When the Goddess Smiles

September 18th, 2010

by Tom Fischer

We all do it: we buy plants that aren’t remotely suited to the conditions in our gardens, plunk them in the ground, and hope for the best. And 99% percent of the time, the results are utterly predictable—yet another slaughter of the innocents. (As the saying goes, if you’re not killing plants, you’re not doing your job.)

But once in a while the fates decide to be gracious, and a plant that by rights should be a collapsing tangle of shriveled stems is instead a model of lusty young planthood, glowing with health and vigor. In such cases, I have found, it doesn’t do to puzzle too much over the reasons for your success. You’ll never figure it out. Simply accept your good fortune and murmur a prayer of thanks to the Goddess Flora, or nature, or to whatever authority you imagine to be in charge of garden affairs.

Lilium primulinum, deigning to bloom in the back garden.

This past summer, I’ve had two unexpected successes, which have pleased me inordinately. The first was Lilium primulinum, a species native to Western China, Myanmar, and Thailand. It bears a close resemblance to another fabled Asian lily, L. nepalense, and reading about them leaves you with the impression that you shouldn’t even attempt them unless you live in the Burmese highlands in conditions of permanent drizzle. But, regardless of what you may have heard, Portland is not Shangri-La, especially in the summer, when our parched soil turns into something resembling concrete. Nevertheless, Lilium primulinum sent up a sturdy, four-foot stalk with eight (eight!) buds. I kept waiting for them to fall off before they opened, but they didn’t. They bloomed. Oh, and did I mention that they gave off a fragrance that would remind an angel of the vales of paradise? No? Well, they did.

The fall-blooming Asiatic gentians, of which Gentiana sino-ornata is but one, are enough to make you weak in the knees.

My other small triumph was Gentiana sino-ornata. I seem to have this thing for gentians, most of which would rather be romping with Heidi in the Alps or consorting with yaks in Tibetan meadows. Summer in Portland? Not so much, especially the late-blooming Asiatic gentians, which want constant moisture, perfect drainage, rich, friable soil, and probably daily tributes of incense and yak butter. Yet even without these desiderata, my two plants have been blooming their little heads off.

Moral: Keep on killing those plants. One of these days, you’ll slip up.

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