Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Beckoning Wood Lilies

Last week, briefly, I was in a heaven of sorts. Trillium whispered the sign enticingly outside the nursery and like one drugged before and anticipating a shot, I hit the brakes, parked the car and salivated unbecomingly…over Wake Robins or Wood Lilies (Trillium) at Australian Bulb Nursery in Silvan on the hottest day imaginable. Sweating under the afternoon sun (at an unpleasant 29 degrees), my headache fell away as I gazed at dozens (100’s?) of this very special woodland bulb, all topped with gorgeous flowers over the leaves, some tall, a few dwarf, some dappled of leaf, some blooms white, some burgundy.
I chose the sweetest pink-burgundy I’ve ever seen in this genus (a dwarf form of Trillium chloropetalum); a white, almost purely so but for a hint of pink at the base of the full, attractive, non-twisted petals (Trillium albidum or White Toadshade, above); and a tall one with particularly handsome leaves, dappled seemingly by the hand of an artist (Trillium ludovicianum, Louisiana Wake Robin, below). (A yellow Trillium eludes me still.)
Of course it’s a treat to bring home some exquisite plant now and then (and I’m lucky that I can) but it does make me wonder how I’d behave at this nursery should I win tattslotto.

Usually I try to be patient (a virtue in the garden) and I grow a lot of interesting and beautiful plants from seed (which means numbers as well as thrift). Growing a plant from seed and then seeing it flower is like some magical trick. Did I do that?  (Well no, I just facilitated the process.) I’ve grown some good Trillium and I bring the flowering ones out of the shadehouse each spring (into an area barricaded from munching marsupials) so that pollinating insects can reach them resulting in, hopefully, fertile seeds; in this way I can one day have drifts of these beauties. I pick up each pot and gaze at the rather magnolia-like flowers although they are not leathery nor in parts of 6 to 9; Trillium are in parts of threes (hence the name) yet most hold themselves upright just like some of the neater burgundy Magnolias and are similarly coloured. In many species these 3 petals stand erect atop 3 handsome leaves; unmistakable.

Why do certain sizes, shapes, colours turn the legs to jelly, the brain to mush, or open the wallet so completely?
It’s the proportions…the jizz…and the vibe (apologies to The Castle).
I like roses, for example, but not with the passion of many people. For some unexplained reason, my horticultural loves are those of the woodland floor: Barrenwort (Epimedium), Trout Lilies (Erythronium, above), Winter rose (Helleborus, arguably of the meadow, but requiring some shade generally here in Victoria), Cyclamen species and Trillium, also known as Wake Robin, Toadshade, Wood Lily, Trinity Flower.

I have a very soft spot for other shade lovers too like Primula, Hepatica, Anemonella, the smallest Hostas and some of the tiny windflowers like Anemone nemerosa, easy to grow here. And latterly the tall shade-loving perennials too, with their lettuce-fresh new leaves each spring: Bloodroot (Sanguinaria above; its fleeting white flowers are outclassed by the leaves still unfurling) and the smaller Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa), Arisaema and forms of Soloman’s Seal, Paris and Kirengeshoma; even that rampant thug, kept in a pot, Snow Poppy (Eomecon, below) - as beautiful as it sounds. A new one for me is Anemone sylvestris, just 45cm high with dazzling white spring blooms atop a clump of leaves; no sign (yet) of errant rhizomes. Shade-loving bulbs too:  sweet Martagon Lily, fragile Fritillaria, petite Chionodoxa.

One of the best perennials is a relative of the Trillium: Podophyllum(below). Sumptuous leaves of lime flesh dolloped by chocolate mousse hide the sweet white flowers – often called shy – which droop under the canopy of dappled foliage, fresh just now, perfect. As it spreads gently, I can envision sheets of this charmer in time; drifts of them all.

But these fresh leaves are yummy to our vegan visitors. So do we change the fence, its height, its porosity…? Yep. And be grateful to those little skinks that eat snail eggs rendering them almost extinct here: at least our Hostas are usually handsome each year, rarely eaten to shreds by the other – relatively - big-(but one) footed creatures. Surprisingly, this makes a friend envious! I really must remember this before I complain again.

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