Orchids in SW France

Orchis mascula. Early purple orchid

If my memory is correct, we first saw our house here in SW France 21 years ago today. The weather was glorious, as it has been recently – very welcome after a gloomy few months. In 1997, we noticed in particular the virtuoso song of the nightingales, the clarity of the night sky and the abundance of wild flowers in the fields and by the roadsides. Among these, wild orchids grow particularly well in our region at this time of year.

We have good and bad orchid years, which is no doubt a reflection of the weather during the preceding months. This year appears to be a good one. Our field and our back lawn are covered with clumps of early purple orchids (photo at the top of the post), around which we have to slalom with the mower for a few weeks until they die down.

Around 50 varieties of orchid are said to grow in our département, Tarn-et-Garonne. The best time to see them is in late April/early May. There are places in the area where the conditions are particularly favourable for orchids and you can find up to 20 varieties in the course of a walk – and if you know what you are looking for.

One of these is on the last outcrop of the Massif Central, just before the land slopes downwards towards Septfonds. The terrain is composed of an odd whitish, rather sticky soil, which clings to your boots after rain and hardens like concrete. Another good place to find them is on the hillsides just over the border in Aveyron, above La Rouquette.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on these plants, but I have taken a number of photos of them during walks, or simply around our garden. They are taken only with my small point and shoot camera, so they are not brilliant quality, but they give you some idea of the delicacy and variety of the flowers.

I have attempted to name them from various books and websites, but please let me know in the comments below if I have got any wrong.

Orchid - Orchis militaris
Orchis militaris
Cephalantera longifolia
Cephalantera longifolia
Anacamptis pyramidalis

An orchid that imitates the form of its pollinator, the bee.

Unidentified orchid
Yellow bee orchid, Ophrys Lutea

Below is a rather pathetic specimen, which has flowered after being accidentally mown over. I always thought this was a bee orchid, but my researches show that it’s more likely to be a woodcock orchid, Ophrys scolopax. The two orchids are rather similar. Anyway, let me know if you don’t agree.

Ophrys scolopax?

This one, the Violet Limodore, can take up to 10 years to germinate, apparently. The photo shows one in the process of budding, and you don’t often see the flowers fully open.

Also unidentified and not yet fully in flower
Limodorum abortivum: Violet limodore

Copyright © 2018 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


  1. Thanks – v useful. Yes our orchard is a bit too rich for orchids. I’m trying to lower the fertility to encourage wild flowers. Look forward to going on those walks in early summer!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I adore orchids and the wild varieties always feel like natures most exuberant gift – so complex and individual they each are. My father-in-law campaigned to get The National Trust to buy The Holies in Streatley and was successful largely due to the abundance of rare bee orchids that grow there. I consider that just as important a legacy as his cheesing! My grandmother had an orchid named for her by a suitor who cultivated them. Despite this romantic and wonderful declaration she didn’t marry him but went rather for the naval officer who threw a piece of bread roll at her across the table at a formal dinner to get her attention – successfully as it bopped her on the nose!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Vanessa,

    First of all, I’m a recent convert to your very interesting (and practical) blog…so, thank you for it.

    I just read your latestposting and thought “OH….she’s setting herself up for a public berating. Who in the world would ask a crowd of Englishmen/women to tell themif they’ve misidentified a plant?”.

    Ruth Draper wrote and recorded (one of her very few recordings) a predictably funny monologue about the perils of visiting one of those readily-identifiable, upper-middle class, Daughters-of-Gertrude-Jekyll, English gardeners. Heaven forbid that someone simply liked/enjoyed flowers,i n an offhand/casual fashion, and wasn’t particularly concerned about taxonomy/enjoyed or precise nomenclature. In this lady’s world, there is NO ROOM FOR AMATEURS (!) AND NO PATIENCE TO BE HAD FOR MERE HOBBYISTS(!!!).

    As I said, it’s all very funny. you can order the recordings on Amazon (if you lived nearby, I’d simply give you a copy; I expect you’ed enjoy it).

    In any case, thanks for your good blog.
    David Terry
    Hillsborough, NC

    Liked by 1 person

    • P.S. I just learned that one can’t edit after hitting “send”. Oh well…….I suppose what I sent was pretty good, to have been typed in the half-light, on my parents’ back porch, as the sun was coming up this morning.

      —-david terry

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I’m sorry about that. I can’t seem to change that setting, but it seems to be standard when commenting on blogs and websites. However, I didn’t see anything wrong with your previous comment. You are obviously an early riser…

        Thanks again for reading and commenting. 🙂


    • Hello, David. Thank you for reading my blog and for your kind comments about it. Every time I write something I expose myself to potential rebukes from people who know a lot more about the subject than I do! Even more so when I write about specialist topics like orchids. Funnily enough, no one has yet corrected my less than educated guesses, so maybe I didn’t get it too wrong. You have rightly identified that when it comes to gardening, we Brits can be finicky to the point of obsession.

      I was interested to hear about the Ruth Draper monologue. I’d like to listen to that – I’ll check out YouTube and see if it’s on there.

      Thanks again for your interest in my blog and do let me know if there’s anything in particular that you’d be interested in reading about.

      Kind regards,



      • Vanessa….The Draper recordings can be bought online at a very reasonable price. As a writer, you’ll wonder “Why have I never heard of her mmonolgues?”. go to (and they are worth EVERY penny; you can clean house while you listen to them):

        best wishes,
        David Terry

        Liked by 1 person

        • What is this house cleaning of which you speak? Does not compute. 🙂

          However, I shall find and listen to the Draper recordings with interest. Thank you for suggesting them.


  4. We don’t have a lawn, just a field and at the moment is is full of what I discover are orchids. There are so many of the pyramid orchids it’s impossible not to tread on them. There’s a big area covered in ophrys passionis and those orchis bouc that smell of goat are dotted about everywhere. I think the small white things by the hedge are orchids too. Must look them up. Fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Our lawn is mainly a mixture of moss, weeds and a bit of grass, but it’s nice and green just now. The smelly ones are colonising our lawn and are not particularly pretty. Digging them all out is too Herculean a task, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Do you get nightingales? I ask because I’m astonished at how many we have here. Having grown up in England and only ever dreamed of hearing one, I was amazed to hear them for the first time ever this spring. Our youngest complains they keep her awake at night. They really go it, 24/24.

        Liked by 1 person

        • We do, but they are not as numerous as when we first arrived. I don’t know if it’s that pesticide use has diminished their food sources or if there is some other reason. The terrain around here is certainly suited to them, since there are lots of thickets and they are spreading. The only time in England I ever heard one was in Oxford, in a small square with a tree in the centre. A nightingale was singing its heart out, to the delight of a small crowd that had formed to listen to it. It wasn’t until we moved here, though, that we realised how persistently they sing!


            • We have some very vocal blackbirds and, actually, I prefer their song to that of the nightingales. The orioles arrived a couple of weeks ago and their bizarre sounds make us laugh.


            • The orioles have only just got here in this last week. I love that deep woody trill of theirs, but I’m with you about the blackbirds. They are my favourites too.

              Liked by 1 person

            • The orioles have quite a versatile range of sounds, including a rather cheeky wolf whistle. One only catches rare glimpses of them in the treetops, but they are so exotic. I don’t think they migrate as far as England.


  5. There is a signposted walk above St Antonin Noble Val, on the causse, on the road towards Vaour, that is brilliant for orchids, it is worth exploring and there are various explanations about how the shepherds used to live up there.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, we have done that walk, although not at this time of year. It’s very well signposted with explanations of how people lived up there at one time.


      • I know this post was four years ago, but I’d love to know exactly where this walk is where you can see orchids. It’s not the right time of year obviously, being winter, but I’d like to make a note of it for the future. I’m mad about orchids and am very jealous of your lawn which you say is full of them. We have an orchard which is quite rich in wild flowers, but no orchids. Our house is near Laguepie.


        • Hello, Olivia, and thank you for commenting. I’m not sure if you are referring to the walk from which my orchid photos came or the one that Beth mentions above. The photos in this post are from a randonnée nearly 10 years ago, starting from Lavaurette, above Septfonds: the PR2, le sentier Carmon. In the link below, under ‘Les circuits de randonnées au départ de Lavaurette’ you can download a map and description as PDFs. I’m afraid I can’t remember exact spots, but the orchids along the route were many and varied.

          If it’s the one Beth refers to, you take the D19 from St Antonin to Vaour. Le sentier Lou Finot is a nature trail that starts on the very straight bit of road. From memory, there is a car park just off that main road. Or you can park by the church in nearby Ste Sabine and walk from there.

          Orchids tend to grow mainly in the causse areas, where the soil is particularly adapted to them. This is probably why you don’t find them in your orchard. The Causse de Limogne in Lot and the area around Vailhourles, just over the border in Aveyron, are also places to find them. As you’ll know, you will have to wait until late April/early May to see them in flower.

          I see you have followed the blog as well. Thank you and bonne fin d’année!


  6. Amazing to see such beauties growing wild! Are they also unscented like the hybrids we find in shops? It’s funny, around this time in 1997 we were getting ready to move into our new house, which was still under construction in the Lyonnais. I remember what a beautiful early summer we had, picnicking outside one evening. Must’ve been an exceptional weather year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They are lovely, aren’t they? You have to get up close to really appreciate the intricate beauty of them. I have to admit I haven’t got close enough to detect a scent, but I suspect they are unscented. Maybe another reader will put me right. However, I do know that the Lizard’s Tongue variety, whose leathery leaves grow in abundance on our lawn, is neither beautiful nor sweet-smelling. In fact it smells rather unpleasant.

      1997 had an exceptional spring. We were living in London at the time and I remember sitting outdoors in the evening in March. Not something you generally associate with the UK at that time of year.

      Liked by 1 person

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