By Cults and Flowers
Rain lilies are cool, and here’s why. A) They’re pretty, dainty little things, with happy little flowers heads that stand on upright stalks, and B) They’re an ephemeral species.
Now I know one might now be thinking, “Hey, Cults and Flowers, why the heck I want something in my garden that only blooms for a short while?” To which I respond, well, maybe you don’t, maybe they aren’t for you, but allow me to tell you why they could be.
First, these plants actually bloom repeatedly, throughout warm spring and summer months, but only in response to the temperature and barometric pressure. While, as a horticulturist, I’m always tracking and happy to talk about the weather, there are certain plants I can look to as a sort of tattle tale, indicating if rain is coming or not. Many plants have very responsive leaves (moving upward, to better capture coming water), and these have a bloom response. So if you think they’re a one and done sort of deal, think again.
Secondly, they require next to no maintenance. Here in Texas, and in other states, there are species that are native/occur naturally on roadsides and in fields, which nods to the no muss no fuss ability to keep them. Granted, if keeping in a garden and, say going through a drought, and wanting them to keep blooming, you may want to give them some sips in the summer, but still. Tough little cutie, these things.
And now, specifically, I’d like to introduce you to the Prairie Sunset variety of the species.
These are fairly rare in “trade,” and when found, on the retail market, aren’t always cheap (to be fair, I find most retail plants expensive, after years of having access to wholesale prices/farm that can grow what I decide). I only discovered this when, one day, a few years ago, when I was still working in sales support at the farm, that a customer of one of the sales reps came in. A man that runs a company called The Southern Bulb Hunter or some such, was talking to the person I then shared and office with, and I heard him mention he was looking for some but couldn’t find them. Well…..I knew where he could. But nothing in the numbers that he, or any other customer would want to purchase. But I knew where some were, and that I had access to them, and that access also included permission to dig some up.
So, back story to that. While I was in my freshman year at college (I started in on major specific courses from scratch, and as an adult, also understood the importance of building up my experience as fast as I could), I worked aat the college greenhouse during the school year, and I worked at the Dallas Arboretum that summer (how I landed that job is another story of passion and tenaciousness). But I digress.
The summer I worked the arboretum, I worked in the section called A Women’s Garden. A prestigious area of the gardens, decorated with sculptures and meadows and a shade and rock garden. Growing in the rock garden were these rain lilies, and I was in love with them the minute I saw their peachy, cheerful little blooms, growing in crevices of the rock garden area.
To be fair, I was in love with so much of what I saw, and thankfully my section supervisor was a trained horticulturist and turf expert (used to work Ranger stadium turf. And yeah, dudes, horticulture can be cool. It’s not all flowers and florists. So many jobs in the industry, many don’t realize. Anyway. I digress, yet again). So my boss has a background in hort, and actually appreciates me as an “intern” (though I wasn’t technically one), because of my willingness to work, sweat, dig, and knowledge. Most interns prior, I guess, based on his experience, deemed themselves “above” it. And so he liked me, and when I asked if I could sneak seeds out in my pockets, or cuttings out in my over sized thermos, he said, “I didn’t see that, and have no clue what you’re talking about.”
In my Summer of Squirrel, as I’m calling it now, I went home, so many days, with dirt and twig filled thermos, and pockets overflowing with seed. And, friends (I’m sure you saw this coming), one of those species of seed I collected that summer was for the very same plant this man was now mentioning, years later, in the sales office.
See, I knew that the fall after I worked the arboretum, I’d planted some seeds for this plant by the college greenhouses. So I contacted the current greenhouse manager (for record, I’d donated, from my current company, thousands of dollars of chemicals – another story of inventory/chemical dumping to an ag extension – as well as a good several thousand dollars in plants (great tax write off to get rid of “dregs” and donate to educational cause), and so, yeah, can I come dig up some of what I harvested from seed, grew, and planted there? Of course.
So secret squirrel makes her way, and digs up half (you never take all), of what was there, and dragged it back to then propagation manager. We got about one and a half 18-count flats out of what brought. This week, I have my department dividing them down (plant term, Google it), to make 90 18-count flats.
And that, boys and girls, is a patience and passion and pet project of mine. I’ll keep 25 of the flats as stock, and release the rest into the wild of the industry.