Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Tricyrtis Trifecta

If I haven't yet convinced you that Toad lilies are one of the most amazing unsung flowers of the shady perennial bed, maybe a few more recent shots will work their magic. I have to admit that before we planted our first specimen (top photo), I had no idea what they were and I took it on Fernymoss' word that they were "really cool and look like orchids."

So, at that point (about 7 years ago) we planted this unassuming looking little plant and waited. It grew a bit the first few years, but didn't bloom until it actually put on some size (at about, say 10 inches) and then -- whoa! We were delighted and amazed by the beauty of these diminutive shade lovers. Though the flowers rarely are bigger than maybe an inch or so, they make up for in quantity what they lack in size! Once this first specimen bloomed, we were hooked, and just had to add to the Toad Lily collection over the next few years.

At this point we now have some six specimens planted in two different shady areas, four in the Woodland Garden on the north and two just next to the front steps on the east. This year we added three to the mix because I found some intriguing cultivars in the spring ... one's a white one and the two others are varying shades of purple. We still have to get some good shots of the white and purple ones but with some sun and free time they should be gracing these posts sometime soon!

The second and third shots here are more examples of the Tricyrtis hirta 'Amethystina' cultivar, which was the second specimen we planted. And it's a doozy! I planted this one about three years ago in the fall when we put out a lot of bulbs, and this is the first year it has really bloomed with any passion, but if this year's show is any sign of things to come, we'll be waiting eagerly each September for its arrival. Lest you get the impression that Toad Lilies take a long while to bloom, I should say that the first two we ever planted were very small plants less than a year old, so I attribute their tardiness to bloom to having started with immature plants. And back then, they were harder to find in garden centers than they are today, when luckily, more mature specimens can be found that will often bloom the same year.

Tricyrtis isn't a particularly difficult plant to grow, provided you give it the basics it needs: a part or full shade exposure (it likes some early morning or late afternoon sun), a relatively moist loamy soil (and occasional feedings with fish emulsion) and plenty of room to spread out, as they are known to form colonies after a good number of years. And of course, you want to show them off as best you can, so planting them in the darkest, most inaccessible corner of the shade garden might not be the best idea if you really want to appreciate their beauty. I'm pretty certain that many gardeners have had the same experience we have -- initial success and delight with the first specimen leads to a desire to find more (and more) eye popping varieties to plant. We Midwestern gardeners do have to pay close attention to hardiness, because not all species can take our winters, but there seems to be an abundant number that do quite well in Zone 5. (In fact, the first couple of years we weren't too sure about that so we mulched it in the fall after the first freeze and the plants died back.)

Here's what I think is the best feature of Toad Lilies: when everything else in the garden is looking haggard and spent, when things are winding down in the early fall, they leap out of their shady spots and shower you with unusual vibrant colour! And once they start, they will bloom reliably up until the first hard freeze, then die back and go dormant until spring. One of the posts I found on them while researching this post (and so aptly titled), Better Toad Lily Than Never posited, they may be late to the party but they sure have a commanding presence when they arrive!

People often tell us that they have mostly shady areas in their gardens and bemoan the real lack of punchy colour with what's generally available, and we almost always recommend Toad Lilies as an unusual solution. Like most of the uninitiated, they're not impressed by the foliage at first until they see the blooms ... and then they're hooked. Another Tricyrtis junky in the making!

Note: Photos courtesy of Fernymoss, taken 30 September, 2007.
I just realized this is the 200th post here on Urban Oasis. Some kind of benchmark, I guess ....


NDD said...

That Toad Lily is a nice one. I wonder if that would grow in ND. I'd appreciate a late summer, fall bloomer when most others are kapoot.

Iowa Victory Gardener said...

Hey there NDD!
I thought of you when I was writing this last night and whether you'd be able to grow these. I'm afraid you're probably out of luck because I didn't see any (from my researching) that were hardy to lower than Zone 5, which I don't quite think you've reached yet. They really are wonderful plants though, but for now I guess you're probably stuck with the garden variety mums and asters (though those are pretty too!) Are you back in the city this week?

olivia said...

It's great to have all this info IVG ... knowing that they might not bloom the first year (depending on size) etc.,

They are very pretty and I love their name.

Family Man said...

Hiya IVG.

I agree with Olivia. Lot of good info. FMom has some plants around here that she said took a couple of years to finally fully bloom. All I know is I just try to miss them when I mow or weed eat. :)