June plant of the month

The noble commoner - a wild orchid that calls the garden home

Orchids are traditionally regarded as horticultural nobility; rare to find, hard to grow and expensive to own, the ultimate status symbol. Not so for the common spotted orchid, Dactylorhiza fuchsii.

This prolific little orchid has naturalised itself across the whole of RHS Garden Harlow Carr. Visitors can first see this attractive plant from early June where numerous spires of pale pink, two-lipped flowers lined and blotched with dark purple can be seen jostling for your attention.

Initially planted into our many wildflower meadows, the common spotted orchid has found its way into our flower beds, lawns and long grass areas, transporting itself by seed in our compost and on the wind.

The leaves start emerging a month prior to the flowers, in early May, so great care has to be taken by the garden team, to avoiding weeding out the characteristically ink-blotched leaves.

Common spotted orchids can be quite variable. Dactylorhiza can range from 20 - 50cm tall (8 - 20in), but specimens of up to 70cm (30in) in height can sometimes be found. They can also be quite variable in colour ranging from deep pink, pale pink or white.

Growing your own

Like all orchids these plants have quite exacting requirements when it comes to where they will grow. If you want to grow this plant in your garden, you first need to create the correct environment. Select an area of your lawn that you are happy to become a bit wild, perhaps an area under a tree or that spot which is difficult to manoeuvre your mower into.

Avoid using fertilisers and herbicides in this area and stop mowing regularly, mowing just once a year in autumn. In autumn when common spotted orchid seeds are ripe, scuff the ground with a rake to create a few bare soil patches among this long grass area.  Orchid seeds can be slow to germinate so patience in a must, but with patience may eventually come the reward.

See also

More hardy orchids to grow at home

Orchid Review

Find suppliers of the common spotted orchid

Get involved

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.