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Credit: Peter Symcox

Mysterious and aloof, Cardiocrinum giganteum (zones 7-9) reaches a height of up to three metres in the woodland garden. There, in dappled sunlight, it bears enormous trumpet-shaped, lily-like flowers. Each heavily scented flower is cream with a maroon blotch at the throat.

Originally found in the temperate regions of Asia – China, Japan and the Himalayas – they are most at home in the cool, moist shade of the forest. So, if you plan to grow such a splendid thing – and it can be a very long time indeed before the bulb will produce flowers for you (anywhere from three to seven years, depending upon the size and age of the bulb) – then plant your treasure in a moist, well-fertilized area of your garden.

Proper preparation of the soil is absolutely essential. Gertrude Jekyll insists on a very deep hole filled with alternating layers of well-tamped-down vegetable matter, followed by sand and good topsoil – up to three or four layers of each – and then, when the bulb is planted, just below the surface of the soil, a good dressing of compost or leaves is added to shield it from unwelcome frost. All this is done in the autumn. As with all lilies, you will not, of course, put manure anywhere near it.

I think it is a comparatively rare plant in this part of the world. I have not grown one myself – how I wish I had – but I have seen one or two in the gardens of friends, and I must say they are indeed something to be sought after. And, I might add, well worth the trouble of waiting for. Someone once said to me, after I had bought a rhododendron, which, I was told, would not flower for the next five or seven years: “It is the best insurance policy you could ever have” – and so I recommend the Cardiocrinum giganteum to you for the same reason!