Just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get any hotter in the garden…….. it does. Naked ladies magically appear all over the place.
Sometimes in the hostas.
Sometimes in the ferns.
Sometimes just right out of the ground.
Cover the children’s eyes. Give Grandpa another nitro-glycerin tablet. Warn the religious right. No, wait. Tell them Resurrection lilies are all over the garden. They won’t know the difference. It’s August and time for the Naked Ladies to put on a show!
This plant, Lycoris squamigera, is an old pass along plant that continues to be relevant in the contemporary garden. The amazing show in summer, when the blooms truly appear like magic thus the common name Magic Lily, is preceded by a much quieter presentation of strap shaped leaves in spring. The leaves last several weeks eventually drying up resulting in the plants disappearing until the bloom stalks appear. Lycoris can be planted in sun or shade. Because the leaves come up early they can do enough photosynthesizing to feed the bulbs before the trees leaf out completely. The plants are toxic to most of our usual pest creatures so will put on a show even with chipmunks and deer attacking your garden.
Growing up, I often saw clumps of the blooms along the edges of yards just growing in the grass, never in a flower bed. These people had to be very careful as the stalks come on fast and it would be very easy to cut off the tips (and the blooms) when doing the weekly mowing chore. When we got our first ones – passed along from a brother-in-law’s mother – they went in the lawn too. But right near some flower beds. When I bought my home here in Indianapolis the only flowering thing in the yard (besides two crabapples and two roses in the front yard) was three clumps of Lycoris squamigera in the back yard. I’ve since increased my numbers with bulbs passed along by friends and co-workers.
Fall is the ideal time to plant but if you are visiting great-aunt Sadie in May or August and she offers them to you? Take ‘em. It may take a couple years for them to resettle but they will. The one thing they really don’t like is being too wet. I nearly killed my original clumps by dumping too much rabbit manure on them. In fact, the only herbaceous flowering plants that came with my house have never recovered fully. So, while they are one of the toughest plants I know, there are limits.
We have two prime examples in our gardens for using this bulb. Neither is planting them in the middle of a turf patch. Both do include perennials that pretty much everyone can grow.
When I first started here 18 years ago there was a patch of large blue hostas along the main road. They turned out to be H. sieboldiana ‘Elegans’, a wonderful plant by itself. I had seen daffodils planted with perennials but I was really surprised when Lycoris flowers appeared above the massive leaves. Just this week I had somebody ask me about the “pink flowering hostas”. It’s been a question we have heard for 20 years.
The original planting was by former IMA gardener and Greeenhouse supervisor Hollis Schuh. We did add some new bulbs a few years ago and the hostas need dividing every so often, but otherwise it is a pretty low maintenance area. It would be very easy to replicate at home on a smaller or larger scale.
Former Director of Horticulture Chuck Gleaves (now at the Kingwood Center) did something similar in a large bed along the path to the Formal Garden. This time the Lycoris was paired with Ostrich fern (Matteucia pennsylvanica).
To extend the show he planted Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) for early spring color. As the bluebells go dormant and the Lycoris leaves begin to brown, the ostrich ferns come on strong and hide all the ugly with their fronds. Then come summer, presto, stalks of pink trumpets appear in the ferns. It’s a great combo.
Lycoris also make great long-lasting cutflowers so don’t hesitate to plant large numbers. I love the blue highlights.
Now you all come on out and visit before the Naked Ladies end their show for another year. You will find them shaking their money makers all over the gardens.
Filed under: Horticulture