The difference a day can make | Sowin 'n' the Trowel

By Toni Grove

Recently, one of my neighbors invited me into her gorgeous and well-tended garden to see a special flower in bloom. I happily rushed over, not just because I knew what a treat it would be to visit her garden, but because her offer had an expiration date.

You see, the flower I was going to see was a Tigridia pavonia, whose blooms appear for a single day, opening in the morning, then withering away with the sunset.

Also known as tiger flowers or Mexican shell flowers, they’re members of the iris family, thrive in sun or partial shade, have broad leaves arranged in a fan and emerge from small bulbs.

Their flowers consist of three large petals and three smaller offset petals in a variety of bright shades of red, orange, yellow and white surrounding a central cup dotted with splotches of contrasting color. The three smaller petals often match the pattern in the cup.

It’s sort of like gazing upon a tiny stained glass window on a 12-18-inch stem. And, for me, it gives rise to just about as much awe.

Looking upon this tiny gem, one can’t help but think about other flowers that grace our gardens for equally brief spans of time.

Of course, put the daylily at the top of the list of One Day Wonders. Though each flower only lasts one day, you’ll get several flowers from a single clump of roots over the course of the summer. If your partner knows nothing about daylilies, he or she may not even notice they’re entirely different flowers.

It’s kind of like replacing your kid’s dead goldfish with a live one while they’re at school, isn’t it?

If you want to get more blooms, make sure they’re planted where they’ll get the most sun, don’t make them compete with larger plantings for water, and don’t let those root clumps get too crowded. A reduction in blooms is a sure indication you need to dig ‘em up and divide.

Tradescantia, or spiderwort, is a genus native to the Americas that contains plants that are both loved and hated, depending on where you live and what they’re doing.

Tradescantia fluminensis was a common house plant in my mother’s time and probably still is. Also known as Wandering Jew, it causes untold misery when allowed to take root out of doors. Because of its high tolerance for shade, it can grow into foot thick mats in forests and smother all competing vegetation.

In essence, it is to Florida what yellow archangel is to Western Washington: an escapee that needs to be subdued.

Tradescantia virginiana, on the other hand, is a clump-forming perennial that is often allowed to linger in southern gardens where its seeds have blown in from the wild. It’s also been extensively hybridized, despite the fact its lovely flowers can’t bear the touch of the afternoon sun. It’s a good companion to hostas in a shady or partially shady garden.

I’m hoping that thinking of these flowers may drive home the importance of paying attention to nature and its many miraculous – and sometimes fleeting — gifts of beauty.


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