You can’t miss them! Sunflowers, that is.
From across the garden, or across the highway, sunflowers (Helianthus, below), annual or perennial, make a bold statement in the early Fall. Big and bright, even the compact growing varieties grab your eye with masses of golden yellow blooms. Subtle, they are not.
In stark contrast, Toad lilies (Tricyrtis) are far more restrained. From a dozen paces you might scarcely notice their blooms. Standing directly above you could be intrigued by the mottled coloring, but on hands and knees you’ll fully appreciate the beauty of the flowers.
No, get closer. I’ll need my reading glasses. The architecture of the flower is unlike anything in the garden, and the colors magnificent.
In this garden there is room enough for sunflowers to tower above neighbors, brazenly calling to visitors “see me”, but the prime real estate belongs to the toad lily, usually fronted by a stone path (better for kneeling).
Near the bluestone entry path to the upper garden, a variegated leaf toad lily stretches for light tucked beneath an aged dwarf hemlock and under the arching stems of Ostrich fern, and above the ground hugging blue star and a small leafed ivy. I am surprised each year when it survives against these more aggressive adversaries, but there it is. Good sense would dictate moving it to a more suitable location, but I suspect the roots to be hopelessly entangled, and this toad lily seems to be faring well enough without my assistance.
Others have more fortunate circumstances, in partial sun or shade, but always placed in the most obvious positions to be seen by visitors. At the juncture of two paths you must pause to carefully decend dark stone slab steps, and there is another variegated leaf toad lily, taller and fuller due to its sunnier location, and across the path another, more spreading than upright, with shiny green foliage and a lighter shade flower.
Though recommended as a shade loving perennial for the damp woodland, several hours direct sun each day will encourage more vigorous and compact growth. I’ve found that tall varieties benefit from pinching a time or two through the Summer. Blooming is delayed a week or two, but more numerous, stout branches are gained. Otherwise, I’ve found toad lilies to be completely carefree, unbothered by insects and undemanding of supplemental irrigation.
There are dozens of varieties, but I hesitate to recommend one over other delightful choices. And don’t try just one, start with several, and you’ll be happier still.
After a few years, once you have a small collection, you’ll be able to split them easily with the sharp chop of a spade, and spread them around, or give a slice to a friend. If you have a division to share of one of the yellow flowering types, they’re next on the list to add to my collection.