Plant envy: trillium

One of the great joys of garden travel is seeing plants grown to perfection that you know you can’t grow yourself. Okay, sometimes the joy is tempered with envy, but the sight of highly desired treasures that you have consigned to death or an unhappy subsistence in your own garden, growing with ease and comfort in someone else’s, is always a thrill.  Michael McCoy, tour leader of our recent trip through the great gardens of East Coast USA, is a man with a passion for horticultural treasures. He sent us this, about the trilliums encountered on tour….

“I admit that I was nearly delirious with joy over our first sighting of trilliums. I’ve seen many trilliums in gardens over the years, and I’ve grown a few, but there’s something very special about seeing a plant on its home turf.  At no point did we see trilliums in the wild, as such, but they’re a native wildflower to the north–east of the USA, and they grow in gardens there as if they really know it.

Trillium grandiflora at Longwood

The first sighting was at Longwood – an enormously impressive garden just outside of Philadephia with an annual budget in the region of $US50 million, thanks to an endowment that came with the donation of the garden by a member of the DuPont family.  [ED: yes, you read that right – $50 million A YEAR!  Any mining magnates reading?] There, naturalized in the woods, was Trillium grandiflorum, well advanced in its slow fade from white to pink-stained.

Trillium grandiflora, commonly called wake-robin

It shares with several other plants the charming common name of wake-robin, possibly vying for the prize of being the most Beatrix Potter-ish of all plant names.  Its only real competitor is the foxglove.

Nearby was the yellowish Trillium luteum, in extreme rude health.

Trillium luteum at Longwood on Ross Garden Tours East Coast USA tour

Trilliums appeared regularly throughout the itinerary, never failing to provide a thrill, nor to feed that greedy appetite for ownership. The best and biggest show was saved until near the end, with a visit to the sensational so-called ‘Sakonnet Garden’, not far from Newport.  Here there were carpets of trilliums – great, thick, ground-covering doonas of them!  Joy and envy fought for first place in the response-spectrum.

Trillium luteum at Sakonnet garden, near Newport

Here we spotted the most elegant form of Trillium grandiflorum I’ve ever seen, with tapering, pointed ‘petals’.

Trillium grandiflorum

And then, with a single 180 degree turn, the Holy Grail – the double form!”

Trillium grandiflorum, double form

Inspired by Michael’s enthusaism to gvie trilliums a try in your own plot?  Don’t even think about it unless you live where beanies are a non-negotiable item of outdoor wear for at least one month of the year. There are about 40 species native to the temperate regions of North America. As the name suggests, all parts of the plant come in threes – there are three bracts above the ground and three petals on the flowers, which also have three sepals. The plant likes deep, fertile, humous-rich, moist soil in full or part shade. Under the canopy of a deciduous forest is ideal, if you happen to have one.  They die away in the autumn but come up very early in the spring – hence that romantic common name as they are said to wake the robin in spring.

If you’ve been bitten by envy – Van Dieman Quality Bulbs has Trillium chloropetalum available.

Read more of Michael’s thoughts on the gardens of East Coast USA on his blog, The Gardenist.

Photos: Michael McCoy

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