Outdoor orchids

Several orchids are hardy enough to grow outdoors in the UK. Most need specific growing conditions, but when their needs are met they’ll provide a wonderfully exotic display. While still fairly expensive to buy, they are generally coming down in price due to new micropropagation techniques, which are also making them more readily available to buy.


Hardy orchids vary widely in appearance, depending on the type. Hybrids of Dactylorhiza, for example, produce bold spires of small pink/purple flowers, while Cypripedium, or slipper orchids, produce individual flowers with a distinctive pouched, or slipper-shaped, lower lip. Hardy orchids go dormant over winter, dying down to the ground in autumn then re-sprouting in spring, and flower in late spring or early to mid-summer.


Different orchids like different growing conditions, although most prefer sun or partial shade. They usually like soil that drains freely, not waterlogged in winter nor too dry in summer – Dactylorhiza, however, thrive in damp conditions. Some need soil that is low in nutrients, others prefer soil enriched with compost. Many will grow well in containers too.


Most don’t like deep shade, soggy conditions during their winter dormancy or drought in summer. Marsh orchids (Dactylorhiza), as its common name suggests, won’t tolerate dry conditions.

Did you know?

It is illegal to take orchids from the wild, so only buy cultivated orchids from reputable suppliers. As new hybrids are being developed, and reproduced using micropropagation techniques, hardy orchids are becoming ever more widely available, at more affordable prices.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.