The Toad Lily in the Living Room

We just put the finishing touches on Horticulture‘s September/October issue and shipped it off to the printing press. The final week always feels a bit like a very long labor, as there are always loose ends that need to be tied off, missing bits to hunt down, all the captions to hammer into place and this and that to second-guess. One photo in particular made me lose some sleep.

You know that expression “the elephant in the living room”—the thing that everyone notices but no one will bring up? Well I thought of this expression as I worked on a feature about toad lilies (Tricyrtis spp.). It’s a great piece, written by Caleb Melchior. As is often the case, we sought photos from freelance garden photographers.

We try to show an image of each species or cultivar that’s mentioned in a plant-focused article, though with newer varieties it isn’t always possible. We also try to show at least one shot with the plant in a garden, so you can get a sense of its overall size, the size of its flowers and just basically how it works with other plants.

(I’m sure you can find examples in past issues where we did not include such a “setting” photo, but it is a goal of mine to try to always include one, and our fabulous art director, Joan, also a gardener, feels the same. We are trying!)

So as Joan and I looked at photo submissions for the toad lily story, we found only one pulled-back image of toad lilies within a garden. Given the gorgeous patterning of these perennials’ flowers, the rest of the photos were close-ups.

Our garden option is overall a nice picture and a great representation of the plant’s size and possible use. It shows several toad lilies, blooming, along the edge of a slightly shaded border, right next to a path.

The only problem is the rather raggedy and brown-tipped condition of their leaves!

So, our dilemma. Do we run the image, skip it or try to clean up the leaves with Photoshop? The last option was automatically ruled out! In the end we decided to run the image. I took the opportunity to mention in the caption that although toad lilies can be somewhat “drought tolerant once established” (or D-TOE, as I like to say!), without regular watering their foliage can brown at the edges.

So now we sit back and wait. Will we get letters pointing out the “toad lily in the living room”—the imperfect (but real) garden image in Horticulture? Or will readers overlook the yucky leaves and appreciate the overall shot?

What do you think? Let us know your thoughts!

Shown: Tricyrtis ‘Sinonome’. Image attribution (Note: This is not the image in question.)

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12 thoughts on “The Toad Lily in the Living Room

  1. Hmm Meg, interesting that my piece provoked this discussion. It’s always a challenge to find the balance between something new and interesting while keeping the discussion accessible for gardeners. With my focus on design, I really appreciate that you’re showing the whole plant. It’s not just about the flowers – the plant is going to be there, warts and all.

  2. Here in eastern NC I never have a problem with blooms, but always have ratty looking foilage by August. I have tried to keep up with watering, but with less than an inch of rain a month and over 90 almost every day, it is almost impossible. Automatic watering systems, which we have, don’t deliver enough water unless watering way more than I can afford. Well failed twice so use city water. I am just slowly moving water needing plants closer together and more d-tol everywhere else.

  3. Just a comment on Toad Lily in general. Here in zone 4-5 Wisconsin I grow mine in a pot and bring it into the house for the winter. I bring it inside when the first frost threatens. It only begins to put buds on after I have brought it inside. This is the only way that I am able to enjoy the wonderfully delicate flowers. Over the winter it goes completely dormant and I give it an occasional bit of water during the winter – just enough to keep it from drying out excessively. In the spring when it begins to sprout again I increase my watering and move it outside when I consider it to be warm enough and completely safe from frost.

  4. I was happy to know other people had brown leaves on their Toad Lillies as I found on mine. No blooms but brown leaves. Here in North Carolina the weather has been in the 100’s for much of the past two months and it has taken a toll on my garden. The picture will be fine, I’m sure.

  5. Most landscape designers use design tricks to hide poor views in the garden. They will use points of interest to take you eyes off the “bad” image. I believe the focus on the bloom takes away from the leaves. I wouldn’t have even noticed if you hadn’t pointed it out.

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