I push the spade beneath the neat rosette of leaves, trying carefully not to castrate the plant. Castrate may seem an odd choice of word, I am after all just digging up a plant to move it, but hidden in the soil, underneath that Garden of Eden fan of greenery, there are two oval tubers, and they look just like testicles.
I prise the plant out of the ground and turn it upside down. One tuber is slightly softer and more shrivelled – that’s the one that produced last year’s growth, while the second, a little larger and lighter in colour, is fuelling the development of the stem and flowers now. I can see why orchids take their name from the Greek word orkhis, meaning testicle.
There are 50 or so bee orchids, Ophrys apifera, here, growing next to a dilapidated cart shed and I am helping dig them up to save them. After many years of crumbling, the building’s fate was sealed by recent heavy winds, and it has to be replaced. To prevent these plants being destroyed in the process, they will be relocated. Right now, the green leaves don’t look like much, but come June or July, velvety pink flowers will each be adorned with what looks like a furry brown and yellow bee.
I’ve started with testicles, and I will continue my theme, for orchids are all about sex, and the bee orchid especially. That pseudo-bee on each flower releases a scent that mimics a female bee pheromone, to lure male bees into an apparent mating scenario. The male bee becomes covered in pollen, which will then transfer to another orchid. The target species, the long-horned bee, is now mainly found in the Mediterranean, but the orchid manages to self-pollinate.
We have found a similar, open-grassland habitat to transplant the orchids to, not far from their original site and with the chalky soil they favour. Hopefully they will thrive.
On a separate note, this time in 2019 I was worrying about the swallows flying back to netted-off nesting sites at my local Tesco. I’m thrilled to say that this spring they will be returning to swallow nest pods put in place by the supermarket, and a much warmer welcome.