Sometimes I look around my garden and think I must be running an animal preserve. I see hens and chicks, elephant ears, turtleheads, oxeye daisies, chickweed, lamb’s ear, and the most fearsome animal but loveliest flower of all, the leopard lily, an aggressive animal in the jungle but gentle flower in the garden. It’s not a lily at all but a member of the iris family. I have read that it is invasive, that it has established itself in pastures and ditches, that self seeding causes it to sprout everywhere, but in my garden it is a leopard that purrs and behaves itself. Though not a color I sought for the garden, each deep orange bloom with red spots is heavenly in the heat of the summer and the 6-petaled flowers in clusters of orchid-like blooms are irresistible. No one can pass by without admiring them.
Flowers appear in mid-summer in sprays that grow on delicate stems that rise above the iris-like foliage to a height of three feet. Each bloom lasts barely one day but is soon followed by new blooms that shine during the heat of the summer months. After a day, each bloom dries into a tight spiral that is as delectable as the full blooms themselves. We are rewarded again several weeks later during fall when the seed pods split open to reveal a cluster of lustrous black seeds looking like giant blackberries, hence the other name for this plant, the blackberry lily. I have found these can be cut and dried and used successfully in flower arranging.
Interestingly, in the book, Jefferson’s Garden, I read that Thomas Jefferson planted the seeds of this tropical-looking plant in his oval garden in 1807 and today it still self-sows on the property. Somehow I feel a little bit of fulfillment sowing the same seeds and growing the same perennials enjoyed by fellow Virginia gardener, Thomas Jefferson. All three stages of flower development are simply fabulous and I recommend this plant for Virginia gardens and gardeners.
Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester