Hunting the slipper



Don’t know how many of you will get that reference! It is a game played during 19th century house parties in English manors. Only a confirmed Trollope geek would have this at the top of her head when thinking about native lady’s slipper (cypripedium) orchids. (Silly children’s game were often used as good opportunities for decorous—or not so decorous—flirtations back then.)

Cheryl, my chief gardening buddy, and I were searching for affordable and legal ways to bring hardy woodland orchids into our Buffalo gardens when Cheryl found this site:Spangle Creek Labs,which offers seedlings, and is active in native orchid conservation. Does anyone know it? We’re excited about this because although these plants take a while to become established, they are also supposed to form large colonies once they’re happy. Both of us feel we’ve got just the place for them.

McClure Zimmerman is also offering blooming-size cypripedium, but—yikes—the prices! So we’re thinking about seedlings instead. I have never been fortunate enough to see these in the wild, though I understand the Northeast once offered plenty of opportunity, as Michele has posted. (EDIT–found Michele’s post and I’m glad I did.) Have any of you Northern gardeners had luck with these? Indeed, some of you may have posted on it, and I missed it, or, more likely, forgot, so do link to your posts, if so. Having just seen a show featuring the hothouse version of these gorgeous plants, the thought of having them in my garden seems almost too good to be true. And maybe it is.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Around here they are also known as Vole Candy. You pretty much have to encase the entire plant in a wire cage and let it grow up through the mesh. Even then the voles wait until the plant is up and then just follow the stems back to the bulb and roots through any one inch gap in the wire. Some people have good luck with them but most fail.

  2. We’ve not tried Cyps yet but have found all the other hardy orchids we’ve tried to be a blistering success – epipactis and bletilla are multiplying vegetatively a treat meanwhile we have Dactylorhiza and Spiranthes seedlings popping up all over the place. Roll the dice on one or two would be my advice.

  3. Layanee, the link worked and I encourage all to click on it–how beautiful.

    I’ve heard enough, and I’m definitely going to try these. I don’t have any voles–what is a vole anyway.? Is it like a rat?

  4. In the early ’70’s, my uncle showed up at our house with a bucket full of the pink ones (it WAS the ’70’s, o.k.?). He’d been in the north Georgia mountains, and found a field full of them. Near my grandfather’s cabin up there, Mom found tiny brown ones, maybe 3/4″ long. So, somewhere around Suches, GA, you may find several sorts. There were also pines around, a dead one so big my friends and I could stand inside the trunk a bear hollowed out.

  5. I’ve grown several Cyp species for years, and I’d definitely recommend biting the bullet and starting with mature plants. Seedlings are touchy little critters, and take years to reach the point where they can be trusted in the open garden. Good sources for these plants (not cheap, but very trustworthy and informative) are the Wild Orchid Company (Dr. Bill Mathis is a wealth of info on growing these plants), Raising Rarities, and Hillside Nursery, all of which have good, informative websites. Stick to the specialist growers when purchasing these, for sure; general bulb brokers are not equipped to offer these plants the care they need in order to arrive safely in your garden, in my experience.

  6. Save your money. Cyps are the most difficult plants I have grown and I have grown a lot. I have killed countless varieties with only a few survivors. There is a reason the Plant Delights catalogue says they are plants only for experienced gardeners. I would not buy plants straight from flask unless I were an experienced cyp grower. Cyps are not like Dactylorrhizas which are relatively easy. If I were to buy any cyp it would be the hybrids and I would buy a larger size. You get what you pay for.

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