Blooming toad lilies (Tricyrtis) call for regular walks along the woodland garden path on pleasant autumn days.

The flowers are tiny but exotic, like tiny orchids. They are mostly white or lavender with purple spots, although there is also a yellow variety. It’s good to plant toad lilies at the front edge of a path so one can view the flowers up close.

I’m always surprised that toad lilies aren’t more widely planted. Not only are the flowers exceptionally pretty, but the plants are among the relatively few perennials that bloom in a shady garden late in the growing season.

Toad lilies grow 2 or 3 feet tall with long, arching stems lined with ladder-like leaves. If you want shorter, fuller plants, you can simply cut them back by half in late spring.

There are several species of toad lilies, all from Asia, with increasingly more hybrids available. Best in full or partial shade, they make good flowering companions for hostas and ferns.

The plants like moist, well-drained soil. A good supply of humus also helps the plants succeed. If the plants are subjected to drought or too much sun, the leaf tips turn brown and look much less attractive. Diseases and pests are not a common problem, although a fungal leaf spot sometimes occurs. To prevent it, allow for good air circulation between plants, avoid overhead watering, and clean up plant debris in autumn.

Unfortunately, toad lilies do not have a winter presence; cut them back to the ground after the first hard freeze.

If the idea of out-of-the-ordinary perennials blooming in your autumn garden appeals to you, here are a few more to consider:

— Arendsii monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii). One of the last perennials to bloom, monkshood’s dark-blue, helmet-shaped blossoms top stately plants that grow 3 to 4 feet tall. The ideal spot is morning sun, with shade in the hot afternoon.

— Bottle gentian (Gentiana andrewsii). Unique blue flowers shaped like little bottles bloom throughout the autumn. A good choice for the rain garden, this 1- to 2-foot-tall native perennial prefers wet or moist soil in sun or partial shade.

— White wood aster (Eurybia divaricata). Asters for a sunny garden are an autumn mainstay. But an aster that blooms in full shade? Special, indeed. I love its white, star-shaped flowers that cover the 18-inch-tall native plants in autumn. The dark-green foliage and dark stems are handsome in all seasons.

— October daphne (Sedum sieboldii). The scalloped blue-green foliage of this uncommon creeping sedum looks good throughout the growing season, but the pink flowers hold off until the end. October daphne is easy to grow in full sun or partial shade.


Write to JAN RIGGENBACH in care of the Journal Star, 1 News Plaza, Peoria IL 61643.