plants.
The Disas, again, which take rank among the finest Orchids, are pre-eminently amenable to cool treatment. D. grandiflora, one of the glories of Table Mountain, when it has donned its fine scarlet coat, lives with its roots in the sides of the water courses which abound in that locality, where they are never dry, while the atmosphere, even in the hot months, is tempered by the cool mists which hang over the plateau.
Here there is often snow and hail and even ice during June, July, and August, the South African winter months. On the authority of Mr. James O'Brien, a well-known expert, D. grandiflora, in an unheated house, has passed through weeks of hard weather, stiff-frozen, in a temperature varying from 5° to 14° of frost, not only safely, but with better results as to flowering than others of the same species wintered in warmer quarters.
This is distinct encouragement to try what can be done not only with Disas, but with other Orchids found at high altitudes. Happily, experience has already proved that one of the most charming and decorative of all, Odontoglossum crispum, wants very little coaxing to do extremely well, for it has been successfully grown in a sheltered lean-to house with a north aspect which was practically unheated. In fact, this and some other kinds, now always treated as cool-house Orchids, suffered much in the early days of their introduction from over-much coddling.
Many times have I seen in the garden of a well-known amateur a low damp house of this description devoted to C. crispum and a few similar species, and admired the robust health and clean growth of the plants, to say nothing of the perfection of flower, which left nothing to be desired.