Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Loving Lycoris

When I was little, there was an old farm house right behind my parents land. It had been the original farm house for the surrounding houses that now made up the popular suburb of Mission Hills, in Kansas City. The farm home had been gentrified over time, one family adding a set of iron gates, another a greenhouse, complete with a fifty year old camellia, that always had blooms at Christmas time. One of the features of this property was a garden off the dinning room, that was fenced with ornate iron work, and simple flower beds at the perimeter. Every Spring, fat clumps of foliage would thrust through the leaf mold, looking like giant daffodil foliage-that's what I thought they were! The fact that there were numerous varieties of narcissus intermingled with the non flowering leaves disguised them even more...until on fine late Summer day I was by the garden, visiting my best friend, who's family were the current owners of the house. All around the fenced garden were dozens of bright green stems shooting out of the Vinca and Ivy. A few, had opened, and they were the most beautiful pink trumpet blooms, almost brushed with pale blue on the petal tips, I was smitten, Lycoris squamigera, my first encounter with these fantastic bulbous plants! I noticed them blooming in the older gardens around the city, rarely in new neighbor hoods. There never were any seeds, but they looked like there was going to be seed, just empty pods. When I was a little older, I saw some different types offered in some bulb catalogs, but they were never hardy in my zone 5+ garden. When I was in college, I decided to try to grow some of these tender types in pots...but they refused to thrive for me. Later, I was informed by an expert in this genus, that they detest pots, and if I wanted to grow them, it would have to be in the ground. Meanwhile, I would move the hardy L.squamigera from garden to garden, rescuing old clumps from abandoned properties and vacant land. One day, I was reading through a garden magazine, and saw an article by  a wold famous bulb and garden expert, Dr.Jim Waddick. Jim was already a friend of my brothers, and I knew him by his reputation. He had collected many hardy, special species from China and surrounding Asian countries and introduced them in to America in the late eighties. Specialty bulb growers were selling these bulbs, but they were few and far between! He wrote about hardy golden Lycoris, creamy yellow ones, even an electrtic blue species...and the stunning red Lycoris radiata, more common in our southern states, but hardy here. There was even a large pure white variety, Lycoris longituba, stunning and hardy in zone 5!! His sources, in his article, gave me my first Lycoris bulbs in a whole new color palette, more on these soon! Surprise lilies give a late summer garden what it needs most, the unexpected!