Sunday, April 26, 2009

Gardening: Erythronium revolutum

Many gardeners I know, both past and present, abhor pink in the garden. I don't get it, myself, but as a garden is always a personal expression of its maker(s), I say "To each his or her own." Rarely as thrilling as a clear blue (say, Mecanopsis betonicifolia, or Chionodoxa forbesii), pink nonetheless enthralls our eye (our being me and my sweetie, who decided together what grows in our borders), harmonizing especially well with the soft greens of early spring and livening up dark corners. Later in the year, we love the vibrations set up from the juxtaposition of pink and orange (I sense shuddering among our gardening friends), a color combination exalted by the late Christopher Lloyd, whose advice on color always seems right to me.

Fifteen years ago, I stood in Mr. Lloyd's garden at Great Dixter, practically hypnotized by a brash combination of orange alstroemeria and pinkish-lavender Verbena bonariensis. Brazenly planted at the front of a large perennial border, too, not tucked into "cooling" neutrals like silver or purple, but up close, where it could shock the hordes of garden tourists who were nearby muttering about "bad taste." The one thing I have learned from Mr. Lloyd, whose books every gardener would find useful, is to not be afraid of color, and to seek out the best examples of particular colors. For example, he, like my sweetie, was not a fan of muddy pinks, nor pinks with any trace of brown. I'm a bit more forgiving, having rarely encountered a flower that I did not find fascinating.

The little treasure pictured with this post is Erythronium revolutum, a species Dog-Tooth Lily, so called because the bulbs look like large, elongated canines. We started with one little plant, purchased at the original Heronswood in 2006. It's first year, it produced a couple of beautifully mottled leaves, but no flowers. It didn't decide to bloom until 2008, by which time it had doubled into two plants. This spring, we have six plants, four of which bloomed. Interestingly, the flowers of each new clump differ slightly from the mother plant, with one duo's blooms being darker pink and the petals more recurved. The newest plant is blooming slightly paler than the mother, but with pronounced brownish patches at the base of the petals.

We grow the more vigorous erythonium hybrids like 'Pagoda' and 'Kondo,' both of which now form large clumps of vigorous foliage and dozens of pale yellow flowers, and they are spectacular, but there's something very special about these little pink beauties. We can't wait to see how many come up next year.

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