Saturday, May 17, 2008

Hardy Cypripediums In The Garden

The hardy cypripediums (lady's slippers) are opening their delightful flowers. The lady's slipper species have always been a rarity in gardens; most often struggling then failing to persist. However over the last fifteen years, first a handful, then an avalanche of hybrids of the species cypripediums have appeared. At first the prices were astronomical, but they are now approaching affordability for most gardeners; certainly the prices are no more than many daylilies and hostas. There are two big advantages to growing these hybrids over species; first, the hybrids often are less finicky in their growing requirements, and second and even more importantly, you can be sure that the plant has not been dug up from nature (the theft of lady's slippers from our forests is a rampant and ongoing crime).
This is Cypripedium Michael, a hybrid of two Chinese species (henryi x macranthos). Henryi is a small, yellowish lady's slipper, and macranthos is very showy, with large purple flowers. From the former parent, Michael gets two traits: it is a small plant (ten inches), with multiple blooms on each stem. From macranthos, Michael gets larger, purplish flowers. Thus this hybrid gets the best traits of both parents: a short plant with multiple, beautiful large flowers which are nicely colored (and it is easy to grow). It likes loose, well-draining, alkaline soil and light shade.
If you want to try one of these hybrid cypripediums, I offer five pieces of advice: first, and perhaps most important is to plant shallowly. I suspect the most common source of failure comes from planting too deeply; the roots should be spread out just under the surface. This brings me to my second and third pieces of advice; the soil must be loose and "duffy" so the shallow roots can grow out easily (I mix good soil, compost, and sand, and I mulch)... this necessity for shallow planting also leads me to suggest you buy your cyp bare root in the fall. If you buy it growing in a pot in the spring, the roots likely are bending down into the lower levels of the pot, so it might continue this pattern of root growth when you plant it, which will cause it to go into decline as the plant tries to grow larger. Next, look carefully at the moisture and Ph requirements of your cypripedium... if you are going to spend this much money, you want everything just right. Finally, make a special spot just for your cypripedium. Its roots may spead out a foot in all directions with time; it is NOT a mixed border plant, it will NOT tolerate being cooked in the afternoon sun, and it must have good drainage.

I've only seen Lady's Slippers in the wild, and they are "threatened species" here in Nova Scotia. Beautiful, unique plants.
Lovely Lady's Slippers, Don! We've been lusting after these for quite some time but the prices (as you mentioned) hold us back, alas. One of these days, though, we'll have to take the jump and get a few.

As an aside... I was researching epimediums last night and found an (apparently) good source for them and arisaemas called 'Asiatic Nursery' ( ... do you have any experience or know anything about them? Prices seem reasonable and the selection is breathtaking, so we may give them a try this fall, as they sell corms in the fall and potted plants for spring shipment. Do you think there's any disadvantage to going the corm way in the fall?
Can you make a recommendation where I might find these new hybrid not as expensive lady slippers??? Thanks
I almost bought some cypripedium orchids but chickened out because I didn't have enough confidence that I wouldn't kill the expensive plants.

Yours is absolutely gorgeous.
Nancy... are they actually getting scarce there?

IVG... the fall corm root is a lot cheaper and works just as well (need good drainage). Asiatica is a nursery I've bought a lot from, but their plants are often small and prices aren't cheap. I use them for stuff I can't get elsewhere.If you want a mind-boggling epimedium list, look at Naylor Creek Nsy online (have arisaemas, too).

trouty... look at Hillside Nsy online.

Ki... try just one :o)

Don, thanks for the advice! I'll take a look at that site you mentioned. We definitely want to get some more going in the fall, as well as adding some more Dracunculus vulgaris and various other arums.
IVG... does your dracunculus bloom every year, and do you have it in full sun? I think mine is a bit too shady (I threw it in with some Asian jacks). It bloomed last year, but i don't see anything yet this year (if it would quit raining, i'd go check on it).

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