Not too Early, Not too Late… Just Right?

Not this year.  I keep aiming to catch the local pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) in peak bloom but it has yet to happen.  Last year I was too late and saw nothing but seed pods, and this year I was just a little too early.  But it was a nice Sunday morning out regardless, and I did catch a few in perfect condition.

pink ladys slipper Cypripedium acaule

One pristine bloom in a spot which caught the morning light.

The Lady’s slipper patch is found in a state park about 25 minutes from my house, and if I’m being honest it’s not always my favorite spot to visit.  It’s got a kind of creepy vibe going, and I don’t think it would be first on the list of places to take the kids hiking.  I’m sure it’s all in my head though, but until I get a little way into the woods I’m just a bit on edge.

pink ladys slipper Cypripedium acaule

A few more early birds

Pink lady’s slippers do not like the bacteria rich, worm infested, fertile soils of the typical garden plot and are notoriously difficult to cultivate on purpose, and instead are usually found in the undisturbed duff of native soils, high in acidity, high in fungus, and the places where decay takes years rather than a few day’s run through an earthworm’s belly.

***education alert -this post is loosely based on fact, I make most of this up as I go.  I am absolutely not a botanist or any thing close to a soil scientist***

pink ladys slipper Cypripedium acaule

More lady’s slippers just coming into bloom.

Oddly enough the park areas where these orchids seem to grow best are not pristine slices of pre-colonial North America, but rather ridges of mine tailings left undisturbed and unreclaimed for the past hundred years.  You could almost call it mine-scarred if not for the regenerated trees and return of native wildflowers, and I’m sure timing has everything to do with this.  Try this again today and I’m sure the only thing to sprout back would be a forest of Japanese knotweed mixed with crownvetch and barberry in the drier spots.

pink ladys slipper Cypripedium acaule

This will be a nice show in another week or two.  

I often think about weird things.  Many people love to repeat how incredibly well adapted natives are to one area or another, and I usually just nod but deep down inside don’t really buy it.  I think it has more to do with first come, first served.  An area is disturbed, a seed gets lucky, and if the plant gets lucky it fills the area before anyone else shows up.  If nothing else big happens that’s that, regardless of how perfect or not it is for the spot.

pink ladys slipper Cypripedium acaule

A patch of pink lady’s slippers with some hay scented ferns (Dennstaedtia punctiloba) creeping in.  In another 100 years I wonder if they’ll still both be living in harmony since around here the ferns can make a pretty dense carpet.

In any case I enjoyed the visit, and didn’t mind being early rather than having perfect timing.  Perfect timing would mean I’d have made my visit this upcoming weekend, and with the hot weather that’s rolled in I have no desire to take on any physical adventures… not until I get used to the change in weather at least.

Hope your week’s gone well.  Between track meets, gymnastics, and baseball practices, this week has flown by and there have been days when I didn’t even get my garden strolls in (*gasp*), but the schedule is changing and hopefully I can soon enjoy some of the big changes in the garden.  The heat has wilted the last tulips and dogwoods, and now the bearded iris and clematis are bursting open.  I need more of both of course, but have to plant a few other things before I’m allowed to buy anything new… unless it’s a rose…  I’m giving myself two (or three)rose permission slips, and it’s all part of a new adventure planned for the upcoming weekend 🙂


20 comments on “Not too Early, Not too Late… Just Right?

  1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    What a beautiful sight. I have only seen Lady slippers in the wild one time. The person that showed it to me swore me to never reveal where they were! I have forgotten where they grew. Ha. She doesn’t have to worry about me blabbing. I do remember that they were in an area near a creek. There weren’t near as many as I see in your pictures and they were more spread out. You do have a treasure trove of them in this creepy place.
    Have fun planting roses this weekend.

    • bittster says:

      I went a little overboard and brought back four new roses. I was only planning on two but three seemed more fun and then the owner gave me a fourth that he wanted me to try :). He’s more nuts about plants than I am, it’s always great when you run into someone who makes you feel completely normal!
      I’m probably going to return to the creepy park next year. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of lady slippers there, and my pictures don’t really do the show credit!

  2. Paddy Tobin says:

    These are extraordinarily beautiful plants and I would dearly love to see them in the wild. I have one cultivated variety in the garden – C. ‘Kentucky Pink Blush’ which has performed fabulously this year with around 25 blooms so I am delighted with myself.

    • bittster says:

      Excellent work! I’m amazed at how well some of the hybrid slipper orchids can do in the garden. As I get more shade here I might give one a try, but I will really need to commit to keeping it well cared for. I suspect it would not like drying out completely like the other plants here are forced to suffer through.

  3. susurrus says:

    Lots of interesting ideas in this post, to say nothing of the pictures of these remarkable plants. I have a feeling that though gardeners think they are doing right by digging and amending the soil, some plants respond best when the soil is left alone so underground networks can flourish.

    • bittster says:

      I’d agree with that! Gardeners love loose, fluffy soil, but who knows what the plants think. I don’t think my garden will ever reach the fluffy stage, but at least it’s moving away from being a sheet of hard, dry, clay for two months in the summer!

  4. Lisa Rest says:

    I don’t think I have ever seen Lady Slippers in the wild or anywhere – what a beautiful orchid. I love how you think about plant strategies… I have to go back to reading a wonderful little book, The Life of Plants by Emanuele Coccia, I started reading a couple years ago (isn’t everything harder to imagine after a lost year?). Either way I have noticed climate change taking its toll, or expressing itself? on the natural order of things in my yard and on the trail. I am constantly struggling to identify new things… 🙂

    • bittster says:

      I can’t figure out if ‘The Life of Plants’ is a heavy tome to struggle through, or an actual wonderful little book. I’m looking at it and can convince myself either way! But I shall keep an eye out for it. Come to think of it, any reading might be good since I can’t remember the last time I sat down with anything heavier than a magazine.
      I do see a few things overwintering that never made it before, but outside of milder winters what I’m really seeing are a lot of new invasives… bittersweet is the latest which is showing up in large numbers and sadly weed-be-gone is now my favorite weapon. Crownvetch, mugwort, and knotweed are tops on the to-be-eliminated list, and I think I can accomplish that in my yard and the nearby woods. Then I might try garlic mustard. Ugh. I bet you see plenty of those on your travels.

  5. I’ve never seen any lady slippers lovelier. Looking forward to hearing about your new adventures.

    • bittster says:

      Omg, I’m still have to get permission to post the photos of the rock garden I visited, but I think you’ll love them. It was mind blowing.

  6. Eliza Waters says:

    Beautiful orchids! It is interesting to see how the plants seem spaced equidistant to each other. They do have very specific requirements for growth.
    I’m kind of sad those cool spring days seem to be gone for good and we’re left with hot, sticky weather, not so good for comfortable gardening. But better than snow, I reckon.
    Have a great weekend… stay cool.

    • bittster says:

      Did you enjoy the two cool days? What a nice change and but now I’m stuck in one hot day before being followed by two cooler again. What a rollercoaster!
      Hope you’re well on your way to a full recovery 🙂

      • Eliza Waters says:

        Thanks, if I would only STOP for a week, I’d probably get better more quickly. But as you can probably relate, fat chance keeping me out of the garden at this time of year! I’m taking a mini-vacation next week, so maybe that will help. Fingers crossed!

  7. Magical plants. Thanks for the informative post.

  8. Cathy says:

    It is always wonderful to find a spot where wildflowers grow. These are such pretty ones too. I am looking forward to seeing some Foxgloves in the woods soon. Forestry work or a bad storm can completely change the spots where flowers spring up here, but so far I have not noticed them being forced back by the ferns…. or any foreign invaders like the Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera).

    • bittster says:

      Foxgloves are one of my favorite plants, but there’s just something here they hate. Probably the dry summers, but then they also struggle to overwinter. Odd since I’ve seen them naturalized in a few more mountainous spots.
      I’ve only ever seen the Himalayan Balsam along the Maine coast and into Canada. I wonder if it’s too hot here for it, but on the other hand you do get plenty of hot spells so maybe it’s just a matter of time. We do have plenty of Impatiens capensis coming up whenever the soil is moist enough. It’s native here so I can’t complain too much, but when it sprouts it behaves as if it will take over the world!

  9. Chloris says:

    Fabulous, how wonderful to have such glorious wild flowers growing nearby. I struggle on with my lady’s slipper orchids although I can’t say they flourish. My first flower was eaten by slugs this year. But soon, as you say, we will have irises, clematis and roses, now you’re talking. The crowning time of the garden year. Looking forward to seeing your new plans.

    • bittster says:

      Oh my gosh. I saw pictures of some fat clumps of a few of the hybrid slipper orchids and for a minute thought I should try them, but fortunately thought twice of it. Excellent that yours is even struggling, mine wouldn’t bother, and perhaps one day struggle will turn into flourish!
      I brought a few roses home last weekend. I have no resistance when the nurseryman gets all excited over his own plants, I just have to join in.

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