Epipactis gigantea

There’s not a lot of point going to a rare plant fair and not coming away with something rare. The annual fair at Tregrehan garden is a form of torture for me, so many plants I would love to buy and so little room for them in my already overcrowded garden. Anything that grows big or spreads fast is ignored, though I am conscious of the danger of filling my space with lots of tiny plants that would be out of scale with the overall picture.

That still leaves a bewildering choice, narrowed further by ignoring the things I already have or that are similar to things I have, unless they are ferns or begonias, which I find harder to resist. In the end, I limited myself to eight plants, and two of them were succulents for Sue. There was a fern and a two Begonias too. One of the things I bought for me was Epipactis gigantea. Easy in moist shade and woodsy soil, just not great at competing with other plants, I was told by the seller, a man I know well and whose judgement I trust.

I don’t trust it enough not to come home and look it up in books and online for any more snippets of relevant cultural information. Growing Hardy Orchids, by John Tullock, says grow in full sun, requires bog conditions and constant moisture. pH 5-6. He also says it is native to Europe but established in the Pacific Northwest.

Wikipedia says it is native to Western North America from British Columbia to Central Mexico. It grows in wet areas including riverbanks and meadows.

The RHS say grow in part shade, such as in a woodland garden or wildflower meadow, in moist, humus rich leafy soil. From their site I also learned that it isn’t so very rare, with 17 suppliers listed.

Beth Chatto recommends a cool damp place, rich and fertile soil in shade.

I’ve always thought of the Tullock book as quite authoritative, seems it might be time to retire it and free up space for another title. I find it hard to shake off the idea that information that has been committed to the pages of a book somehow carries more weight than information on the internet. One of the great things about the internet is that if information on one website sounds a bit suspect it is usually pretty easy to seek corroboration elsewhere.

I decided that my best option was to curtail the over enthusiastic spread of my white flowered Dicentra formosa. I cleared a strip beside the path, decided it wasn’t wide enough so cleared another bit. Then I decided the first bit was wide enough after all and planted the orchid there, beside the path with a background of Maianthemum racemosum. A begonia went in the other space. Then I cleared a bit more, so now I have a strip by the path awaiting something appropriate.

The orchid will be in shade most of the day, with perhaps a couple of times when the sun will be able to reach it through a gap in the canopy. I shall try to remember to water it in prolonged dry spells and to remove any Dicentra regrowth. I’ve put a few Cyclamen hederifolium either side of it, hoping they will provide foliage in winter when the orchid is dormant.

10 thoughts on “Epipactis gigantea

  1. I’m sure that many will recognise the thrill of finding a new plant, then researching it and planning its position in the garden. You put it very well, and I also liked your sharing of the process of preparing its position and the juxtaposition with other plants.

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  2. This is recognizable now. I needed to look up a picture of it, but found that it does live here, although it does not perform as well as it does farther north. It does not venture far from riparian situations or redwood forests. I have seen only a few in the chaparral region up above, where the ponderosa pines live, and they are within or near irrigated landscapes. Unfortunately, it appears where it is unwanted, such as in bedding plants and expansion joints of pavement, but is then impossible to kill or relocate, sort of like the false Solomon’s seal.


      1. I would not know, since I sort of ignore it, and am not familiar with the other orchids here. The rattlesnake plantain is resilient where it gets established, but does not transplant easily. A colleague tried to relocate some a few times, and took a bit of soil (containing the microorganisms that it lives with) with it, but it will not cooperate. It is odd. It does not survive transplant, but survives for decades where it decides to grow. The colonies do not seem to migrate much, so stay quite contained. They regenerated immediately after the CZU Fire, and have survived drought (not to be cliche).


      2. I know they need to establish a mycorrhizal symbiosis for the seeds to germinate and survive because they are tiny with no reserves but have never been sure whether that need changes when they get going. Mycorrhizae would normally be fungal networks occupying a large volume of soil and probably connecting to other plants too, so perhaps it is not enough to just take a little of the soil when transplanting them, maybe there needs to be a bigger volume of undisturbed mycorrhiza with its connections to the orchid still intact. The stuff you buy in packets is presumably spores? There’s a sizeable gap in my knowledge here.

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      3. That is (sort of) what my colleague who took them suspected. I do not know the details, but he mentioned the need for a large volume of soil. Gee, that would not be practical. We took a few bits of an established colony, so there is no need to germinate seed, only to sustain what is already going.


      4. There are some lovely orchids sold as suitable for ordinary garden soil, including Gisela, which I have. It isn’t thriving, I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, I’d love to get more but they’re expensive, especially if they’re going to die. The wild ones grow in some terrible places with no help from anyone.

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      5. Several orchids can grow in the ground here, even if they are supposed to be epiphytic and grow in fir bark. A few common Cymbidium are right outside the window. At home, I planted some in tree stumps to accelerate the rot of the stumps. They did not seem to prefer the rotting wood to soil.


      6. None of our natives is epiphytic and many are not at all showy. In the main if people grow them in their gardens it is because they have areas of undisturbed meadow and have introduced themselves or been there all along.

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