From the Sperry Gardens


The first time that I saw this grand little bulb bloom, it was in front of a house on the highway we take into McKinney. I was motoring along, and I caught a glimpse of a dazzling little planting that was flowering its heart out. Yet that house had been empty for years – in fact, it was moved several miles just a year or two later. To the property that sits next to ours! Small world!

But the sad part was that the new homeowners didn’t bring the bulbs with them. The new airport runway went down right on top of where the bulbs had bloomed just a few months earlier. So those great little flowers that had flowered faithfully fall-after-fall were suddenly dealt a blow that even they couldn’t overcome.

Jump ahead by 10 or 15 years, and I was driving past another house in an old part of McKinney. There was my buddy – this wonderful little bulb. I took more photographs, and I came home to do my research. I found it in one of my friend Bill Welch’s books – Rhodofiala bifida, the oxblood lily (also called “schoolhouse lily” because it blooms about the time schools reopen for fall).

I never saw it offered in nurseries, and I couldn’t find anyone I could ask for a few bulbs. Finally one May, as I was buying daylilies from a grower’s backyard nursery, I saw the plant’s familiar foliage. He dug me a clump, and I reset them into a place in my landscape that I thought would become my prime gardening property in spite of its distance from our house. They thrived, but I never really developed that part of our rural acres. (I wore out.) But in spite of the fact that I gave up my plans to brighten that corner, they certainly did not. They’re out there blooming in total neglect as I type.

Two years ago I did a quick search on eBay, and there it was on auction, for sale “buy it now.” A lady in California sold me 100 bulbs, and this is the year I’ve begun to be rewarded. They’re blooming at their full height of 10 to 12 inches, and they’ll continue for a couple of weeks – until some other wonderful perennial kicks in. I love this bulb!

I just did a quick web search, and I do find the plant listed for sale from several sources. I’d suggest you try each of the three names as your search terms: Rhodofiala bifida, oxblood lily and schoolhouse lily. Best time to plant them? Probably next May. But I bought and planted mine 24 months ago, and they’ve done quite well.

I hope you can find them and that you enjoy them as much as I have.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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