Plant of the Year Posted on January 3, 2017

Phantom phlowers

Trad used to do a Plant of the Month, when we had a big garden and many choices. This the first time I’ve done a Plant of the Year – but really it’s a Plant of Many Years; ten at least.

I love orchids for living in slow motion. Writing about a genus so closely and intensely studied is like treading on egg-shells, but this cymbidium (I believe its name is, or was when I bought it, Rum Jungle) has lived in the same modest plastic pot all this time. You couldn’t get a toothpick in among its curling roots. It lives on water and neglect., most of the year in a shady spot behind the greenhouse, where I top up its saucer when I remember, sometimes with a drop of Growmore in the can. (Could I be drummed out of the RHS for offering such unscientific advice?)

I brought it into the greenhouse in October and into the warmth of the house, by a north-facing window, in late November and gave it a little orchid feed. The flowers have been erupting for four weeks now – and of course stay pristine for weeks. Each flower of this rather ghost-like cultivar has a double red line faintly picked out on its lower lip, presumably to guide insects straight to the action.

My sister sees rescuing near-death orchids as a sacred calling and would scoop a tiny pot with a shrivelled phalaenopsis off a skip in the street for intensive care in her kitchen. Actually there is nothing very intensive about it; only patience and a strict regime. No food, almost no water, domestic temperature and refusal to give up. The joy when a tentative bud appears repays months of nurture.

Hugh’s Gardening Books


Trees was first published in 1973 as The International Book of Trees, two years after The World Atlas of Wine….

Hugh’s Wine Books

Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book

I wrote my first Pocket Wine Book in 1977, was quite surprised to be asked to revise it in 1978,…

Friends of Trad

The International Dendrology Society (IDS)