Amaryllids In A Southern Garden

By Elizabeth Lawrence
Raleigh, NC

(Reprinted with permission from Herbertia 10: pp. 12-23, 1943, Courtesy of the International Bulb Society)

[Editor's Note: Miss Elizabeth Lawrence (1904-1985) is one of the American South's classic garden writers. She promoted the use of heirloom plants, experimented with hithertofore untried selections of choice garden material from other regions, and was one of the first to incorporate native plants from our forests and meadows into her garden schemes.

Many of what were surprising plant innovations at the time when she began chronicling and writing of her garden are now well-recognized and taken for granted. Miss Lawrence first began gardening in Raleigh, NC and moved to Charlotte, NC in 1948, areas which may be described as Zone 7b-8a. The International Bulb Society awarded her the significant and highly esteemed Herbert Medal for her interest in bulbs in 1943, a year after her book The Southern Garden was published. In response, she wrote two most interesting pieces for publication in Herbertia: a short autobiography and the article below on her own experiences with bulbs in the South.

Although Elizabeth Lawrence passed away in 1986, she is still fondly remembered by older generations of gardeners, as well as by those who have had the occasion to add her books to their libraries. It is hoped that by placing her bulb essay on the web, an entirely new body of bulb and garden enthusiasts will have an opportunity to know and enjoy her work.

The International Bulb Society has achieved a much wider sphere of influence among bulb enthusiasts in recent years because of its strong web presence. One of the IBS's most interesting web efforts has been the 'Gallery of Bulbs' which offers accurate images of many of the world's favorite plants. Look for it at the IBS website: Membership in the Society also includes an active e-robin among members, seed list, and other benefits.- WCW]

Elizabeth Lawrence
Elizabeth Lawrence, circa 1942
It has been a little more than ten years since I began to collect amaryllids, and to grow them in the garden - not that I thought, ten years ago, of collecting amaryllids. I thought only of seeing in bloom flowers new and strange. My mother had discovered Gordon Ainsley(1), and she and I would go through his little leaflet, especially the section headed "Miscellaneous Bulbs, Tubers and Rare Plants," and make a painful choice of the ones we most wanted to try. Before many seasons had passed it became apparent that, on the whole, the bulbs most likely to grow and bloom for us belonged to the amaryllis family. It was then that Billy Hunt told me about the Amarylis Society, and I pored over Herbertia, and began to acquire as many members of the Amaryllidaceae as I could. Not having a greenhouse, I limited myself to those which would grow out of doors, and I tried to be systematic about keeping a record of them. In this 10th Anniversary Edition of Herbertia it seems appropriate to review ten years of experiment in a North Carolina garden.

Since the provenance of many of the most beautiful amaryllids is tropical or subtropical, growing them out of doors this far north is largely experimental, and many that survive do not bloom when they are grown so near their northern limit of hardiness. Here, during an average winter the lowest temperature is eight or ten degrees above zero. The weather bureau in Raleigh has recorded zero once in this century. That was in 1917.

I sometimes read that amaryllids which have failed with me grow where the temperatures are much lower than these. Perhaps some factor other than temperature is involved, or perhaps the amaryllids were given more protection. Mine go unmulched, and I cannot bear to plant them very deep - I always feel that they will never find their way out of the dark earth into the spring sunlight. But it may be that with deep planting and a generous coat of manure, some of those that have died would have lived, and some of those that merely existed would have bloomed.

Crinums and Crinodonna. The first record I have of an order from Mr. Ainsley (spring 1932) is for Brunsvigia rosea (syn. Callicore rosea; Amaryllis belladonna Ait. et Herb. non Linn.), Chlidanthus fragrans, Lycoris squamigera, Sternbergia lutea, and the Crinum species Kirkii, Powellii (both the white and the pink forms), erubescens, Bulbispermum (syn. C. longifolium), and Moorei. The brunsvigia and the chlidanthus failed to bloom, though they sent up leaves each spring for a number of years, and the lycoris and sternbergia did not bloom for several seasons. But the crinums were an immediate success, and I wanted to grow as many sorts as I could.

The species that have proved garden worthy in North Carolina are Crinum americanum, C. erubescens, C. Kirkii, C. Kunthianum, C. bulbispermum (syn. C. longifolium), and C. Moorei. C. americanum grew for five years before blooming, but it has now bloomed for two seasons. The season is late August and early September when its narrow-petalled, pure white flowers are particularly striking in the ragged end-of-the-summr borders. In these parts I think this may not be everyone's crinum for it seems choice as to situation, growing well in heavy clay in a low bed that gets the morning sun, and not surviving when transplanted to a different place. But it increases rapidly when it is once established, and I can even imagine that it might increase too much. One could never have enough of the delightful flowers, but the foliage might take up more space than one wanted to give it. A large clump has not yet produced more than two blooms a season. I was interested to hear from Mrs. Henry that she had bloomed this crinum in Pennsylvania, but that it had died the following winter. I imagine from its behavior here that it is not hardy very far north of us.

The species that have not survived our winters are C. amabile and C. zeylanicum from the Royal Palm nurseries; and C. giganteum the "Christopher Lily" marked "species near giganteum," C. scabrum, a species from Burma, and one labelled "species near amabile," from Mr. Hawyard. The species from Burma was always sickly, and did not bloom, and lived only a few months. C. scabrum bloomed in June and again in September, the fall bloom being especially large and handsome and long lasting. The second spring it failed to put in an appearance. This is not such a loss, as there are many good crinums of the milk-and-wine type, but I was distressed when the rare and lovely "species near amabile" proved tender. Planted late in March with C. scabrum, it did not bloom until mid-September, when the dark reddish purple buds opened into flowers striped amaranth purple and pure white. These flowers were comparatively small, and there were seven to an umbel. The second day all were open and all were fresh. On the borderline of hardiness is a very small crinum sent to me by Mr. Hayward as C. giganteum hybridum which has survived but has not bloomed.

Only one of the hybrids that I have tried has failed to be hardy. This is the most beautiful of all, the Empress of India. The first time I had no better sense than to set out at once the magnificent bulb (sixteen inches in circumference) that Mr. Hawyard sent me in the fall. The second time I asked his advice, and kept the bulb in sand in the cellar until the end of March. After sunset on the fourth of September, the first long narrow bud began to open. We sat watching as if it were a night-blooming cereus. I do not think Balboa could have been more breathless when he first looked upon the Pacific, than the Lawrences when they first saw the fully expanded flowers (twelve inches across) of the Empress of India, milk-white, wine-striped, and heavily scented. This crinum blooms only at night. The flowers wilt as soon as the sun touches them in the morning, and do not revive, as some crinums do, with the cool of the next evening. Both the bulb that flowered and the one planted in the fall died before spring. I do not think it worth while to try the Empress of India again.

I think I might have better luck another time with the rose-colored form of C. Powellii, which lived through one or more winters, and bloomed once. Probably it will not prove as robust and free-flowering as the pink-flowered Cecil Houdyshel or the dazzling white Powellii. White Queen, Ellen Bosanquet, and Virginia Lee are satisfactory for the garden though I have not had these long enough for them to become thoroughly established. The dark purple buds of Ellen Bosanquet open in the afternoon into flowers of the brilliant deep rose that Ridgway calls spinel red. They are shaped like the flowers of C. Moorei, and have the same vanilla fragrance. The plant is very large. Virginia Lee is a small crinum with flowers like those of C. Moorei, but paler.

Some of the most delightful crinums are those found in gardens. The late summer and fall blooming Milk-and-Wine Lily of the dooryards of eastern North Carolina is one of the best of all crinums. From a garden in Atlanta I brought home a very delicate and lovely one, pure white with pink filaments and a delicious and characteristic fragrance - something of vanilla and something of lemon. There are six flowers to the slender short scape. They open at night, and last through the next day. This one multiplies very fast, and blooms at intervals from the end of May to the end of October. From my great-aunt Rosalie's garden on Saint Simon's Island I brought the crinum - common in South Georgia - with fringe-like bunches of small white flowers on tall thick scapes, but this one did not live.

Crinodonna Howardii (Amarcrinum Howardii) seems to be as satisfactory in the garden as the crinums, and has come through two winters during which the lowest temperature was ten degrees above zero. It blooms in August and September. The delicate pink flowers are much like those of its parent Brunsvigia rosea (syn. Callicore rosea).(2)

The season for crinums is a very long one. From April to October there are few days when no crinum is in bloom in my garden. C. bulbispermum (Syn. C. longifolium) often begins to bloom in April, and our Milk-and-Wine Lily sometimes sends up a scape or two in November. The White Queen follows C. bulbispermum and C. Kirkii. C. Kunthianum and the white Powellii bloom in June and July. The last three are the most profuse bloomers, with twenty or more blooms to a clump, but the scapes come all at once. However each has repeated, on occasion, in the late summer or fall. Cecil Houdyshel sends up two or three scapes each summer month, and the Milk-and-Wine Lily and C. americanum begin to bloom before its flowering is over.

Lycoris and Nerine. Except for the Hurricane Lily, the species of Lycoris that I have grown have lived and bloomed, and bloomed regularly and freely. The only difficulty is that so few species are available. I long for L. sanguinea, L. Sprengeri which Colonel Grey says should be about as hardy as L. squamigera), and the white form of L. radiata. Colonel Grey describes L. aurea as perhaps the least hardy member of the genus. With me the bulbs are hardy, but the foliage is made in the fall and is injured by the cold. The bulbs live on indefinitely, but there is no bloom.

Lycoris radiata is a dooryard flower in the eastern part of North Carolina, and though it is not generally considered hardy in the mountains, I had a report last fall of bloom in Asheville. Long ago I sent bulbs to Mrs. Wilson in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, and she wrote me that they died. Years later she went out one day in September and found them in bloom.

Bulbs which I had from Mr. Hayward as L. squamigera var. purpurea, from Mr. Houdyshel as L. incarnata, and from Dreer (I think it was Dreer) years ago as Lycoris squamigera itself, bloom well most seasons, and give increase. The flowers, to me, are the most delicate and lovely of all the amaryllids. They do not resemble the description which Colonel Grey quotes from the Gartenwalt of 1906, of "purple and carmine segments to Prussian-Blue at the tips," but are white with a wine-colored keel. The leaves appear at the end of January, a week later than those of the typical L. squamigera. When they come up they are edged with bright red.

Though I have tried a number of species over a period of years, no Nerine has ever bloomed for me. Once I thought one was going to, when a bulb sent from California as Nerine undulata produced a scape. As the days passed the opening flowers looked suspiciously like Lycoris radiata, and when in bloom proved to be a form of it.

That the nerines do not bloom here saddens but does not surprise me. In the first volume of Herbertia, the Honorable Henry McLaren writes of growing them out of doors in England, "They want to grow in winter and rest in summer, and the climate forbids this." Our climate forbids it too, and I have found it forbidding to other amarylids from South Africa, and to South African plants in general. In a well-drained position in full sun, N. Bowdeni, N. coruscans, and N. rosea crispa (the last two, varieties of N. sarniensis according to Colonel Grey) have persisted for a number of years without bloom. Mr. Hayward sent me a fine bulb of N. curvifolia var. Fothergilli which, after a late summer planting, produced leaves in November but has made no sign of life since. N. filifolia refuses to grow too, though I have tried it more than once, and in different soils and exposures.

Brunsvigia rosea. Another Cape bulb that wants to grow in the winter and rest in the summer, and so does not accomodate (sic) itself to North Carolina, is the delightful pink lily that we used to call Amaryllis belladonna (Ait. et Herb. non Linn.) more recently Calicore rosea, but is now known as Brunsvigia rosea. It has bloomed in the garden only once though it has been tried a number of times. The bloom appeared in August from a bulb that had been planted in November. I have also tried the varieties major and minor and rosea and Parkeri. All persist. None bloom.

Amaryllis. The Barbados Lily, which we now know to be Amaryllis belladonna Linn., but which I planted as Hippeastrum equestre, fares no better. I think the bulbs Mr. Hayward sent me have finally disappeared, though they survived several winters. Amaryllis rutilum var. fulgidum behaved in the same way. And A. Johnsonii, though it grew and flowered in old gardens in these parts, has always been a shy bloomer with me, if it bloomed at all.

One amaryllis which does flourish here is the little Ox-blood Lily, A. advena [now known as Rhodophiala bifida - Ed.]. It multiplies steadily and blooms profusely. The number of sharp-pointed buds that push up out of the ground from late August to late October is unbelievable. his lily seems to grow in any soil or situation, but it responds especially to barnyard manure.

Hymenocallis and Pancratium. There are reports of Hymenocallis hardy as far north as Pennsylvania, and they should certainly be grown in the Middle South. The difficulty is in the confusion of the names. Even when you find one that grows and blooms, you cannot be sure what it is.

Two species are native to North Carolina. I do not know how the small, spring-blooming H. rotata of the coastal plain behaves in cultivation. I saw the flower at a country flower show early in May. A farmer's wife brought it in, either from her garden or from the woods. The summer-blooming H. occidentalis, from the mountains, grows in a damp part of the garden, and blooms at the end of August.

H. galvestonensis the Gulf Coast Spider-Lily, is reported as failing to flower in cultivation, and I was about to confirm this report when I went out in the garden to cut iris, and found the long bud of the Spider-Lily almost ready to open. It opened on the sixth day of May, which is the earliest bloom on my records for hymenocallis. The wide flat cup and the narrow petals of the flower are very similar to those of H. occidentalis. The bulb had come from Mr. Houdyshel three years ago, and had been planted in full sun in poor but well-drained soil.

Spider-Lilies like crinums should b sought in gardens. Recently I found two delightful late summer hymenocallis in cultivation. Both were similar in general appearance to our summer-flowering native, H. occidentalis, but there were differences in length of tube, segments and cup. Last September Mrs. McMillan brought the flowers and leaves of one of these from an old garden in the southern part of the state. The other came from Atlanta and bloomed with me in July.

My sister came across another summer-flowering hymenocallis in a garden in Alexandria, Louisiana. "Mrs. Peters has the most beautiful white flower that looks as if it belongs to that family you talk about so much," she wrote in August. When she came home this year in June she brought me two of the bulbs. One of them bloomed after dark on July the sixteenth, and it seemed to me as I looked at it in the moon light, more beautiful than any hymenocallis I had seen. The perfectly proportioned flowers seem larger than those of any other native species, though they are not very much so by measurement. The delicately fluted cup is an inch and a quarter deep, the drooping segments, incurved and revolute at the tips, are three and a half inches long, and the greenish tube is three inches long. There are five pleasantly but not heavily scented flowers to an umbel. They are of good substance and withstand the heat of the day better than most. One leaf came up with the stout glaucous scape.

When I wrote Mrs. Dormon, who lives in Shreveport, about Mrs. Peters' Spider-Lily, she said that she thought it must be the same as an unidentified native species she had in her garden, and which she designates as "fall-blooming" to distinguish it from another native that blooms in the spring. I put two of the bulbs that she sent me in the ground at once, and wintered a third in a pot. One of those left outside put up one weak leaf late in the spring, but it soon died away. However, Mrs. Henry says she has found this Spider-Lily to be hardy in Pennsylvania. "I have grown Hymenocallis here for some years and enjoy them immensely," she wrote Mrs. Dormon. "I have them growing on a southern slope - in fact, the warmest spot on my place - and give them no protection whatever in winter. You sent me two kinds several years ago - one marked 'spring blooming' and one marked 'fall blooming.' Only one of these has bloomed so far, and it blooms in August. The leaves are a glaucous bluish. It is a tall vigorous species and very beautiful."

Some of the exotic Hymenocallis species are hardy in North Carolina. One sent to me labelled "Pancratium maritimum" bloomed several successive years in late May or early June, occasionally repeating. I moved it to a damp shady place and it has not bloomed again, though it always makes a good clump of dark green foliage. The leaves are narrow and strap-shaped, and come before the flowers. The flowers are four to an umbel with very narrow segments, shallow cups, and very long green tubes. This Hymenocallis is similar to a narrow-leaved species which came from Mr. Houdyshel as a "Dwarf Spider Lily." It bloomed once in June, sending up a single scape, and did not bloom again for four years though it increased and produced shining foliage each spring. Then this year, the first of July, it suddenly bloomed again. Their erratic blooming habits are the only drawback I can discover to the use of spider-lilies in the garden.

Mr. Houdyshel's "Tropical Spider Lily" lived through three winters and bloomed two summers (in June and July), and then failed to come through when the thermometer dropped to six degrees above zero during the January that the weather bureau said was the coldest on record. I am trying it again, for the flowers are the most beautiful of any species that I have grown. There are twelve to an umbel, and they are very large and fragrant. The beautiful wide dark green leaves are like those of the ismene, and like them come up late in the spring and last until heavy frost. They are extremely decorative.

Ismene calathina is hardy out of doors in North Carolina, and blooms, but not well, for several years if left in the ground. However, it is not really satisfactory unless the bulbs are dug each year. The hybrid, 'Sulphur Queen,' is a better garden subject because the bulbs do not split up. I have wanted very much to try out the newer Ismene hybrids but they have been expensive. Now that the prices have come down, I have got 'Advance.' I put it in the most protected sp[ot in the garden, atthe foot of a low wall facing south. If it succeeds, I shall try the others.

The bulb in the trade as Hymenocallis caribaea has not proved hardy here after many trials, though it is said to be hardy to North Carolina and perhaps even farther north. It may be that deeper planting would have got results.

In North Carolina the sea-daffodil Pancratium maritimum survives in well-drained soil, but I have had bloom only once, though I have planted it many times. The bloom was from a spring-planted bulb, but even with spring planting it is not certain to flower. Since it is so very beautiful and the bulbs cost so little, I am still trying to prove it a satisfactory garden subject.