I had managed to convince myself over the years that I didn’t like cymbidiums, which is a thinly veiled way of saying that I have never been able to grow them with any degree of success. Most modern Cymbidium hybrids require conditions which we are no longer able to provide for them in our centrally heated homes, meaning that they really don’t make good houseplants and are totally unsuitable for my hot grow-room. This is a pity, because the garden centres are full of them at certain times of the year, and the flowers really can be quite spectacular. An additional issue with them is their size – they are large plants and can grow even larger rather quickly. I experimented with putting plants outside for the summer with varying degrees of success, but mostly I only succeeded in bringing lots of bugs and extra problems into the house over the winter. So for some considerable time I gave up with Cymbidium altogether.
Through the medium of Facebook I heard that Jeff Hutchings of Laneside Hardy Orchids had a few excess plants of Cymbidium ensifolium that he had acquired from one of the major shows this year, so I decided to take the plunge and purchased two bare-root plants from him. I had done some reading around the subject and found that these Cymbidium have a very wide distribution in their native habitat and are well adapted to warm conditions. It turns out that the Japanese and Chinese are serious about Cymbidiums, having cultivated them for a thousand years or so, and there are some really lovely cultivars out there, though they are rather thin on the ground in the UK. I had read that the plants could be fussy and hard to grow but, so far, not a bit of it.
Once the plants arrived, I potted them in deep pots containing a mix of sphagnum moss and bark chips. The warmer growing cymbidiums do not like to dry out at all and I find they grow better when kept quite damp. I am well aware that the use of sphagnum moss will mean that I’ll have to re-pot quite frequently, but the plants do not seem to mind being disturbed (as evidenced by my receiving them bare-root and then immediately starting to grow once potted up). As an added advantage, the plants are nice and compact and do not take up huge amounts of space in my grow-room, and some cultivars are also pleasantly variegated. Imagine my surprise and delight when both of the plants produced fresh root growth and flower spikes.
For some time, I had been wondering what the wonderful, zesty, citrus smell was in and around my grow-room. It took me over a week to work it out, but I eventually traced it back to Cymbidium ensifolium ‘Ching Sha Yu Chun’ which had opened its flowers. The blooms are not large or extravagantly produced (around 3 or 4 per spike), but they are stunningly elegant and in perfect proportion to the size of the plant – and very strongly fragrant to boot. The delicate ivory colour of the blooms extends right down the flower spike and the petals remain swept forward elegantly over the column. The flowers last in good condition for around three or four weeks before falling from the spike without really decaying. The other plant, Cymbidium ensifolium ‘Shi Chang Hong’ has delicate ivory flowers boldly marked in red, with red spots on the lip and is similarly fragrant.
It is my intention to try to find more of these plants to add to my collection, but they do tend to be hard to find and expensive which is a shame because they are proving to be no trouble for me at all, and I would definitely recommend them to people who love Cymbidium but can’t give the standard varieties the conditions and space they require.