Eremurus envy



Whoever is doing the plantings for this neighborhood traffic circle has their act together. These eremurus (foxtail lilies) are surrounded by fledgling grasses and other perennials. As the season progresses, bright rudbeckia will combine with the grasses.


I had long seen eremurus plantings in suburban yards on my way home from work, but was blown away by them as displayed in this circle. “Gotta get me some of those,” I thought. Well, not so fast. This, below, is about as good as it gets for me, at least this season.


Because after the freakish wonder of receiving—and planting—these bizarre and EXPENSIVE roots, my eremurus were never again to be seen. Oh, sure, a few daylily-type strands of foliage straggled up, and promptly wilted away again.

It’s one thing to be carried away by catalog pictures, but I actually witnessed these, growing in domestic captivity—in the middle of a traffic circle for Pete’s sake. Surely, I said to myself, after telling myself not to call myself Shirley, it can’t be beyond possibility for me to grow such a plant. Apparently it is beyond such a realm. These are the daily disappointments of the ever-hopeful gardener.

Oriental lilies with blooms the size of bowling balls? Possible. Species tulips with twisted, quill-shaped petals? Possible. Shade-producing six-feet-tall elephant ear? Getting there.

But certain plants are not meant for me, and I guess eremurus is one of them. I’m sure all of you have your own lists of unobtainable plants—and I’m equally sure you keep trying!

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Some things may forever remain a mystery, but until you have tried the Eremurus several times in several locations, I don’t think you are allowed to throw in the towel. While you’re trying you can come by my blog to envy my Eremurus. I’ll be posting more pics of them later today. I planted them. They came up and are blooming. Now if they repeat this next year, then I will be more confident.

    The Ixiolirion bulbs you sent me were a total dud. They all came up, looked promising for a spell, never grew any more than poking out of the ground and disappeared when it finally got warm. Everything else I have planted on this hillside of saprolite subsoil has done fine considering. It’s a mystery.

  2. Who hasn’t heard the siren song of Eremurus? I tried twice. Even had flowers from one small patch two years running before they disappeared. I attribute their exit to insufficient drainage, despite considerable efforts to create a spot they’d like. Oh well.

  3. Eremurus work for me. They bloom most years (but not all). I have them planted atop a large, river-rock-covered sand berm in full sun where they receive very little supplemental water. The average ANNUAL rainfall in my garden is under 7 inches per year. Summers are hot and arid, winters are cold and dry, with occasional snow cover. Today the humidity is between 5 and 7%.

    My Eremurus don’t bloom every year–they tend to bloom extremely well one year, less so the next year, then take one to two years off. The flowers, when they appear, emerge just as the foliage starts to brown at the edges.

    Bottom line–unless you live in a Western mountain state, chances are they won’t do well for you.


  4. I spent huge sums on eremurus last spring. They formed spiky circles of leaves, then vanished. And I have well-drained soil. I wasn’t really inclined to try again.

  5. At least you can’t grow something glamorous. The plant that I want but apparently can’t have? Cleome. Yes, stupid blowsy annual resows-like-mad-everywhere-but-my-gardens, cleome.

  6. Planted once in what I thought were ideal conditions…they bloomed then promptly disappeared. Hey, MaryContrary…I can’t grow Cleome either!

  7. My siren plant is Verbena bonariensis. The first time I grew it from seed, it was as easy as tomatoes. Then three years running, nothing. It’s not common, so impossible to find as plants. This year, success! Was it the heat mat and careful watering? Who knows. P. Allen Smith noted smugly that it self-seeds in his garden and he just loves it! (I was recently, unfortunately introduced to him. But that’s subject for another post.)

  8. I’m with MaryContrary. Mine is bugleweed of all things. Borderline invasive, grows everywhere, the solution for those difficult “I can’t get anything to grow here” areas, prune it with a lawnmower bugleweed. Can’t keep the stuff alive. It’s very humbling.

  9. The plant I long for is Crocosmos “Lucifer”.I saw that as a mature giant clump.Cant grow it,stopped trying,still green with envy when I see the one that started it all.I have a huge variety of plants in my Garden,not that one.Maybe I need to keep trying too.

  10. “…after telling myself not to call myself Shirley…” LOL, could you be referring to “Airplane,” one of my my favorite slapstick, stupid, pun-y comedies?

    I bought 3 Eremurus a few years ago at the Seattle flower show. I really shouldn’t have; they were expensive and the bed that suited them best was a long way from being ready for planting. I planted them in very large plastic pots. One has died, 2 have lived, 1 bloomed this year – glorious! The bed is finally ready for planting but I can’t figure out what to pair them with. So, in pots they sit until I get design inspiration. It’s too hot to plant this weekend anyway (96 today, possibly 100 tomorrow – ugh).

  11. Hi, all. Just discovered Garden Rant — love it, and the comments. Eremurus — bah, humbug! I was given three of them in fall 2006. Planted them with great care and ceremony. They came up and bloomed in 2007. I watched over them carefully, making sure they didn’t get too much water (not difficult, since we were in drought last summer), keeping weeds away, etc. Result — this spring, nothing. Not a single sprout. Never again!

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