Tuesday 12 December 2017

Effortless beauty of the yellow pagoda lily

Pagoda Lily
Pagoda Lily

Gerry Daly

It is always a great bonus when a plant anticipated as possibly difficult to grow turns out to be effortless. The yellow pagoda lily is one such. It seems so delicate, so elegant, that it must be tricky in some way - but it is not. Given good, fertile, well-drained soil, it is as easy as daffodils.

 The pagoda name is very apt because the ends of the petals are turned back upwards like the corners of a pagoda roof, giving the bright yellow flowers a jaunty look, perfectly in tune with spring's renewal. This lovely flower is one of a group of American plants also called trout lilies. The name comes from the spotting with brown that the leaves of some kinds exhibit.

There is also a European relative known as dog-tooth violet as its white roots come to a point likes a dog tooth. The flowers are much bigger than violets and have a red-purple colour more than violet. The leaves are spotted brown-purple. These flower at the same time as daffodils or a little later, the purple making a lovely contrast with the yellow of daffodils, although a smaller kind of daffodil would be the best choice because the dog-tooth violets are quite low, only 15cm or even less.

The American species are much taller. The trout lily is about twice as tall with beautifully marked large leaves and pale purple reflexed flowers of great charm. Raised from two Californian wild species, Pagoda, as the variety is actually named, can be 40cm tall easily and its leaves longer that 30cm. It is a vigorous plant and grows to make a good clump after a few years.

The pagoda lily is truly perennial, lasting for decades and flowering better each year. It is happy under the light shade of trees. They get into growth early and begin to flower as the first leaves come on the trees in April. It copes well with tree root competition and summer drought, the leaves withering away by mid-summer. While it can grow well in light shade, it does even better in an open position with more sunlight.

Actually, the plants do not like the shade to be too heavy as this can reduce or stop flowering and they may fade out eventually.

After flowering, to increase numbers, established plants can be lifted and the clump of bulbs separated with the stems and leaves that are attached to each group, and re-planted immediately.

Give a mulch of leaf mould in winter or early spring to retain moisture and improve growth.

Watch for slugs in spring if it is mild because they can damage the leaves and flower stems.

Q My cherry blossom tree is planted now about nine years and it's not growing. It flowers very briefly and has a stem diameter that has stayed at two inches since the day I planted it.

R Twomey, Co Kerry

A It could be planted too deeply, or in wet or poor soil, or have competition from grass. Address any of these that apply and see what happens.

If the roots are more than 5cm deep, it could be too deeply planted and could be lifted and re-planted in November.

Wet soil does not suit cherries and should be drained or the tree moved. Poor soil can be fed with tree and shrub fertilizer. Grass can be killed by covering with black polythene or old carpet.

Send your questions to gerrydaly@independent.ie. Questions can only be answered on this page.

Sunday Independent

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