Pleione Orchid: Easy and Reliable

The wind may still be bitingly cold, but the arrival of spring is now within touching distance. Snowdrops, Witch-Hazel, and Cyclamen are popping up everywhere in the Gardens, and what a welcome sight they are too!

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) springing up on the North Lawn at Aberglasney

Indoors, the Ninfarium is looking great with its wonderful display of orchids and other almost-hardy treasures. Although it’s generally only kept frost-free to about 5 degrees, we’re still able to grow a wealth of plants such as Rex Begonia, Streptocarpus and many temperate orchids.

One of the most important things to remember with orchids is their two different types: Epiphytic grow on trees and rocks, and terrestrial grow in soil. An example of epyphytic orchids are Cymbidium; I wrote a blog post about these a few weeks ago that can be read here. Terrestrial orchids are very easy to grow and are cold hardy or half-hardy. One type that deserves a mention is Pleione which is native to the Himalayas.

Pleione hybrid orchid

It’s an orchid that’s been grown outside at Aberglasney for years but has finally disappeared over the last few cold winters. It’s not completely hardy so only the mildest and luckiest gardens will be able to grow it successfully outdoors. That said, it’s done fantastically well in the Ninfarium, almost doubling in size and flowering its socks off! Each pseudobulb (false bulb) has produced up to five flowers each.

Close up of a Pleione hybrid orchid flower

There’s 250 different types of Pleione’s available for sale in the UK, so there’s plenty of choice around. A great way to grow them is as a conservatory or cool greenhouse plant. In the spring, flowers will shoot up very quickly before their leaves emerge which, in my opinion, makes them even more spectacular but they’ll need to be watered more heavily during this period. They need very little care in the summer, if they’re kept watered and shaded, they’ll tick over fine. In the winter they can be kept drier whilst they lose their leaves.

Pleione hybrid orchid in flower
Pleione hybrid orchid in the Piggeries Glasshouse

We’ve never used rainwater for our Pleione orchids at Aberglasney and they’ve done just fine without. Not having to use rainwater poses a real advantage as it really reduces the amount of work involved in orchid care. It’s certainly not the case for many other species, but our experience so far has shown Pleione’s to be more tolerant than other types of orchid.

A small pot of of them will last for five or six years and can be split and started again which makes them fairly good value for money. Being less expensive than other varieties also makes growing them a little less nerve-racking which is a bonus…

Close up of a Pleione hybrid orchid flowering in the Piggeries Glasshouse

Pleione formosana is probably the most common and maybe the easiest to grow, but many hybrids are now becoming much more readily available. These hybrids come in a wide range of colours and are often bigger, more robust plants.

Pleione ‘Formosana’ in the Ninfarium

Pleione ‘Tongariro’ is a new hybrid that we’re trying this year, if it goes well then expect to see many more of them in the Ninfarium in years to come. We’ll also try bedding them out as tender perennials in the garden when we have enough stock.

Pleione ‘Tongariro’ orchid

The best place to buy Pleione orchids is from specialist growers. They can be found in the RHS plant finder and will be able to supply you with all the growing advice you could possibly need.

Tips for the Week:

  1. Take a look at Pleione orchids in catalogues and on the internet
  2. Sow sweet peas and other summer annuals that need pots
  3. Plant asparagus and rhubarb – don’t forget to fleece them if the weather turns colder
  4. Sow carrots, onions and other early vegetables
  5. Make sure there’s fleece on your early crops if needed
  6. Plant summer flowering bulbs
  7. Plant raspberry canes
  8. Clean out your glasshouse and clean your glass on both sides
  9. Hard prune summer flowering Clematis
  10. Start forcing rhubarb