Sunday, August 5, 2007

Easy-care rain lilies love season's showers

(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel August 5, 2007)

There are four flowers that speak to me more than any others. Just looking at them makes me smile.They are the daisy, sunflower, daffodil and rain lily.

A simple glance in their direction triggers these silent but salient missives: "Sunshine." "Happiness." And, "Don't worry."

These four flowers practically radiate cheerfulness and hope.

You are probably familiar with three of them. I'd like to introduce you to the fourth.

The daisy, sunflower and daffodil are as ubiquitous in the landscape as they are legendary. All but daffodils thrive in Central Florida's semitropical climate.

But it is the lesser-known rain lily that truly deserves attention. This modest flower is a horticultural marvel. It is easy to grow, attractive and unassuming. It is a floral emissary to optimism, an outlook on life I consider essential.

Like daffodils, rain lilies are bulbs that, once planted, need very little attention. They aren't picky about soil preparation, are fairly pest-free (although lubber grasshoppers like to chomp on them) and multiply like crazy.

Because they are such prodigious propagators, they work well naturalized in lawns. They also look lovely when large clumps are clustered together in garden beds or planters.

If you pass by an older house built in pre-subdivision days, you might see some of these perky bloomers dotting the front lawn. They are especially noticeable after a recent downpour. Rain lily's name comes from the fact that the blossoms appear soon after raindrops disappear.

This characteristic makes them natural harbingers of hope and happiness. By appearing when they do, it's as if the flowers express what everyone is thinking, "The drought is over! Our thirst has been quenched. There's reason to rejoice!"

It's an awe-inspiring sight to see a front lawn spotted with cheery blooms in the aftermath of a storm cloud.

The pale pink, white or more rare peach-colored flower heads sit atop slender green stalks. This is a simple flower. No frilly foliage or intricate blossom. Just a solitary stem supporting one single-hued bloom with six petals. The blossom itself is shaped like a funnel that has been slit and flared at the edges. Some say it looks similar to an amaryllis, although smaller and less showy.

What I especially like about rain lily blooms is their lack of pretentiousness. This is a flower for the masses, not some fancy cultivar demanding hours of attention and care.

The formula for success with rain lilies is as simple as the bloom itself: Purchase some bulbs from a catalog, garden center or (better yet) get some divisions from a friend, then place them in the ground.

That's it.

You don't need to fertilize repeatedly or fret about how deep to dig them in or what kind of soil to use. Shade or sun? It doesn't matter. A sunny spot is slightly better, but this flower isn't fussy. It will successfully bear its blossoms year after year in shade as well as sun.

Stick some in a container or window box. Mix them with other plants. Let your imagination run wild. Although rain lilies are domesticated plants, quite a bit of the wildflower remains with them.

Understand beforehand, this is one plant that doesn't need you as much as you need it. Once planted, rain lilies will do quite well on their own, thankyouverymuch. They can be dug in, then forgotten, remembered only after a rainfall when they pop up to say, "Hello again, it's me!"

After an unusually long dry period here in Central Florida, we've finally entered into summer storm season.

For a while there, I was beginning to wonder if climate change had altered our storm patterns forever. The lake levels had gotten so low. The ground has been dusty-dry.

It's a relief to see the sky darken in the afternoon knowing that regular weather cycles have returned and a downpour can be expected sometime each day. I stay inside when it rains, reading a good book or working at my desk, the tattoo of raindrops on the metal roof a steady reminder that the world's back in balance.

Should my mind wander to more gloomy forecasts of climatic doom and disaster, I need only look to the rain lilies for a gentle reminder that everything has its season. Bad times are always followed by good, dry times by wet.

"Everything is going to be all right," my flowers seem to say as they stretch upward on sturdy stems, their cheery faces still moist with raindrops. "Take a deep breath. Relax. If we can smile in the aftermath of storms, so can you."

And you can, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment