Country diary: tapering spires rise from the common spotted-orchids

Country diary: tapering spires rise from the common spotted-orchids

Allendale, Northumberland: I made a small meadow, allowing existing grasses and dormant wildflowers to grow

For years they grew in a single slab of turf, a fragment of a friend’s lawn, given to me in a box. Three common spotted-orchids, Dactylorhiza fuchsii, flowering each summer in their temporary sward until I moved house and could set them free. Making use of poor soil in a rubble-filled corner, I made a small meadow, allowing existing grasses and dormant wildflowers to grow. I added cowslips, ragged robin, bird’s-foot trefoil – and released the orchids.

Giving the meadow its annual late summer cut, I worked carefully around them, so they stood on their own; they mature later than other plants. Now they judder in an autumn wind that will blow and distribute their dust-fine seeds. Rust-coloured pods, still joined at base and top, have split open down their length like miniature bamboo lanterns. As the wind passes through them, the spore-like seeds are released. These may settle where I raked up the cut grass, scratching bare places for hay rattle seed to meet the soil. Or they may surprise me somewhere, like the plant I found flowering this spring among lawn chamomile on the far side of the garden.

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