A few weeks ago I wrote about some of the great plant collections within easy driving distance, as featured in the year’s first issue of my “most essential” gardening magazine, Horticulture. I’d written about the Raulson Arboretum on the North Carolina State campus in Raleigh, and had done some online investigating about buying one of their new introductions, the longest blooming redbud in the Arboretum’s offerings, named “Kay’s Early Hope,” for the late legendary girls’ basketball coach Kay Yow.
But to finish using a magazine, or dealing with a printout of a letter, is not to file it away neatly. Instead, my system is the same one Ben Franklin said he always used - whatever he’s working on goes right on top of yesterday’s or last week’s reference material, leaving layers of stuff to be investigated, as the notion strikes.
Anyhow, I unearthed just a bit, and found the magazine open to the page for the Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware, which we’d visited back in the 1990s as a side trip from a daffodil convention.
The collection at Mt. Cuba of trilliums, all the species native to the United States, is mind-boggling just to contemplate … I wonder if you ever work there so long that you get blasé about the beauty of this native plant? Amy Highland, director of collections, says that they have in their roster 85 distinct forms of trillium, and currently hold 582 masses of trillium plantings. This beautiful species was a great favorite of Pamela Copeland, wife of Lammot Copeland, who originally owned the beautiful Mt. Cuba property.
For Mt. Cuba, the stress has been on the advancement in propagating trilliujm for the nursery trade, which goes all the way back to Mrs. Copeland’s concerns about the harvesting of plants from the wild.
The basic trillium is T. grandiflorum, most recognized among the many types. This is likely the triilium you might find on sale in early spring at your most progressive nursery. Then there is trillium staminium, with its twisted petals. And then there is the most recently named species. T. oostingii. Its petals are bi-colored, chartreuse green on top, maroon closer to the base.
Stop right here: If you have a deer problem, you may have to grow trillium in a cage, as they find the plant delicious. But the cage wouldn’t have to be large, and the plant is well worth it.
I shared with my gardening/traveling buddy Mary Price not only this article, but also a posting in Facebook, telling of a couple who live in the wooded area of the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, who have found in their woods, rather hidden from general view, a rare new trillium, predominantly yellow. “Rare” means that botanists in this country have never seen this exact form. “New” likely means they just stumbled over it, a sizeable swath of the plant, one day when it happened to be in bloom. And even if I could locate that Facebook posting, I don’t think I would include publically their names and addresses, lest the rampaging population descend upon their family farm.
Mary is very fond of trillium, and we shared two different memories of an extravaganza of trillium we’d seen. I was thinking of a vast row of 10-gallon sized pots, lining the sidewalk at the Cincinnati Nature Center, which Elizabeth Lawrence devotees refer to always and evermore as “Lob’s Wood.” These were mostly yellow, as is my impression.
But Mary reminded me that we saw a vast landscaping with trilliums, in a profusion of colors, on either side of the paved walking trail in the famed botanic garden in Vancouver, where we spent two afternoons, doing the left side of the garden one day, the right side the next, and ending with a great seafood dinner at the restaurant which is a part of the garden.
I am fairly certain that we saw trilliums, labeled and potted, on our one trip to the Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, N.C., the weekend of 9/11. I have a vague memory of Delia Bankhead, our gardening friend whom we were visiting in Hendersonville, N.C., including a specific trillium on the shopping list. (I do remember we were given $75 and were to limit her purchases to that amount.)
So maybe it is time for me to look, at any specialty nursery I have on my route right away, for a good sturdy plant of the very common, ordinary (except that I understand no trillium is ordinary) T. grandiflorum, pure white. And I think perhaps I’ll find a wire cage but also spray with deer spray, hoping to convince the marauders that this is not a tasty morsel.
I’m absolutely certain that this is what Delia did, if we brought her one. She grew everything rare (and she bought on ordinary plants) in cages, created to collapse and be stored flat when not needed. She was something else indeed, a rare and interesting, strong-minded and knowledgeable individual, and our world is a duller place without her.