SPECK­LED stun­ner!

Don’t judge this flower by its del­i­cate ap­pear­ance – it’s much tougher than it looks.

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By Pho­tographs Toad lilies (Tri­cyr­tis hirta and T. for­mosana) closely re­sem­ble or­chids with their ex­quis­ite, ex­otic-look­ing flow­ers but don’t be fooled by their dainty ap­pear­ance. They are hardy plants that oc­cur nat­u­rally in Asia, in­clud­ing the wood­lands of the Philip­pines, Ja­pan and the Hi­malayas. Toad lilies bloom from late sum­mer into au­tumn on thin stems car­ried above the fo­liage. Their white or off-white flow­ers are cov­ered with hun­dreds of small dark pur­ple or ma­roon speck­les. These plants are not dif­fi­cult to cul­ti­vate and although the stems grow quite tall, it’s not nec­es­sary to stake them. Toad lilies are per­fect for damp, shady spots in com­post-rich soil. In cooler re­gions, they can cope with morn­ing sun.

It’s im­por­tant that the plant never dries out, but the soil also shouldn’t be soggy – make sure it is kept moist. Sprin­kle a layer of mulch around the roots to re­tain mois­ture and pro­vide the plant with shel­ter from the wind. Cut back the en­tire plant – flower stalks as well as leaves – right down to the ground in late win­ter; it will re­sprout. Toad lilies sel­dom need to be di­vided but if you want to prop­a­gate more plants, di­vide them in spring. The new plants should bear flow­ers the fol­low­ing sum­mer.

Toad lilies make a won­der­ful dis­play in pots in a shady cor­ner. Good com­pan­ion plants in­clude ferns, Helle­borus, Hosta, Plec­tran­thus and Ja­panese anemones.

Botan­i­cal name Com­mon name Shade Plenty of wa­ter Frost-re­sis­tant Peren­nial Grows 60cm to 1m tall Good cut flower Marié Ester­huyse Fran­cois Ober­hol­ster

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