My Newest Love-Tricyrtis ‘Empress’

It started with a coupon from a nearby nursery that was burning a hole in my pocketbook. or pocketpurse as daughter Chickenpoet used to call it when she was quite young.

It was lust at first sight. This particular plant had never been grown in any of the Fairegarden incarnations for some reason. It may be that something negative was read or heard about it. Seeds everywhere, can’t get rid of it, something along those lines.

It was never seen on offer for sale anywhere locally, where one could get a close and first hand look at it. Pictures in catalogs, blogs or magazine articles did not light the fire of my desire. Which is unusual in itself.

So there we were, searching for something to buy. This garden is mostly sunny and the shade loving plants at this establishment are usually passed by in favor of the more splashy and colorful sun lovers. But it is late in the season and the selections had been well picked over already.

Then, there they were, with the flowers right at eye level, Tricyrtis ‘Empress’. The blooms were gorgeous and the plants had plentiful buds promising a good extended show. The leaves were sort of ratty, but that could be overlooked. Sometimes it is hard to keep things looking good in pots. One pot jumped into the cart and onto the checkout, homeward bound and into the garden, beside the pond with some ferns and black mondo grass. That was September 10th.

Rainfall has been decent since that initial planting and several buds have produced healthy looking blooms. The plant seems to have settled in well. Two weeks later, with another red hot coupon needing spent, two more plants begged to come home with me. I obliged.

Now there are three, planted closely together in the same area that has grown more shady as the pink dogwood above has grown larger. It might just work. I cannot offer first hand experience yet, the Tricyrtis need several years to be observed and analyzed. We did see some other toad lilies, the common name that does not hold any appeal for me, maybe why we never bought them before, at a farmer’s market recently. The flowers were pinkish and much smaller. I looked at them, but left them sitting on the table. They did not call my name. It is Tricyrtis ‘Empress’, said to be a hybrid of Tricyrtis formosana, that holds my heart, with her large, open flowers of good substance on arching stems.

Some plant facts:

*Hardy in USDA zones 5-9
*Height and width is 2 1/2 x 2 1/2
*Shade to part shade
*Moist but well-drained slightly acidic soil
*Will colonize
*Blooms in late summer to fall

Perhaps this is the beginning of a long love affair with Tricyrtis, perhaps my admiration will remain loyal only to T. ‘Empress’. Perhaps it will die and leave me lonely. Only time will tell. But it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.*

*From Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam:27, 1850:

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

These lines are a part of In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his beloved friend Arthur Hallam. Tennyson had met Hallam in 1829, when they were both students at Trinity College, Cambridge. Hallam’s sudden death in 1833 threw Tennyson into a tormented and near-suicidal state. In Memoriam was not published until 1850, the same year that Tennyson was chosen poet laureate of England.


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19 Responses to My Newest Love-Tricyrtis ‘Empress’

  1. Very nice indeed, F. H.

    Thanks, Helen.

  2. Les says:

    I wish mine would seed all over the place. It is very well-behaved and has been an extremely long-lived perennial, drought tolerant too. The flowers remind me of miniature orchids, but it will be a few weeks before they appear, as mine are in deep shade.

    Hi Les, thanks for adding that. It looks like the parent, T. formosana is a colonizer. T. hirta, what many cultivars seem to be may be less so? I am hoping for thuggish tendencies, those are survival requirements in my dry garden.

  3. Retta says:

    I just bought two of these beauties myself and planted them yesterday. My first of the toad lilies. My love affair is just beginning as well!

    Hi Retta, good luck with your new love!

  4. Gail says:

    Frances, What Les said! I do wish the Empress would seed all over! She has however managed to survive this summer with very little care and that’s pretty cool for a plant that prefers moisture. Also, she is growing in my nearly neutral soil, but blooms every year. Congrats on your new love~May the affair last a long time! xoxogail ps MIne hasn’t bloomed yet.

    Hi Gail, thanks for adding your experience. Any plant that survive our crazy climate and soil deserves our love! It will be interesting to see how the bloom time differs after a year in the ground here. It might be later, as well.

  5. joey says:

    How could you resist, Frances! One of my favorites 🙂

    Hi Joey, thanks for visiting. Empress was irresistable!

  6. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I have the Empress in my garden. It has never seeded anyplace…darn it. She is a beauty though and with the drought this year has been bucky about blooming. Since we have had rain though she is setting buds. Hopefullly she will bloom up a storm now. I think you will fall in love with her and want her around for a long time.

    Hi Lisa, thanks for adding in here. I am glad your Empress is budding now. Perhaps these will bloom later once they have been in the ground a year or more. They were blooming at the nursery, or I wouldn’t have been attracted to them.

  7. Yes, you can’t go wrong with a Tricyrtis — I mean, in the sense that it’s super cute. I, too, have had it disappear from my garden, but I’ll try again. And being a word geek, I grew up calling it wallet, and still do!

    Thanks Monica. I am sorry to hear that your Tricyrtis disappeared. I will try to keep a good eye on it. It took me a minute to get your wallet comment, but now I get it! Ha

  8. Did you know that Tricyrtis is my “signature plant,” Frances? I’ve got 12 different ones and they are in their glory right now. Frost comes before mine have a chance to reseed, but they’ve had a stellar year this year. I have a couple that are only in bud just now, which is really late. They’re calling for frost this weekend, but I’m hopeful it will hold off. These are just wonderful gems of the fall shade garden. I’m glad you decided to give them a chance! 🙂

    Hi Kylee, thanks for joining in here. I did not know Tricyrtis was your signature plant, or that there were even 12 different ones available. I will be on the lookout for more.I add to your hopes of frost holding off just yet, so maybe you can get to see some more lovely blooms. It will be interesting to see when these bloom in TN after being in the ground for a year.

  9. Barbarapc says:

    An excellent purchase! And kudos to you, I still don’t think I’ve ever taken a proper photo of them – yours are great. I’ve put several together and am delighted to see that I’ve got a few new ones – doing their own hybridizing when my back was turned. They take a great deal of heat in the summer – although the edges of the leaves brown a bit for me – but once the fall comes, they’re absolutely a treat. Although the flowers aren’t as spectacular, I like Lightning Strike – nice leaf coloration until it begins to perform in the fall.

    Thanks Barbara. I did have to get down into the proper squatting position to shoot them. How exciting about the seeding! I will be on the lookout for Lightning Strike, too.

  10. Wendy says:

    Ohhh lucky lucky you! That is one that has been on my wish list for quite some time now. 🙂 We simply do not have any such wonderful local nurseries here..especially ones that offer coupons! lol Congrats on your new addition! I look forward to seeing how their lives progress there in the fairegarden. 🙂

    Thanks Wendy. This nursery is a good one and seems to have gotten better recently, too, with email newsletters in addition to postcard mailings. Smart business move in this economy. Now I will be on the search for more varieties in my travels for some fun seeding about.

  11. Tracy says:

    I was curious what Tricyrits Empress looked like, i have seen them before, but not this one, and now that i have seen it it is my new favorite too! Thanks for the share and your wonderful blog~

    Hi Tracy, thanks for those kind words and for stopping by. The research claimed that Empress has larger flowers than some of the others and the couple of others I have seen did have tiny little insignificant blooms. My eyes aren’t that great, I like the larger flowers, but beautiful foliage will sway me as well.

  12. Carol says:

    I love toad lilies, oh yes, I do. I hope my re-seed a bit. That would be nice.

    Hi Carol, thanks for stopping by. I hope you have some reseeding, too. I hope to also have a bit of that and will keep an eye out for little ones.

  13. ricki says:

    I have been jilted by Tricyrtis more than once, and just imagine how it feels to be scorned by a toad. I hope yours turns out to be a prince of a fellow.

    I am sorry to hear about your unhappy affair with Tricyrtis, Ricki, it must be quite the heartbreak. I have had some sad experiences with many other genus, or is it geni?

  14. Lyn says:

    How beautiful, Frances – it looks like something tht should be growing on a coral reef! That “acidic soil” statement means I couldn’t grow it here, but I’ll enjoy seeing updates on yours.

    Thanks Lyn. Some of the comments made about growing Tricyrtis are from folks who also do not have acid soil, so you might give it a try if you come across it. I often just don’t tell plants that they aren’t supposed to grow in my soil and they do fine.

  15. Yours are beautiful, mine are laying on the ground right now. I will be moving them at they were crowded out by other plantings. However, they are blooming horizontally!


    Thanks Eileen. I think they will do a lot of horizontal branching, which is fine by me.

  16. Alistair says:

    Stunning pictures of your Tricyrtis Frances, and Kylee says she has twelve different ones wow!

    Thanks Alistair. Kylee must have the perfect conditions for them. I need to check out other cultivars, too.

  17. jack Holloway says:

    Well… In the process of my first response from my BlackBerry phone I don’t know what I was going to say anymore 😉

    Well, thanks for the thought, Jack. HA

  18. Christina says:

    Frances, you picked a wonderful toad lily! Tricyrtis ‘Empress’ seems to be an exceptionally beautiful variety. Sometimes it is just a special variety that speaks to us and not the whole family! I feel the same about roses. Certain roses I have no problem to pass and others I could die for. Good luck with the ‘Empress’ in the long run! Hope it will like your garden and thrive!

    Thanks so much, Christina, you are sweet! Empress does seem to be one of the best varieties, I lucked out with her.

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