Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Golden Surprise Lily

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Every year, from bare dirt in August: The flowering of the Golden Surprise Lily is, indeed, an exciting summer shock.  My colony is right along the walk from the back door so there's no chance I'll miss it amid the usual high-Summer craziness.

 

The flowering stems are purists in their mission: no leaves are allowed to sully them.  It looks like I'd dropped a stem from a bouquet, and it had miraculously speared itself right into the ground.

 

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Two days later, the peacocky flowers are at full preen.  One petal below, five above to do the peacock fan.

 

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Each of the six stamens is heavy with colorful gold pollen, but it's the red-hot tip of the pistil that's the stiletto star.

 

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Now if only my young colony would bless me with more than this one flowering stem.  Again this year:  One stem only. 

 

Yes, Lycoris are famously slow to establish, and resent (but survive) planting and transplanting, no matter how carefully done.  But this colony is four years old.  Yipes. 

 

It's likely that I've also not been as attentive as needed with watering.  The foliage appears in the Spring, as tedious as any daffodil's.  Inevitably, when it goes dormant by June I'm as prone as the next to thinking "Good riddance."  But below the soil, the bulbs are getting ready for the big show in August, and need regular water—either rain or from my watering can—to do their best.

 

One flower stem only: My Lycoris is showing everyone that I'm not as faithful a steward as I should be.  Embarrassing.  More water in Summer and Fall, though, could mean more flowers in August.  I get it—and I'm getting the watering can out right now.

 

 

Here's how to grow this Summer-blooming bulb:

 

Latin Name

Lycoris chinensis

Common Name

Golden Surprise Lily

Family

Amaryllidaceae, the Amaryllis family.

What kind of plant is it?

Hardy bulb.

Hardiness

Zones (5)6 - 10.

Habit

Clumping and daffodil-like.

Rate of Growth

Slow to medium.

Size in ten years

In Spring, a clump of daffodil-like foliage a foot or so wide and tall; in bloom in Summer, a clump of flowering stalks up to two feet high.

Texture

In its Spring foliage, as boring and dense as any clump of daffodils—and without a flower in sight, either.  In flower in Summer, with the leaves completely gone, the tall, vertical leafless stems, each with a cluster of bright showy flowers on top, look scarcely real, as if you'd stuck the stems of cut flowers directly into the ground.  Surprising, indeed! 

Grown for

its rarity: The pink-flowered surprise lily, L. squamigera, is soundly hardy into Zone 5, and is fully self-reliant, thriving for decades in old and even abandoned gardens, usually in dappled shade.  Even so, it's by no means omnipresent, and is always an exciting surprise.  While there are Zone 7 Lycoris that are both popular and prevalent, in Zone 6 and below, though, the choices are much slimmer: The yellow flowers of L. chinensis are rare (at least in North American gardens) to the point of shock and delight.

 

its flowers, which, as usual for Surprise Lilies, erupt from leafless and bare ground two month after the (admittedly) boring Spring foliage is long forgotten.  The flowers are similar to small amaryllis, and the straight and leafless stems not only cry out to be cut, they last well in a bouquet when they are.  Few American gardens to date will have large enough colonies to spare any for the vase. 

Flowering season

Summer: the second half of August here in Rhode Island.

Culture

Sun or part shade in rich but well-draining soil.

How to handle it

Surprise Lilies are unusual in hardy bulbs in tolerating and, seemingly, preferring a bit of shade.  Colonies in very old and even abandoned gardens are mostly in the shade of large trees—even at the periphery of beeches, which are normally not generous in permitting underplantings—not out in full sun, yet seem quite vigorous even so.  

 

Also unusual is an aversion to drought at any time, even when they seem to be dormant.  (Classic Spring-flowering hardy bulbs like tulips are fully dormant in Summer, and do even better in ground that gets hot and dry by then.  No surprise, given that they are native to Meditteranean-climate locales, e.g., Turkey, where Summer heat and drought can both be brutal.)  While Lycoris won't tolerate "wet feet"—ground that tends to be muddy or even soggy—especially in the Winter, they also won't survive a Summer in  the dry and baked soil that tulips enjoy. 

 

This is in part because, of course, Surprise Lilies aren't dormant at all in Summer:  In June and July they're getting ready to bloom; in August  (depending on the species) they're already in bloom; and in October the usually-wetter months of Fall and Winter are imminent.  But also because Surprise Lilies demand the shallow planting of peonies, with the top of the bulb no more than an inch below the soil surface.   

 

Unless your soil is particularly rich and Summer rains are regular and heavy, then, water your Lycoris clumps weekly in hot dry weather even when there appears to be nothing at all above-ground and, to the casual observer, you'd seem to be watering bare soil, silly you.  Mulch in late Fall, especially if you're trying to establish one of the less-hardy varieties.  

 

Surprise Lilies' interest in growing amid some shade means that they're up for partnering with all kinds of perennials, shrubs, and trees.  Plant them to the east of taller plants, or on the east side of your house, so they get shade by mid-afternoon.  Or plant them at the outer reaches of the canopies of shade trees—with their deep and sparse roots, oaks would be particularly congenial—so they get dappled shade all day.

 

Or provide dappled shade by interplanting with sparse-leaved perennials or annuals.  Argentine verbena (Verbena bonariensis) would provide the lacy shade that would do any oak proud.  If you find that it self-seeds too vigorously for you—lucky you, in my opinion—then thin-leaved burnet (Sanguisorba tenuifolia) would do the same job.

 

Or pair with perennials as you would daffodils with late-starters that let the Lycoris foliage have the field to itself in the Spring but then shade (and also groundcover) the soil fully by Summer:  Japanese anemones  and hardy plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides).  The Lycoris stems can rise easily through the foliage of either.  Don't forget that the Lycoris flowers need to coordinate with its neighbor's.  The yellow of Lycoris chinensis would be scary amid the pink of Anemone robustissima.   But the pink of L. squamigera would work with both the anemone or the strong blue of the hardy plumbago.

Downsides

Because it's a bit less hardy, Lycoris chinensis isn't as easy as L. squamigera to establish in North America or to maintain for the long-term.  (In China, though, where so many Lycoris are native, they're probably as easy as daffodils.)  On the other hand, Lycoris foliage as well as flowers are uninteresting to animals, bugs, or diseases, so they're an important choice to consider if you're gardening amid deer, rabbits, and wood-chucks.  Because the plants never really go dormant, they resent disturbance and are slow to establish.  (That said, they can be divided, and flower best if they're divided, oh, every decade.)  Don't expect much of a "surprise" from your Surprise Lilies until they've been in the ground a few years. 

Variants

Surprise Lilies come in so many colors—white, pale yellow, deep yellow to orange, pink, and cherry red—that they can compliment any garden's colors. Lycoris are, broadly, of two minds:  One group puts up foliage in the fall and expects to be able to keep it growing and in good shape all winter; these species and hydrids don't thrive north of Zone 7.  The other puts up their foliage only in the Spring, and are usually hardy into Zone 6 and sometimes Zone 5 (as well as being happy in Zone 7 - 10).  If you're lucky—I'm not, at least yet—you could well have four or five different Surprise Lilies and still not feel that you'd become "topped up" with them.

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

By division of the clumps after the foliage has died down but before the flowering:  June, usually.  Or right after flowering, so there's time to re-establish before Winter:  September.  Hybrid Lycoris won't come true from seed, but the species (such as L. chinensis) do. 

Native habitat

Lycoris are native to southern and far-eastern Asia.

 
 
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