There are about 1,000 genera of orchids, with 15,000 to 30,000 species, botanists don’t even know that exactly anymore. In any case, orchids grow everywhere, the only exception being Antarctica. Such a selection would drive any gardener to despair, so it’s just as well that most species prefer the tropics and subtropics – with around 250 European species of outdoor orchids, there really is enough for any gardener to do. Therefore, here is an overview of popular garden orchids, divided according to species and locations.

The locations for the garden orchids

There are outdoor orchids for different planting areas in the garden: the garden orchids, which grow naturally on the edges of trees and in forest lowlands, prefer shady locations. These outdoor orchids can do something very special in your garden: As extraordinarily beautiful and noble plants, they transform the garden areas into wonderfully romantic corners, which otherwise play almost no role in the garden, just lead a real shadowy existence. These include, above all, many varieties of lady’s slipper orchids and a few other orchid species.

Other orchids prefer dry locations, where they form valuable plant communities in which many insects and amphibians find optimal conditions, with decorative garden design at its finest. The orchids for dry locations include rare orchids such as orchids, but also some representatives of the orchids that are so popular and some large-flowered specialties.

The next group of orchids feels more at home in damp conditions, in a bog bed or at the edge of a pond or on a damp poor meadow, and offers the garden owner a wealth of design options. Whether natural and local, whether extravagant to exotic, everything is possible with marsh orchid and borage, moor pogonia, orchid and tongue thorn, and that in many types and with very little maintenance.

Some of the beautiful plants, which have developed in many colors and growth heights and are bred in more, are presented to you below:

Outdoor orchids for shady locations

Among the most beautiful orchids are the lady’s slippers, which form a separate genus within the orchid family. Lady’s slipper orchids are offered in many original varieties, here is a compilation of the most beautiful natural lady’s slipper orchids for shade locations:

  • Marienfrauenschuh, Cypripedium calceolus: Endangered native natural form, one of the most magnificent wild orchids in Europe, 1996 and 2010 “Orchid of the Year”.
  • California lady’s slipper, Cypripedium californicum: Natural orchid with many small flowers combining a creamy-white slipper with honey-colored accents, reminiscent of lily of the valley
  • Yellowish lady’s slipper, Cypripedium flavum: Wild species from western China, very elegant with the yellow-green flowers, but particularly sensitive to moisture in winter and therefore not easy to cultivate
    • Cypripedium flavum alba: White-flowered variant of the yellow lady’s slipper, only very rarely found on the market, with its large flowers an orchid for collectors
  • Taiwan or Formosa lady’s slipper, Cypripedium formosanum: Beautiful, white-purple speckled wild orchid, easy to cultivate, early flowering from May
  • Mottled lady’s slipper, Cypripedium guttatum: low-growing natural form, interesting flower shape, intensively coloured
  • Kentucky lady’s slipper, Cypripedium kentuckiense: Classic dark red and white demarcated, very large flower with decoratively twisted outer leaves
  • Large-flowered lady’s slipper, Cypripedium macranthos: Robust lady’s slipper species with unusual red and white “dotted” flowers and natural shape, considerable shoe size
  • King’s slipper, Cypripedium reginae: coveted lady’s slipper species from America, large flowers in eye-catching pink-white, needs space because of the enormous root development
    • Cypripedium reginae alba: Pure white flowering royal lady’s slipper
  • Smith’s slipper, Cypripedium smithii: Extraordinary, slow-growing lady’s slipper with burgundy flowers, robust and long-lasting
  • Tibetan lady’s slipper, Cypripedium tibeticum: Interesting Asian garden orchid, flowers with rust-red color, needs a very well drained substrate, rather demanding
  • Small-flowered lady’s slipper, Cypripedium parviflorum: low, North American natural form, intensive coloring and filigree flowers
  • Hairy lady’s slipper, Cypripedium pubescens: Also a natural orchid from North America with a wonderful fragrance and bright yellow “shoe”

Lady’s slipper hybrids

  • Cypripedium “Aki”: Strong hybrid with a flower that appears like a dream in white and pink, very easy to care for
  • Cypripedium andrewsii: Small garden orchid, flowers with a porcelain-colored cup and darker outer flowers with varied markings
  • “Hans Erni”, Cypripedium franchetii x calceolus: dusky pink to wine-red marbled flower, is said to be very prolific
  • “Hank Small”, Cypripedium: Royal, mostly multiple appearing flower in which golden yellow and wine red are combined
  • “Gisela”, Cypripedium parviflorum x macranthos: Likes to develop its decorative, violet-white flowers in bushes
  • “Piccolo”, Cypripedium: Small, red-yellow to violet-white flowering hybrids, overall a rather delicate lady’s slipper
  • “Rascal”, Cypripedium: hybrid with bright yellow and dark purple flowers, relatively large flowers, stable plant
  • “Sabine”, Cypiripedium: Extraordinarily large flower heads in delicate colors with red accents, strong garden orchids
  • ‘Sebastian’, Cypiripedium: Low hybrid with creamy white flowers and dark twisted falls – absolutely unusual
  • “Ulla Silkens”, Cypripedium: Round, almost feminine shapes, large violet-white flowers, sometimes with funny dots
  • Cypripedium ventricosum: Original and large-flowered hybrid that can flower delicately white, yellow or pink, or a bright dark red

There are many more Cypripedium hybrids that vary slightly in color and size from the hybrids featured here, so you’re sure to find your favorite lady’s slipper.

More orchids for hidden shady spots

  • Bletilla striata, Japanese Orchid: A crazy blast of pink, big flowers
  • Pleione limprichtii, peacock orchid or Tibetan orchid: the only winter-hardy type of Pleione in our country, small orchids that bloom like a pastel-colored Japanese orchid
  • Orchis purpurea, Purple Marsh Orchid: One of the largest native orchids, producing a multi-flowered inflorescence mottled with purple and white
  • Orchis pallens, Pale Orchid: The low-growing, delicate (pale yellow) tinted variety of Orchid

This is by no means the end of the variety, there are other garden orchids that feel at home in rather shady places, such as the delicate forest hyacinth and small forest birds.

There are only seven species of forest hyacinths in Europe, the almost 90 species in total are mainly distributed in Asia and North America. A local forest hyacinth is the two-leaved forest hyacinth (Platanthera bifolia), the orchid of the year 2011, delicate, inconspicuous and rare. Another is the greenish forest hyacinth (Platanthera chlorantha), so named because of the greenish coloring of its filigree flowers. Both orchid species are on our red list, so by planting them in your garden you are making a contribution to securing the stock. If the two share a biotope, they like to form natural hybrids.

We have the little woodbirds (Cephalanthera) as white woodbirds (Cephalanthera damasonium), long-leaved or sword-leaved woodbirds (Cephalanthera longifolia) and red woodbirds (Cephalanthera rubra), interesting orchids, of which the red woodbirds were voted flower of the year 1982 .

Outdoor orchids for dry locations

Outdoor orchids for dry locations, which also tolerate light, are much more sparsely seeded than the other two groups:

  • Bug orchid, Orchis coriophora: A natural form with an unusual flower shape and markings
  • Trident Orchid, Orchis tridentata: Also a naturally occurring orchid, delicate and rather short in stature, this orchid has pink flowers with purple dots
  • Bee Orchid, Ophrys apifera: wild form with a velvety lip and intense purple, yellow and cream colored flowers
  • Bumblebee orchid, Ophrys fuciflora: Expressive markings on the lip, white or pink flowers
  • Fly orchid, Ophrys insectifera: The slender and quite tall orchid attracts flies with a striking blue mark on the lip
  • Large spider orchid, Ophrys sphegodes: Yellow above, burgundy below, an orchid with a really interesting flower
  • Pleione limprichtii, peacock orchid or Tibetan orchid: the only winter-hardy type of Pleione in our country, a small orchid that flowers like a pastel-colored Japanese orchid

Garden orchids for moist locations

In a rather humid environment, several orchids initially thrive, some from the genus Orchis and some from the genus Dactylorhiza, which was recently separated from the genus Orchis:

  • Bug orchid, Orchis coriophora: see orchids for dry locations
  • Man’s orchid, Orchis mascula: Strong and quite large natural form that develops flowers in several colours
  • Helmeted orchid, strong, tall orchis orchis militaris: Normally the color is pink-purple
  • Salep orchis orchis morio: dainty, low-growing natural form, variable in colour
  • Tridentate orchid, Orchis tridentata: see orchids for dry locations
  • Flesh-colored orchid, Dactylorhiza incarnata: slender natural form, fine, delicately colored individual flowers
  • Western orchid, Dactylorhiza kerryensis: densely flowered, beautifully marked natural form, bright pink
  • Broad-leaved orchid, Dactylorhiza majalis: colorful early bloomer, natural form, large individual flowers
  • Spotted orchid, Dactylorhiza maculata: beautifully marked natural form, for different locations
  • Overlooked orchid, Dactylorhiza praetermissa: compact natural form, large single flowers
  • Sphagnum orchid, Dactylorhiza sphagnicola: pale pink in colour, compact, densely flowered panicle


  • Dactylorhiza foliosa hybrid: Well-made hybrid, unusual flower shape, delicately colored
  • Dactylorhiza purpurea or purpurella: Hybrid Old English hybrid, intense dark violet colour, profuse flowering spikes
  • D. purpurea x majalis: white to strong pink, expressive, large flower umbels
  • D. sesquipedalis: Hybrids Tall hybrids, loose-flowered, delicately colored

Various outdoor orchids for wetlands

  • Bee Orchid, Ophrys apifera: see Orchids for dry locations
  • Bumblebee orchid, Ophrys fuciflora: see orchids for dry locations
  • Fly orchid, Ophrys insectifera: see orchids for dry locations
  • Large spider orchid, Ophrys sphegodes: see Orchids for dry locations

Various snails, tongue snails and tortilla roots also like well-moistened soil:

  • Large swampwort or stream orchid, Epipactis gigantea: High-growing natural form, yellow-red flowers with interesting markings
  • Marshwort, Epipactis palustris, : Many beautifully accentuated flowers, multiplies vigorously in the right location
  • Epipactis “Sabine”: Hybrid of Epipactis palustris and Epipactis gigantea, large-flowered with intensely colored yellow-red flowers, is also spreading
  • Serapias orientalis, tongue stem hybrid with unusual flower shape, intense cardinal red color
  • Among the spiranthes, the Spiranthes ‘Chadds Ford’ stands out, a white cultivar with long, spirally arranged single flowers

Interesting “lone fighters” in moist soil:

  • Pogonia ophioglossoides, the bog pogonia: pretty little pink flowers in a row, very vigorous and prolific
  • Calopogon tuberosus, Grass Red: Great natural form with exciting magenta colour, self-propagating

These orchids each like a slightly different level of moisture – as you have seen, the list includes orchids that are also listed under the outdoor orchids for dry locations, so these are certainly not suitable for the “wettest wet zone”, but a marshroot for it beautiful. You should therefore describe your soil exactly when you buy it, and then the specialist shop will recommend the orchid that feels comfortable with exactly this moisture.

Orchids are particularly beautiful and valuable plants that will definitely give your garden a very special touch. And the best thing about it: In order to turn your garden into a “paradise full of outdoor orchids”, you actually only have to select the right types of orchids for the respective locations and then plant a few plants there. Because most of our hardy garden orchids will spread in your garden all by themselves…

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