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

White Trillium

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White trillium has one of the largest blossoms of any Eastern woodland native.  The flower's striking three-pointed shape saves it from mere voluptuousness, and the plant's quirky lifestyle endears it to gardeners and naturalists both.

 

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Nearly everything happens in threes: petals, stamens, stigmas, and the two sets of green bracts—one narrow, right behind the flower, and one broad and large, backed respectfully by my fingers.  The petals are held at 120 degree's rotation to the narrow bracts, which are, in turn, held at 120-degree rotation to the large bracts.  The leaves themselves are a papery underground covering to the plant's rhizome.

 

Here's how to grow this glorious star of the Spring garden:


Latin Name

Trillium grandiflorum

Common Name

Trillium

Family

Trilliaceae, the Trillium family.  Recently removed to Melanthiaceae by some taxonimists, based on DNA.  

What kind of plant is it?

Spring-blooming ephemeral perennial.

Hardiness

Zones 4 - 8.

Habit

Rhizomatous; increase is slow, forming tight colonies that, even after decades of growth, maintain uniform density from the center to the perimeter.  Each rhizome usually produces just one stalk per season.

Rate of Growth

Slow and steady. 

Size in ten years

A tight clump perhaps 10 inches across at the base and almost 18 inches tall. 

Texture

Full enough to be effective—on a small scale—as a groundcover.  Thanks to the large flowers, which are brilliant-white for a long time before (alas) aging to pink, the display never appears heavy.

Grown for

its flowers.  They are showy white three-petaled funnels up to four inches tip to tip, and are effective for several weeks, much longer than other Spring ephemerals, such as tulips.  They age to a distinct pink, and maintain that color for a long period as well. 

 

its fidelity to a three-way lifestyle.  The flower has three petals, surrounding a bright yellow grouping of six stamens and three stigmas.  There are three small leafy-green bracts right below the flower and, at the base of several inches of pedicel (the stalk that bears a flower) below them, a trio of much longer and wider green bracts that function as the plant's leaves.  The true leaves are reduced to an underground papery cover to the rhizomes.


its longevity.  Trillium clumps that are allowed to grow undisturbed will thrive for decades, even generations.  They are the peonies of Spring ephemerals.  Although their year-to-year increase is almost imperceptible, stop-motion photography timed at once a decade would show steady increase.  I'll always recall a colony on an old farm in Rhode Island; it was over five feet across.  It produced over a hundred flowers, and the growth was as dense as any hosta.  How many decades has it been developing?

Flowering season

Mid-Spring.  April into May here in Rhode Island.

Color combinations

Although Trillium grandiflorum begins its show with brilliant white flowers atop mid-green bracts; both colors could associate with almost any other.  The flowers eventually mature to a soft pink—and hold that color for days—turning the plentiful yellows of mid-Spring that had, otherwise, been in harmony with the flower's yellow stamens and stigmas into a strident clash.  It's wise, then, to site Trillium grandiflorum amid pink-friendly company from the get-go: White, pink, rose, blue, burgundy, and silver are its best color colleagues.

Partner Plants


Trillium can partner as much on the basis of texture as color.  The distinctive and large "tri-bracteate" greenery is showy in its own right, and is a good foil for the grassy foliage of liriope, hakonechloa, and carex, as it is for any fern.  Epimediums are particularly good neighbors, with foliage that's small in comparison to the trillium bracts, and often short and thick enough to work as a groundcover around the trillium clump. 

 

Epimediums are also adept floral partners to trilliums because so many have flowers in shades of white, pink, and rose—and in small and complicated spidery forms that are a texture contrast in themselves to the large simplicity of the trillium flowers.  And like the trilliums, they also reward close-range viewing. 

 

Trilliums' comfort in part shade make them naturals for planting at the north and east side of taller shrubs, perennials, and grasses.  Because trilliums are "ephemeral"—like Spring bulbs, their foliage dies down long before Summer is through—it's good to consider plant partners whose performance extends through the warm months.  Epimediums qualify here, as well, as do ornamental grasses, liriope, and ferns.   

Where to use it in your garden

Site Trillium grandiflorum where it's in full view at medium- as well as close-range.  The plants are so engaging it would be a frustration if they were sited out of range.  Trilliums are usually a bit pricey, as well as slow-growing, so they aren't practical for large-scale use.  And because they are ephemeral, there isn't merit in their repetition, which would only create more bare patches to finesse by late Summer.  The best fantasy is to have a single hefty clump of each given Trillium species and cultivar.  (See "Variants" below for an introduction.)

Culture

As long as clumps are not stressed by drought, trilliums can grow in full sun as well as in half shade.  Growth is faster in soil that is loose, moisture retentive, and rich in organic matter.  Trilliums do not need division, and don't appreciate being transplanted, either.  So locate for the long-term.

How to handle it:  The Basics

Plant rhizomes in late Summer or Fall; in-growth plants as soon as you receive them.  Water new plants regularly so they establish well; in climates where they thrive, trilliums don't need supplemental watering after they're established.  Provide good "woodland garden" soil, and put in a discrete marker so that you don't forget where the plants are during their long dormancy.  Clean up the spent foliage only after it has thoroughly cured and collapsed.  Apart from this late-season attention, trillium colonies are maintenance-free.      

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

None.

Quirks or special cases

Trillium flowers should never be picked.  The two pairs of green bracts right below the flower are the only food-producing structures that the flower's rhizome has, and yet it's only practical to cut the flower by cutting through the stem, known as a scape, to which those bracts are attached.  Enjoy trilliums in the garden, not the vase.


Trillium seeds are dispersed by ants, thanks to a nutritious packet attached to each seed, known as an elaiosome.  (The seeds of Corydalis species and cultivars usually have elaiosomes, too.)  The ants collect trillium seeds because their elaiosomes are rich in oleic acid, which is the hallmark of the corpses that ants would carry back to their colony as food.  The seeds are also dispersed by deer.  They eat trillium flowers and foliage and (inadvertently) seeds whenever they can, and this affords the trillium a longer-range dispersal than via ants: a couple of miles instead of a couple of yards.  Deer foraging is thought to be the reason trilliums became dispersed far enough south to survive ice ages, when most of their northern habitat was glaciated for centuries at a time.

Downsides

Trilliums are a favored food for deer. 

 

Although growth is thick enough to work as groundcover, their rhizomes' slowness to increase and, therefore, cost to sell, plus the lengthy germination period for seeds—two years—makes trilliums unsuitable for other than specimen use.

Variants

Thanks to this perennial's showy flowers, on the one hand, and its can't-be-hurried rate of increase, on the other, Trillium grandiflorum is as well liked by the public as by cognoscenti.  There's a double-petaled 'Flora Plenum' cultivar, as costly as it is rare.  Other Trillium species have softly colorful flowers in yellow or dusty burgundy.  The blossoms are less showy at a glance but, for those who value subtlety, even more rewarding at close range than those of T. grandiflorum.  And they are usually accompanied by larger and, often, variegated bracts.  Start with T. catesbaei, T. cuneatum (especially its double-bracted form, 'Julia'), T. erectum, T. luteum, and T. underwoodii.  All trilliums are worth growing, and I'm woefully behind.

Availability

On-line and at retailers.  Never, ever, dig up any Trillium growing in the wild.  This is often illegal, and usually not successful, anyway.

Propagation

By seed, if you can beat the ants to it.  Trillium clumps resent division, but it can be done.  Rhizomes themselves can be sectioned to encourage multiplication, but this is a fussy business that, out of consideration for the rhizomes themselves, should be left to experienced hands.

Native habitat

Trillium grandiflorum is native to eastern North America.

 
 
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