28 May 2009

surprise allium

Over the last year I’ve been spending some time clearing out the area way down under the old lilacs to the south of the house. It’s absolutely full shade, so I’m dividing hostas and encouraging pachysandra and Brunnera to move on in. Earlier this spring I planted a little patch of lily of the valley under a maple tree, and two nights ago I took advantage of Bluestone Perennials’ half-off sale (through Sunday, 31 May, so hie thee to the nursery for some amazing deals) to order three Hosta “Gold Standard.” (And two grasses—Miscanthus sinensis “Zebrinus,” to which B has taken a fancy, and Panicum virgatum “Cloud Nine,” which has struck mine and doesn’t require full sun—but they’re for elsewhere.)

On Monday afternoon I was noodling around among the hostas and lilies of the valley and Lobelia cardinalis (which in bloom really does glow from the shade, I’m just saying), pulling weeds and mussing the leaf cover a bit, when I came face to face with broad, strappy leaves and a long stem. I followed the stem up and discovered the most beautiful allium blossom. I didn’t plant him; I didn’t notice him last year or before; I don’t know where he came from!

But I am very happy to welcome him to the shade garden.

I wonder if he and his leaves were there all along but only got the light they needed last year in order to send up a bloom this year. Just lovely. And a nice surprise.


  1. I'm having a dickens of a time (or is it dickens' or Dicken's) getting lobelia to establish anywhere. It's likely the clay soil and the -20 winters. Last year I planted to higher up for better winter drainage, but nope. I planted 9 this year (god save Bluestone and their sales) and we'll see--four different cultivars. Now go back to your hammock.

  2. Benjamin, I planted some blue lobelia (L. syphilitica) last year, and it also seems to be doing pretty well this year. I'd had the L. cardinalis in pretty much full sun for two years, where I kept it watered on a weekly basis, but it was a chore, and I think it wasn't so happy there. Now it and the blue are in almost total shade, and they're looking very nice indeed. I wonder about your clay... This is a no-brainer, and I'm certain you're already doing it, but what about digging a bunch of compost into the area where you're planting all the lobelia. Spot improvement of the one planting site. I dug in a couple buckets of compost when I planted some fruit trees this spring. Maybe some $20 holes for your half-price perennials (GodblessBluestone)?

    I am now retiring to my hammock.

  3. I've had good luck with Lobelia syphilitica by just broadcasting seed (it's like dust) in the winter then waiting two years. Plants arise in year two, in places where they like it, even in my very heavy wet clay. Lobelia cardinalis I had to plant as plants, and in a shaded area with slightly better drainage. It bloomed profusely last year. Year three is here now. We'll see how it does. It seems to be a short-lived perennial.