Trilliums for the Shade Garden
Story by Ellen Uhler, photos by Shelby Baker
Trilliums are hard to find at local nurseries, and have led to some polite elbowing at native plant sales when they do make an appearance. Also poetically known as toadshades and wakerobins, they are highly desirable flowers for shade, so why can’t you buy them at the local garden shop? The reason is that while they are not particularly difficult to grow, they take years to get big enough to flower - often seven years! Central Coast Wilds propagates trilliums from seed, and this lengthy grow time makes them very expensive in terms of labor (and nursery space). When purchasing trilliums the seller should be able to explain the source of their propagules, and you should be suspect if the plants are cheap. You don’t want to encourage digging from wild populations!
Trilliums are long-lived perennials that spread underground via rhizomes. They start off the season by pushing up an intriguing tube of rolled leaves which unfurl to reveal their namesake three leaves. Each stalk bears one flower which lasts for weeks, sometimes delightfully scented. Older plants can have more than a dozen stalks. As the dry season progresses, the stalks will die back and you can greatly reduce watering them.
Plant trilliums in the shade with ferns, violets, bleedingheart (Dicentra formosa) and heucheras. Under redwoods combine them with Solomon’s seals (Maianthemum racemosum and stellatum), wild ginger (Asarum caudatum), redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana) and Hooker’s fairy bells (Prosartes hookeri). For a backdrop consider the shrubby huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum), wood rose (Rosa gymnocarpa) or snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus).
So when you pull out your credit card, mentally divide the price by seven; that’s what you’ll be paying for each full year of weeding, watering and fertilizing that it took to grow your beautiful new Trillium!