A rainy afternoon took me orchid hunting to Covert Wood near Barham in Kent.
There is something secretive in orchid hunting, passed down by generations who protected the plants from people intent on digging them up for their beauty and the supposed aphrodisiac properties of their roots.
Good orchid territory always seems passed on by word of mouth and it would be easy to miss the steep slope that climbs from a little used road that spirals steeply down through Covert Wood. Here the beech woods roll down the slope on a sea of foamy dogs mercury and wild ransoms. Lady orchids grow under the shaded canopy. Some are the traditional flowers which more resemble men in spotty pyjamas than ladies in crinolines. Some are hybrids of pale lavender and white.
Easily missed are the fly orchids, my favourites. There is something a little sinister in them, like they might contain some deadly chemical with which to make a sleeping draft.
The twayblades are not so spectacular although they grown up to a foot high and each flower looks like a little man wearing a baseball cap and giant headphones. The men dance around a central maypole above two giant flat leaves which give the plant its name.
One orchids was more elusive than the rest. I searched and searched for the birds nest orchids which lack chlorophyll and feed on the roots of trees but, if they were there, I couldn’t find them. But that’s the pleasure in orchid hunting, it’s not easy, they do appear one year and then vanish, it takes you to little known parts of woods and hills to find them. It is the mystery and rarity of orchids that make the hunt worthwhile.