The smallest thing

Dactylorhiza incarnata coccinea
Early Marsh Orchid
Dactylorhiza incarnata coccinea

There are times when the small irritations in a gardener’s life can begin get out of perspective e.g. when the rabbits start digging up new plants and eat all the flower buds off the alliums or when you realise that the only way to get the mint out of the herb garden is to dig up the whole bed or that the bittercress is joining the chickweed in the race to swamp the vegetable garden.
Usually five minutes listening to the skylarks with a cup of tea is enough to raise the spirits and restore the equilibrium. But sometimes even this incantation fails and something special is required. Yesterday, with rain threatening, the grass to cut in the cottage garden, the fruit cages to weed and the prospect of clearing and replanting part of the giant hedge the under-gardener was a trifle grumpy and there was no tuneless whistle accompanying the squeak of the wheelbarrow. Then when checking to see if the cowslips had dropped their seeds to enable us to cut the grass along the drive, a flash of dark red caught the eye – the tiny flower spike of an early marsh orchid.

Early Marsh Orchid
Early Marsh Orchid

Early marsh orchids grow in the grassland on our headland and are relatively common in the islands and I had been hoping that eventually they might appear in the cottage garden. The strip of grassland along the drive has not been sown with grass and is a natural wildflower meadow – full of daisies, bird’s-foot trefoil, self-heal, red bartisa, plantains, clover and other machair flower species. There was always a strong possibility that there would be orchid seed in the soil or that seeds would arrive from one of the nearby populations, but after eight years I was beginning to become less optimistic. It was worth the wait, the grumpiness dissipated, it didn’t rain and my smile was as bright as my canary yellow gardening gloves.

Eventually this tiny plant may become as magnificent as some of its siblings and in time we might have a small sward of orchids spreading up the drive.

Dactylorhiza incarnata coccina swarda-plants

19 thoughts on “The smallest thing”

  1. That is such a lovely sight! What a dainty and yet strong-coloured orchid.
    Here in Finland we have had such a freezing spring that cowslips are still in flower – some kind of record, I suppose. However, it is sweet to be able to enjoy spring flowers for so long. One can’t complain! Just wear the jumper and admire cherry blossoms etc.

  2. Northern Springs are wonderfully enigmatic and totally unique. This year it has been cool and dry so the flowers are a little late, but yestrday I saw my first poppy and the first buttercups are only just starting to flower.

  3. It is often the smallest things that can change the day and restore life’s equilibrium. On Saturday it was the orchid and next time it will be something else – this morning it was the bright orange turk’s-cap lilies.

  4. J & D > We believe that orchids have become more numerous, and more widespread, across the crofts of Bun a Mhullin, Eriskay. That could be because the number of sheep has decreased somewhat. We’re planning to develop a grazing regime for our croft – when, very soon, it becomes fully enlcosed for the first time – which will ensure that biodiversity is preserved. Mob grazing may be current on-trend terminology, but we hope to go further than that, having lots of smaller fields so that the livestock can be moved at the point where grazing has had its positive benefit, but before it starts to degrade the sward. Oh dear, more fencing work!

  5. How wonderful, I would be overjoyed if these beauties appeared in my garden. I did once have a bee orchid on my lawn. But the following year it disappeared never to be seen again. Wild orchids are so magical.

  6. Whoohoo! Such discoveries will always brighten a dull day, Christine. Hope there will be many more (orchids and discoveries!) 😀

  7. Hurrah! It is the wee things in life that bring the most joy.
    When I thought that my entire crop of blueberries was late frost killed, I collected enough berries to make jam this week! And more berries harvested every evening. Joy!

  8. Over grazing is a serious problem and the solution has to be a reduction in stock numbers and conservation grazing. We introduced controlled grazing and silage cutting on our croft six years ago and the improvement in the quality of the grassland and the biodiversity has been amazing. So best of luck with your plans, it will be worth the effort.

  9. Orchids have a tendency to appear and disappear as if by magic. Fortunately our dumpy marsh orchids are not as temperamental as some other species. Alas no bee orchids in this part of the world, but it would seen churlish to complain.

  10. I must confess I have so far harvested 10 LBS of blueberries! 2.5 lbs went into a batch of jam and the rest are either eaten at breakfast or are popped into the freezer. A bountiful crop despite crazy spring weather…many berries only plumped to a 1/3 of normal size…those will be left for the birds…

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