Plants, like most things, are at the mercy of the latest trends and fashions.
Some antique plants can be obtained only through specialized catalogs, charging ridiculous prices or by what is referred to as pass-a-long methods. When obtaining a plant (with soil) from an established garden, be careful to watch for any seedlings that might appear in the next couple of years. Sometimes, that soil will contain seed from the former surrounding plants resulting in surprises. Like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’ll get.
Gladiolus byzantinus, commonly called sword lily, is one of these plants. An ancient forerunner to our present day large-flowered hybrids, it’s commonly found growing in the eastern Mediterranean. It was popular in Victorian gardens. I don’t know where mine came from, but several tiny plants appeared and made themselves at home beside some azaleas. They are most welcome, just not in that spot!
They remind me that we grew these dainty, little gladioli when I was a child. These are hardy, do not require lifting and storing over winter as do the huge gladioli, the sword-like foliage is attractive, and it needs no staking. They grow best in a sunny spot, are drought tolerant, and their underground stem is called a corm. I will be relocating mine in fall since that’s the preferred time.
Another pass-a-long antique that I love is the stately Macleya cordata commonly called plume poppy. This plant can grow to 10 feet tall, but usually stays at around five or six feet, and is grown as a foliage plant. The deciduous foliage is gorgeous and grows along the stem from top to bottom, making this a versatile plant. Most times, it is seen as a back of the border plant. However, I prefer it to be at the end of a border, in a large clump, so the complete plant can be seen. Being so tall, it may require some type of staking or support if it’s subjected to lots of wind.
However, since it forms a tight root system, it usually supports itself. Hawaii has declared this plant to be a noxious weed, but I never had it reseed in my garden. It does increase by the roots, so it needs lots of room to expand, but the extras are easily removed. The August blooms do not resemble poppies, are insignificant, and easily removed if one has invasive concerns. After all, Macleya cordata should be grown for the outstanding leaves and screening capabilities.
In 1804, tiger lily (Lilium lancifolium) was one of the Chinese plants sent back to England by William Kerr. It is one of the oldest lilies in cultivation. A professional plant collector who had set up residence in China, Mr. Kerr was sponsored by Kew and The East India Company. He was responsible for sending Kerria japonica and Rosa banksiae (Lady Banks rose). Unfortunately, he also sent Lonicera japonica, the horrible honeysuckle we all loved as children, but has become so invasive.
In China, the tiger lily was produced in mass quantities as a field grown vegetable. Both the bulbs and buds are edible. Often referred to as “Turk’s cap,” the plants are between three and six feet tall, have several, large, orange flowers with dark spots, mostly facing downward, with petals curled backwards. There will be small black bulbils where each leaf meets the stem. These are the seeds which will take about two years to produce a plant. These make long lasting cut flowers. Plant them in full sun to part shade, well drained soil. Hardy and robust, they form clumps, and need their own space.
Gardening Partners is a non-profit founded in 2003 to serve Dickson County with gardening education and advice. Readers may submit gardening questions by email: email@example.com, on the website: www.gardening.partners, or by mail: PO Box 471 Dickson TN 37056