Visitors to the gardens at Chartwell recently cannot have failed to notice that there are three giants lurking in the Winter Border! A trio of Cardiocrinum giganteum plants have all of a sudden begun to flower and the effect is stunning. Not only are they very tall (one of them is well over 7 ft!), the white trumpet flowers are also quite beautiful and smell blooming amazing to boot! In fact, I’m struggling to think of a plant that I’ve nosed recently that smells as good as this to the old olfactory receptors! Mmmmm, vanilla…
I obtained these plants a couple of years ago while I was on a work placement at Wakehurst Place and they very kindly gave me three juvenile potted specimens to bring back to Chartwell for the Winter Border that I was planning at the time. But why are they flowering now if they are in the Winter Border you may ask. Well, gorgeous as they are at the moment, it was for their equally fascinating dinosaur skull-like seed heads that I chose this particular plant, as the picture below that I took whilst visiting Dunham Massey a few years ago goes only goes to show…
Also known as the Giant Himalayan Lily, Cardiocrinums are not surprisingly found in the Lily or Liliaceae family. These bulbous perennials can reach up to 4m in height in their native habitat of the Himalayas, Burma and China. They thrive in part shade which Sir Winston Churchill’s famous wall provides for them here at Chartwell. They are fully hardy and are equally happy in acidic, neutral or alkaline soils, as well sand, clay, chalk or loam. This all sounds well and good but they can be a bit picky if they are either waterlogged or overly baked. No plant is perfect after all!
Cardiocrinum giganteum, the largest of all the lilies, was first described by Nathaniel Wallich in Nepal and then introduced into Britain in the early 1950s. The first recorded flowering example in the UK was logged in Edinburgh in July 1852. The first time they were displayed to the public fully in bloom however was in the following year by those collected by the great plant hunter Thomas Lobb.
Cardiocrinums are monocarpic which means they die after flowering. Don’t despair though because they leave a number of bulbous offsets behind which can be separated and replanted to flower further down the line. One of the drawbacks of this plant is that it takes about seven years to flower from seed. The bulbs that I was given were supposed to be three or four years old which means that ours are perhaps a little ahead of the game but obviously we aren’t complaining! Even the offsets that dying plants produce will take a few years to reach flowering maturity. The RHS has awarded Cardiocrinum giganteum an AGM (Award of Garden Merit) but rates it as needing ‘experienced skill level’ to grow. The patience and effort required however is rewarded by the 20 or more large, sweetly scented flowers that are produced from each individual bulb. The feeling of pride that I had as they rapidly grew this year is also hard to beat, especially as after last year’s torrential downpours my three plants looked like they might actually be about to give up the ghost!
The etymological root of the binomial Genus name Cardiocrinum comes from the Greek kardia meaning ‘heart’ and krinon meaning ‘White Lilly’. We are left with the name meaning the White Lilly with heart shaped leaves. The species name giganteum is from the Latin meaning ‘like that of the Giants’.
I may have spent the majority of this blog waxing lyrical about my new favourite plant at Chartwell, but it’s not all plain sailing however. Although great for attracting pollinating insects, being part of the Lily family, our Cardiocrinums have also been popular with the pesky Lily Beetle as the pictures below will unfortunately testify. More information on these little blighters can be found throuhg the RHS website by clicking here.
I know I probably say this sort of thing a lot, but the next time you are visiting us here at Chartwell, make sure you check out our Giant Himalayan Lilies. They won’t be in flower forever and it might be a few years before we see any more or their blooms in our border!