There is a little patch of ground near the barn where my family lives that harbors a small stand of one of my favorite plants. This particular Lycoris radiate or Red Spider Lily is a “volunteer.” No one knows who planted it but it comes up with annual reliability— all red, showy tendrils and arsenic green stalk. It is a bit of a harlot, as flowers go. I don’t know what really attracts me to the plant, but somehow it makes me smile whenever I see it.
It is a perennial, which means it comes back year after year. Maybe I like its constancy, all my life it has produced a striking red bloom. Maybe I like the idea of volunteer flowers. People fuss so much over their gardens that sometimes it is nice to see nature providing an uncultivated and impromptu performance. Whatever the reason I like Spider Lilies, I was lucky enough to receive a huge bag of their bulbs from David Atkins, an heirloom bulb preservationist and all around man of the world. I have to admit that I left the bag on my back sink after he gave them to me last year, somewhat safe in the knowledge that the bulbs would dry out but that the spark of life and beauty still lived within them.
My mother has shamed me by finally planting the last of her bulb haul from Mr. Atkins so I really could not put the process off much longer. Plus, the Red Spider Lilies were putting out long green shoots, begging for light, soil and water. So, I cleared a spot in my very neglected back yard and planted the lot of them.
It was pleasant work on a cool, early spring day and it distracted me from some of the burdens that had been weighting on my mind. It also seemed appropriate, although I am not a religious man, to honor Ash Wednesday and the close of Mardi Gras with a little planting.
Hopefully, the bulbs will survive and thrive (they did well enough in a plastic bag on my sink). Maybe one day someone will look at the stand of Red Spider Lilies and wonder who planted them and pause to marvel at the regular, predictable cycle of life in which we should all feel fortunate to participate.