Ladies and flys

Ladies and flys

lady orchid cover woodA 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. detail of lady orchid

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. fly orchid cover wood

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.


Happiness is…A walk in the woods in spring.

spring in Earley woodEnjoyed a wander in Earley Wood near Petham with my gang of volunteers from the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership this week.

gang wander in Earley wood

Herb Paris Earley Wood

Herb Paris

early purple orchids, wood anenomes and bluebells Earley wood

Early purple orchids, wood anemones and bluebells

jumble of twayblades Earley Wood

a jumble of twayblades

Dreaming of Butterflies

So many butterflies at Queendown Warren in Kent on a warm Bank Holiday Monday, they spun before my eyes as I fell asleep.

marjoren and wild flowers at Queendown Warren

Marjoram, knapweed and harebells at Queensdown Warren. A good source of nectar for butterflies


Chalkhill blue

Chalkhill Blue

Brown Argus Queensdown Warren

Hundreds of Brown Argus were laying eggs yesterday


Silver spotted skippers were harder to spot but this one was obliging.

adonis blue butterfly

The eye popping Adonis Blue is easier to see.

small copper on marjoram

My favourite butterfly, a Small Copper, the only one I have seen this year.

Autumn ladies tresses Queendown Warren

It is easy to miss this tiny orchid while enjoying the butterflies but Autumn Ladies Tresses is one of the speciality plants of the site.

Monkey’s in the park

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photo credit – David Evans

The monkey orchids at Park Gate Down near Barham in Kent are spectacular , blowsy and showy. The common spots are  more delicate delights, ever varied in shades of pink from a delicate blush to Barbie car hued. Miniature perfection was dotted all over the valley from gentian blue milkwort to tiny chickweeds. The weather is atrocious and all our plans for picnics among butterflies are abandoned as gale force wind bend trees and butterflies hunker down in the grass, rain threatens.

Half way across the site we meet my friend Trevor in equal measure cursing the weather, the loss of his precious spring, the lack of bees and butterflies, swifts gathering to head back to Africa but, and at the same time, delighting in the pleasure of a field full of orchids. We find a butterfly orchid.

“Get down and look at it” Trevor commands. “How are the sepals?” he says.

I look blank.

“Are they diverged or co-joined.” he barks.

I peer closer. “Diverged, I think.” I say.

“Greater butterfly” he says with disappointment.

Trevor, a pleasure, like a rare and difficult orchid himself, a birds nest, a ghost orchid, a diamond in the rough.

699225_7363d41dLater we head to Yocklets Bank, a butterfly orchid attaches its pollen sacks to me (“diverged Trevor”). I walk around trying to pollinate another but the damn things are surprisingly sticky and wont leave my finger and trying to attach them makes me release more until I am covered with the things. Lady orchids 1ft tall emerge like mysterious aliens among the dogs mercury. The ladies in differing attire, some in slacks, some harem pants some in traditional crinolines. They don’t look like English plants at all more like foriegners trying to fit into the dark woods and getting it all wrong.

photo credit – Mike Pennington