More of a good thing: Propagating trilliums and other rhizomatous plants

My favorite time of the gardening year is when my trilliums come into bloom.

Trillium luteum

Trillium luteum

These plants, native (in the case of Trillium luteum) to North Carolina, grow in deciduous forests. Slow-growing and typically reproduced by tissue culture, they command hefty prices at nurseries and garden centers, in the range of $15-20 for a quart pot containing one plant. Please don’t use this as an excuse to harvest them from their native habitat; that’s strictly taboo.

I have been waiting patiently for perhaps eight years for these plants to multiply. This year, I think the oldest of my three plants may send up a second bloom. Growing trilliums is a bit like watching children mature, I suppose; the gardener must exercise a great deal of patience as the subject slowly and rather invisibly matures, showing exciting glimpses in brief bursts of what lovely and graceful specimens they will become.

Well, my patience is not where it ought to be. You can imagine my excitement, then, when I read in Nancy Goodwin’s delightful book, Montrose: Life in a Garden, about how she increased her stand of Trillium catesbaei by pricking the rhizomes with a pin to stimulate new growth.  She describes a ninefold increase in her plants in one year using this technique.

I contacted Nancy to ask about the process and she assured me it was extremely simple. Uncover the rhizome (easiest to do now, when the flower is visible), and prick it with a pin beneath the growing point, found at the end of the rhizome. The injury stimulates the plant to produce additional tubers, she writes. Perhaps while the plant photosynthesizes, it pumps more energy into additional tuber/rhizome (I will grasp this one day) formation, yielding a greater increase than would occur if, say, the gardener tried this technique during the plant’s dormancy.

Yesterday I gave it a try. I dug gently down with my fingers, not wanting to risk severing the rhizome with a vigorous plunge of a trowel (perhaps an irrational thought, given what I was about to do). I found the growing point, or what I think is the growing point, and, not having a pin to hand, gave it a timid poke with the tip of a pair of scissors. I made an incision only detectible by the droplet of white fluid that emerged from the rhizome. I filled the hole back up and firmed it well. I tried the technique on two of the three plants, so if I’ve erred in my execution, next year I can be assured of having at least one plant surviving (the one that’s sending up two flowers this year).

Feeling a bit bold, I tried it on the single specimen I have of Trillium sessile as well.

Trillium sessile (red)

Trillium sessile, dusted with pollen

Next year, we’ll see what emerges. You may want to give this technique a try in your own gardens. If you do, please let me know your results.


Grow Write Guild #3: A change that does me good

The Grow Write Guild’s third assignment is to describe the garden at present; stop, observe, and enjoy.

My garden is presently divided into rooms. Some are fairly well-kept, some are being refurbished, and alas, there are some on which the door had better be kept shut.

But everywhere I look, the scene is lush with fresh shades of green: lime, olive, emerald, forest, apple, bronze, blue. In a single week the garden has transformed. A week ago, I could stand at my back door and see perfectly clearly the Carrot Lady‘s house. Continue reading

Sanguinaria canadensis


Another plant I never want to be without: Sanguinaria canadensis, or bloodroot.


This charming spring ephemeral is native to eastern North America. It began blooming for me late last week.

bloodroot unfurling

The flowers are small, perhaps 2 inches across. It emerges from the ground with the leaves tightly furled around the stem. It slowly naturalizes, and propagates easily from root cuttings.

Like all spring ephemerals, it shows off for a short period in the cooler weather of spring, then enters dormancy in summer. The common name “bloodroot” comes from its reddish-colored sap, which Native Americans used for dye.

I don’t do anything in particular to care for this plant. It doesn’t seem to attract any pests or diseases.  It grows well in my acid clay soil without fertilizer or any special soil amendments. I imagine it would spread more rapidly if my soil were more agreeable.

If, like me, you are inclined to periodic bouts of laziness, this plant should do just fine for you in shadier parts of the garden so long as you water it the first year after you plant it.

The view from the deck

Yet another morning of heavy rain. The garden is soupy. I know I shouldn’t muck around much in it when it is so wet, but who can help it when the sun comes out? I cannot wait to see what’s changed from yesterday.

Turns out, plenty is happening just off the deck, and I can limit the wading I do today. The sweet peas I planted in February are coming up. I have never had much success with them in the past, but I confess I never made much effort, either. I must get some netting in place for them to climb up.

Clematis ‘Nelly Moser’ has put on about a foot of growth in the past week. She, too, needs something to climb on. I put one of those skinny pot trellises in place until I can get the sweet pea netting up. They can share after that; I hope they’ll play nicely together.

I grew a massive stand of Claytonia over the winter, only to find that the flavor is bland to me. Perhaps I simply have not found an adequate recipes that will let it perform to its potential.

I pruned the rue (Ruta graveolens ‘Jackman’s Blue’), which has taken off. Now that it is making itself comfortable where it is, I have found the perfect spot for it. It needs to be next to the osmanthus; the color and texture contrast will be magnificent. But there are bearded iris in that spot now, as well as plenty of tiny sprigs of Solomon’s seal that will require relocating, and I cannot do that until the iris have bloomed. If things keep the current pace, that should occur about next Tuesday.


I pinched back the Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) that I am coaching across the screen that is the backdrop to the blue-and-yellow garden. I know it gets too much shade to do well there, but I am a stubborn old goat. But so far it seems to be resigning itself to its site and making the best of it. Perhaps this year is the year it will become the glorious screen I envision. I have seen, however, the way it behaves at my mother’s house and should probably be careful what I wish for.