Schizanthus_wisetonensis_'Angel_Wings'_(Solanaceae)_flowerPoor Man’s Orchid or Butterfly Flower is a half-hardy annual which, when well grown, is covered in flowers that look a bit like orchids or butterflies. It is much easier to grow than true orchids.  The flowers can be a single colour such as white, lavender, pink and red, or be bi-coloured, and/or have yellow throats.  They last well when cut.  Like all half-hardy annuals they can be grown from seed in a greenhouse and planted outdoors after the last frosts are over.  But they can also be kept in a well-ventilated greenhouse to flower all summer.  They do very well in pots and containers, where the root restriction seems to encourage them to flower better.

Sow the seed in trays or small pots; varieties differ in their need for light for germination so follow the seed-packet instructions as to whether to cover them with compost or not. Keep them at about 60°F / 15°C for 2-4 weeks; they are slow to germinate.  Prick out the seedlings when big enough to handle, and pinch out the growing tips as they get taller to keep them bushy.   Keep them in full light but shade them from hot sun.  They prefer fairly cool conditions and become drawn and spindly if too warm.  They don’t tolerate wet so give them perfect drainage, water them only when the compost is dry on top and never leave containers standing in saucers of water.  Give them some tomato feed every two weeks.  If you have a heated greenhouse you can sow Schizanthus in August or September for overwintering.  Watch out for greenfly; the ferny foliage hides them well.

Thanks to Cambridge University for the photo.