Wild Flowers of the Gargano.

I have been away. I really don’t like leaving my garden in April. But I have a book which features the 50 best sites for wild flowers in the world.


As a plant lover the idea of seeing plants growing in their natural environment is enticing. I’m not an intrepid traveller and I know I’ll only visit most of these places in my imagination. I am too frightened of snakes and wolves, bears and brigands, upset tummies, terrorists, ticks and tropical diseases. From my book so far, I have managed Transylvania, (despite vampires, wolves and bears,) the Peloponnese, ( not too scary, but vicious sheep dogs,) and the Burren in Ireland, (not scary at all.)

The Gargano peninsula which is the little spur sticking out from the heel of the boot of Italy has over 2000 species of plants and it has the highest concentration of wild orchids in Europe. There are over 70 species, not counting all the hybrids, which makes identification very frustrating for pedants like me who are very keen on the naming of names.  The end of April is the best time for all these gorgeous wild flowers and so reluctantly I had to leave my garden and hope that I wouldn’t miss too much.

But it was worth it.  Not only did I get to see glorious scenery, an abundance of wild flowers and more wild orchids than I have ever seen before, but my lovely blogging friend, Christina from My Hesperides Garden and her husband, Richard joined us and we had a lovely time together. It is wonderful to share orchid -gazing with like-minded friends. The Pianist was amazed that we could spend so much time staring at the ground, and sometimes wished that there was a wall handy where he could watch paint dry as a more entertaining alternative, but he enjoyed the company.

The Gargano was once an island. There is a vast forest of ancient beech trees romantically called La Foresta Umbra.

Here you can find carpets  of Anemone apennina in blue and white which are like Anemone blanda but bigger and taller.

Anemone apennina

The pink Anemone hortensis is the parent of all our modern hybrids.

Anemone hortensis

Narcissus poeticus looked daintier and more delicate than cultivated ones. There were pink Cyclamen repandum and a few lingering Corydalis solida. I read that you can find Paeonia mascula in the forest but I had to wait  until I got home to see this in my own garden.

There are rugged  cliffs and wonderful beaches .


There are limestone uplands which have been carefully terraced  and have never been contaminated by modern farming and pesticides.

At first sight it looks a bit barren rather like the Burren but there are meadows which dazzle with the abundance of wild flowers.

And in the meadows you have the sound of cow bells from these nice Podolica cows which despite their large horns are not scary at all.

Podolica cow

And neither is this little chap.

And then there are wonderful birds and what a joy to have our own well- equipped ornithologist to identify them all and give us glimpses of them. I have never seen Golden Orioles before and heard the liquid notes of their song. Thank you Richard.

The butterflies, insects and reptiles were abundant too.

Amongst all the abundance of flowers we were particularly excited by the orchids. Here is Christina getting up close and intimate with them.

Christina is surrounded by a sea of Green Winged orchids, Anacamptis morio which at first glance looks like our native Early Purple but the flowers have stripey hoods.

Anacampsis morio

It comes in white and pink too.

Anacampsis morio

Anacampsis morio

Or maybe Christina has spotted the Man Orchid, Orchis anthropophora which looks as if it has little men dangling from each flower.

Orchis anthropophora

Or perhaps she is examining Orchis italica, the anatomically detailed Naked Man Orchid .

Orchis italica

We also saw the huge Orchis purpurea, the Lady Orchid but she is decently clad in a frock.

Orchis purpurea

The Four-Spotted Orchid was everywhere too. This orchid is found mostly in southern Italy

Orchis quadripunctata

The beautiful Pink Butterfly Orchid, Anacamptis papilionacea was everywhere in great abundance, the colour varies rather a lot.

Anacampsis papilionacea

Anacampsis papilionacea

I have always thought that orchids in the Ophrys family were all bee orchids because they imitate bees to attract pollinators.

Orphys bombyliflora

But this next one is pollinated by sawflies.

Ophrys tenthredenifera

There are so many different ones. Some of them are clearly hybrids.

Some of them like this next one are fertilised by spiders.

Orphys passionis


When we were not drooling over orchids we were dazzled by the number of wild irises, in places there were whole meadows of them, in shades of purple, lilac, blue, white and yellow, each more exquisite than than the last. Iris bicapitata with two heads to a stem is endemic in this area. There are also Iris pseudopumila and Iris lutescens.

The slopes of Monte Sant’Angelo are studded with blooms. There is a sanctuary on top which has attracted pilgrims since the time of the crusaders. St. Michael is supposed to have made his last appearance here in a cave, which as the Pianist says is a funny place to play your farewell gig. I am not very well up on Catholic hagiography but I believe St. Michael is an archangel rather than the usual sort of saint who suffered a gruesome death.

Monte Sant’Angelo

I found a dead nettle growing on the wall here which is special to the Gargano. It is called Lamium garganicum.

Lamium garganicum

The Gargano did not seem very scary, we did see a wolf slinking through the forest but that was rather exciting. Christina nearly stepped on a very long adder but she was very calm about it and Richard likes snakes and was delighted to see it. These Pine Processionary caterpillars, Thaumetopoea pityocampa looked nasty, they are not to be messed about with, those hairy bits can be dangerous.

Pine Processionary Caterpillars

But the most dangerous thing about Southern Italy is dicing with death on the roads with the local drivers who never use their indicators and like playing dodgems on the motorway. But we are home now, safe and sound with lovely  flowery memories.

The best part of our Italian adventure was spending time with Christina and Richard. Christina is posting her story this morning too. Please go and visit her blog. Her photos are absolutely stunning.

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57 Responses to Wild Flowers of the Gargano.

  1. Christina says:

    How lovely to read your description of our time together. I always enjoy your storytelling abilities. Maybe we’ll be able to visit somewhere else in your book together. It was a wonderful time and even the weather cooporated with us, its back to being cold here again. Happy Mayday.

  2. Lucy Corrander says:

    Can see you had a wonderful time. It’s a particularly good post to read on a day when the weather is dull in England.

  3. Susan Akse, Raleigh NC says:

    Delightful, absolutely delightful. This blog gets saved under “You made my Day” where I can visit The Gargano at will.

  4. You were on a trip that I will probably never take, so thank you for all the wonderful pictures. I never knew so many different orchids grew there. We always think of orchids in South America.

  5. bcparkison says:

    What a wonderful little trip.The photos are grand and it must have been really special to see fields of iris( my favorite)

  6. Tina says:

    Wonderful post, Chloris. I’m glad you braved the travel and shared this adventure! I’m not familiar with this area, but what a bounty–gorgeous landscape and plants. Somehow, I imagined Christina with dark hair…

  7. Oh what a fabulous trip Chloris complete with stunning scenery and flora. I’m so glad that you didn’t encounter any ferocious creatures apart from the motorists – both the Podolica cow and that sweet little goat look decidedly gentle. Most of all how much more enjoyable your trip must have been in the company of Christina and Richard. I’m off now to find out exactly where the Gargono is.

  8. Wow. Thank you for the fantastic wild flower photos and wonderful story.

  9. magpiesue says:

    Thank you (and Christina) for sharing your photography with us. My mouth is hanging open and I’m all but drooling!

  10. Cathy says:

    A wonderful trip with all those flowers. Seeing all those treasures must have been even more fun in the company of someone else who appreciates them! Fabulous photos too!

  11. Eliza Waters says:

    What a fantastic trip that must have been. Your photos and IDs are impressive! Thanks for sharing them with us.

  12. Kris P says:

    In the US, we’d say that you and Christina must have been in hog heaven! What wonderful scenery, not to speak of the range of both flora and fauna. I’ve never seen any of those orchids before and, if there’s a spot in the US with orchids growing in the wild in such abandon, I’ve yet to hear of it. For kicks, I did a quick search on-line and, although the US boasts some 250 species of native orchids, 50% of these are reportedly found only in Florida. I didn’t find any regional parks or preserves claiming mass numbers of them during my cursory check.

    • Chloris says:

      Whoops, I clicked the wrong thing and the reply I meant for you went to someone else. I meant to say that there are not many places anywhere with such an abundance of orchids. They used to grow here but intensive farming did away with many of them. You will have to go to Italy and enjoy them in Puglia, it would be worth the trip.

  13. Heyjude says:

    How wonderful to see so many wild flowers and orchids in their natural habitat. I love seeing native flora and you have reminded me to take a trip to the coast soon!

    • Chloris says:

      And you have an abundance of wild flowers in Cornwall too.In fact the Lizard peninsula is one of the sites in my book, I forgot to include that in sites I have visited.

  14. OK, now you’ve added a destination to my bucket list. Wow! I had no idea there were so many plant species, and wild orchids in particular. Thank you for sharing the information and the beautiful photos!

    • Chloris says:

      I don’t think there are many sites like this in Europe either. I am told by an elderly friend that the grass verges here in Suffolk were once orchid rich but they never returned after being treated by herbicides. Modern intensive farming with its heavey use of herbicides has been the death knell for many wild flowers, and particularly orchids.

  15. Pauline says:

    What a wonderful trip you had together, I can imagine your excitement at finding so many wonderful flowers. I doubt I will ever get to visit that area now, so thank you for sharing such a lovely place with us.

    • Chloris says:

      Oh yes, you would have loved it Pauline. I have been to wild flower hot spots before but never anywhere where they grow in such abundance.

  16. Brian Skeys says:

    So many wonderful pictures, impossible to choose a favourite especially between orchids and Iris. Thanks for braving the Italian roads and sharing.

  17. janesmudgeegarden says:

    What a wonderful trip. I’m just the teeniest bit envious. I too, hate to leave my garden in Spring, but I think the beautiful plants you saw must have made it all worth while, and also the company. I have driven in southern Italy and found it somewhat challenging!
    I would very much like to visit Western Australia during the wildflower season, but of course, I’d have to miss some of Spring here!

    • Chloris says:

      You can’t beat seeing wild flowers in their native habitat. We can never aspire to having masses of orchids but I am getting ideas of how to show irises off to their best advantage.

  18. Cathy says:

    What an amazing adventure, Chloris – I can see why you risked life and limb to make the journey and I had no idea when you told us of the impending trip that there would be nearly as many wild flowers. You and Christina must have been like children in a sweet shop! I was intrigued to see Crepis rubra as i am grown that fr

    • Chloris says:

      It was indeed wild flower heaven, we really enjoyed ourselves. We are already planning next year’s trip.

      • Cathy says:

        I can’t be envious if I am not prepared to travel outside the UK any more. One would gave thought that this was the ultimate ‘wow’ experience but there are clearly still thrills to be sought elsewhere… 😊

  19. Cathy says:

    Oops! I was just changing it to read ‘grown that from seed this year’

  20. What a fantastic trip, I love all the wild Irises. And what a treat to go where daffodils, anemones, and other staple bulbs are growing in their natural environment.

    • Chloris says:

      It was a wonderful trip, there is nothing like seeing flowers in their natural habitat. But you have had a wonderful trip too, I would love to see trilliums growing in the wild. The black bears would worry me a bit though.

  21. Wow, the variety is astonishing and I loved all the pictures. How fun, the meadows are really inspiring because they are without our influence and I love the goat, maybe he had a little influence.Thank you for posting,I really enjoyed this one.

    • Chloris says:

      Yes, modern agricultural practices have meant the loss of wild flowers everywhere. In the UK, 97% of wild flower meadows have been lost since WW2. The only wild flower rich sites in the UK in my book were The Lizard in Cornwall and the Machair of the Outer Hebrides. Thank goodness there are still places like the Gargano where wild flowers can still be enjoyed in abundance.

  22. What an adventure for you all and what an abundance of wonderful wild flowers. I wouldn’t have known where to look! Did you have a must see list before you went?

    • Chloris says:

      I did some research beforehand and we enquired at the Forest Tourist Office about the current best site for orchids. We particularly wanted to see orchids and irises, they were amazing.

  23. bittster says:

    Thanks for sharing your trip. I also don’t think I have seen as many kinds of wildflowers all at once, and the sites do look awfully barren at first glance.
    Orchid flowers will now be censored at this household. The way I see them has been changed forever after reading this post!

    • Chloris says:

      Wild orchids are always specially thrilling specially as many of them are rare. The Gargano is amazing, I didn’t realise there were so many varieties.

  24. tonytomeo says:

    Not only are they abundant, and not only are they diverse, but they are also completely strange! So many pictures that we see of gardens all over the world feature familiar species that are popular . . . in gardens all over the world. These wildflowers are unique to the location.

    • Chloris says:

      Yes, they are unique, it was such a privilege to see them, it is an experience that I will never forget.

      • tonytomeo says:

        When I went to Oklahoma, the flora was not at all interesting to those who are familiar with it, but I was flipping out nonetheless. I had never seen such exotic plants growing wild!

  25. snowbird says:

    What an abundance of delightful wildflowers. I loved them all especially the naked man orchid, that had me smiling. I enjoyed the goats and cow too and wow….how I wish I could see a wolf slinking through a forest!!!xxx

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