Being a man of the world, it takes quite a lot to impress me. Yet Dave Parkinson’s display of South African disa orchids at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show never fails to take my breath away. The shocking vitality of the shades displayed in the flowers of these remarkable little plants is off the scale. Be it magenta, coral, tangerine, sunshine yellow or lipstick-pink there’s a diminutive disa to belt out every saturated, eye-popping shade one can imagine.
Disas are terrestrial, moisture loving orchids, native to Table Mountain where they are found growing near springs and streams with their roots in cool water and heads in the clouds. Flowers, each with three prominent petals, appear to be upside down and are held singly or in clusters on short stems, depending on the species. The leaves are elongated and grassy.
Should you fancy growing disas at home, the first piece of advice is to forget everything you know about growing other kinds of orchids. Disas will die if they dry out and do not like to be too warm. On Table Mountain disas are sometimes found completely submerged in water, or at the very least in places where they are constantly wet. In the house or cool greenhouse they must be watered at daily and with pure, soft, unchlorinated water. They can be left standing in trays of water without any ill effects. However, disas cannot stand hard water and other pollutants, including concentrated fertilisers. Any plant food must be delivered highly diluted.
Dave Parkinson suggests planting in a mix of 60% coarse peat and 40% super coarse perlite and warns against any form of pre-mixed orchid or potting compost which is likely to be far too rich. Disas like to be cool but cannot withstand subzero temperatures: they need a frost-free greenhouse or unheated spare room with good light. Disas make ideal gifts for anyone who collects rainwater, is stingy with heating and a bit heavy-handed with the watering. Me? I am happy enough to leave all the hard work to Dave Parkinson and simply enjoy having my socks knocked off by his incredible display once a year.
To find out more about how to grow dazzling disa orchids take a look at Dave Parkinson Plants’ website.