Friday, 19 August 2016

Wild Orchid Hunting

Late winter is really early spring in outer Melbourne, so, for us, it's time to look for local wild orchids. We're a stone's throw from Victoria's most orchid-rich spot (lucky us!): Balluk Willam Conservation Reserve by the appositely named Orchid Road.

About 4 years ago we started a new tradition; one I love. J had met 4 lovely people of varying ages who appreciate the bush as much as we do, through a nearby conservation group, and with them - one a great photographer, and 2 are `birdo's' - we visit this famous reserve to look for orchids every spring. Ideally we visit every week for 6 weeks, but that, of course, does not happen. Initially we were asked by I and D, I suspect, to identify plants (our forte - and some (a few) I know better than does J) while our friends can tell any birds by their call and can raise their binoculars faster than a senior sheila raising a shandy on a hot summer afternoon.
So we stroll and stop and point, ooh and aah, photograph and identify, chat and laugh, kneel and stretch. Then coffee and biscuits. On Sunday we introduced a garden-loving friend to this special place and we kept to the paths (there are some trampled informal `paths' where plants need to regenerate). 
It's been a warm late winter with magnolias, for example, flowering early, so it wasn't surprising to see lots of greenhood orchids and I think my favourite (this visit!) was Large Sickle Greenhood (Pterostylis falcata, top).
I have a large pot of greenhood orchids flowering at home. They're either always or often available at Kuranga Native Nursery and mine just keep multiplying despite absolute neglect, so they are very easy to grow (and cheap to buy, in small pots). The wild ones are protected. 
We also saw yellow guinea flower (Hibbertia, below) and native heath (Epacris impressa, above) in shades of blush pink, hot pink and snow white. Also (well named) white scented sundew (last picture) with flowers that seem too large, showy and, well, pretty to belong to this group but no, look at the sticky leaves below: it can be no other plant.
Baluk Willam is on the way home from Melbourne for me, so occasionally I've stopped for a quick look in early spring and one of these times I had a nice experience...which might bamboozle my city friends. It was a few years ago and I was clearly flower hunting, eyes scanning the forest floor, but said hello in a friendly way to a gentleman of perhaps 70 who was also orchid or flower hunting. `Do you like orchids?' he asked. `Oh yes!' I after establishing that I would neither pick nor dig up these precious plants, this pleasant man showed me a rare orchid he'd found, and then we wandered along companionably for a while together in our shared quest.
Was it a kind of greenhood?
I don't remember. 
So you can take your woman out of the city (20 years ago)...and she'll hopefully act like a friendly sensible country woman.
And enjoy life more.
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria (

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