Shade Gardening in Fall: Toad-lily

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

'Sinonome' toad-lily

I love toad-lilies and have grown more than a dozen cultivars— some successfully, some not.  For several reasons, my favorite by far is ‘Sinonome’.  If you haven’t already fallen for it after seeing its photo above I will tell you why ‘Sinonome’ is so desirable.

First and foremost ‘Sinonome’ blooms in October and November when almost every other flower is done, and I am waiting for hellebores.  The gracefully arching 3′ stems are loaded from top to bottom with ruby-purple spotted orchid-like flowers.  As a bonus, its deep green, shiny leaves are quite ornamental and appear in early spring, unlike many fall bloomers that take their time coming out of the ground.

‘Sinonome’ is very easy to grow in part to full shade and takes dry conditions.  I have it growing in three places: on a steep slope with high shade, at the base of a London plane tree in dense dry shade, and under an American hornbeam in a full shade bed filled with surface roots.  It thrives in all these locations.  Unfortunately, my deer like it.

toad-lily 'Sinonome' with 'Paul's Glory' hosta

Companion Plants:  My ‘Sinonome’ is planted with hosta cultivars that still look good in late fall, like ‘Paul’s Glory’ in the photo.  I also have it paired with Italian arum, which re-emerges in fall looking fresh and beautiful, maiden hair and other ferns, and hellebores.  It makes a great specimen all on its own, filling the space of a small shrub.

Other Toad-lilies:  If you want to branch out from ‘Sinonome’, try ‘Empress’ with similar flowers but an upright habit.  I also like Tricyrtis ‘White Towers’, a smaller plant with white flowers, and Tricyrtis latifolia, another smaller plant but with yellow spotted flowers.  All these toad-lilies have thrived for many years in my garden while others have died.  I believe that many poorly selected toad-lilies have been introduced; either that or they just don’t like the mid-Atlantic.

Culture:  Aside from part to full shade, all toad-lilies need to thrive is good drainage.  Even though most authorities say they need moist soil, I have never lost a toad-lily to drought, and I never water them—even this past summer (my plants are more loaded down with blooms than ever before).  I have had toad-lilies die from poor drainage though.  As always, they benefit from compost added at planting and from being mulched with ground leaves.


33 Responses to “Shade Gardening in Fall: Toad-lily”

  1. I bought my first toad lilly from you several years ago and have been dividing and spreading it around my yard with great success and enjoyment.

    Another one of my favorite late blooming shade lovers is monkshood (aconitum). I thought this summer had done it in but it is out there looking terribly bedraggled but blooming nevertheless.

    • Thanks, Sally. My toad-lilies were better than ever this year. Monkshood is a plant I keep meaning to try but haven’t. They must be doing really well this fall because several people have mentioned them. Could you recommend a particular species of Aconitum for me to try? Carolyn

  2. Sharon Downs Says:

    Awesome site! I plan to visit often. Especially like the photos that accompany the descriptions. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience:)

  3. Eileen McGan Says:

    I’m so glad you decided to create a blog spot. Your plants are terrific and now I can enjoy some of your wisdom and insights to gardening.

  4. Beth DelConte Says:

    Imagine my delight when I read your blog and discovered that the first post was about a plant I found 2 years ago in the fall and was very curious about since I don’t remember planting it (toad lilies). I plan to read often and thanks for the on-going education!

  5. You go, girl! Congratulations on your launch. The photos are beautiful. If you’d like, I’ll bring my camera on my next visit and try to round out your gallery.

  6. Carolyn, I have a very shady area under Cedar of Lebanon and magnolia and
    an unidentified evergreen; currently there are 5 dwarf oakleaf hydrangeas
    there which are happy. Will the acidity of the pine needles hurt toad-lilies?

    • Deb, great question. Some of my toad-lilies grow right next to a path that I mulch with pine needles 4 or 5 times a season. They are the healthiest toad-lilies on the property, probably for other reasons, but they certainly aren’t hurt by the acidity. Carolyn

  7. Hi, Carolyn–
    Thanks for doing this. I’m excited to get your pearls–or are they petals–of wisdom directly into my inbox. Only one criticism: I like the layout of your blog overall and I get the black background philosophically (shade) and aesthetically (it helps to punch up the plant images, but any extended text in white or a color on black is really hard to read. I haven’t worked with Word Press, so don’t know how difficult it might be to change it–perhaps to a grey with colored and black text?

  8. Thank you for this wonderful blog. We planted toad lilies this year and I love their unique blooms. Until recently I had never even heard of them! I plan on visiting your blog often. My husband and I love adding to our shade garden and are always looking for ideas. Thank you, Carolyn!

    • Thanks, Peggy. Gardeners do not know about a lot of easy and beautiful shade plants, like toad-lilies, because they are not readily available in garden centers, which don’t really pay much attention to shade plants besides standard hostas. One reason I started this blog is to publicize all these wonderful plants and provide more in depth information about them than is possible in my catalogue or during nursery events. Carolyn

  9. I love your blog! So happy to be hearing about all your tips and findings. I have found toadlillies to be so beautiful especially in late october and November and they mine are also very drought resistant and multiply by the dozen – in fact that is their only draw back in my garden. I have way too much of them!
    Looking forward to seeing more posts!

  10. Sangeetha Says:

    What a beautiful idea. Will visit your blog often.

    • Hi Sangeetha. The easiest was to visit often is to subscribe. Then you will receive a reminder with a link whenever there is a post. If you are not interested in the post, just delete the email without even having to check the blog. Carolyn

  11. Donna Campbell Says:

    A very informative site and you did a great job in creating it. I’ve only been attending your sessions the last two years and it has been through you that I’ve learned what a “Hellebore” plant is. And, of course you got me hook on them and my collection keeps expanding. My next expansion will be the “toad lilies”.

    • Hi Donna. You and I are hooked on hellebores (that’s catchy) together. I have hundreds in my garden. A customer was commenting on this the other day, and I thought, “Could that be too many? Never!” Carolyn

  12. Hi Carolyn,,I have lots to learn. Thank you for this blog.

  13. Scottie P. Says:

    Yup! Love the load lilies!! Mine were (and are) awesome this year!

  14. Do the various types of toad lilies vary in their light requirements? I ask because I’ve had several failures with Tricyrtis Hirta in full shade conditions, in spite of beautiful soil and excellent drainage. I spoke with the folks at Chanticleer when I noticed that they were growing theirs in quite a lot of light, and they said that they put theirs in very bright, close to full sun places. I finally had success with them when I put them in very bright high, partial shade with a little direct sun. Since full shade varies in it’s brightness, depending on the canapy, maybe I just have very dark full shade, and I’ve hit their limits?

    • Hi Mary. My experience is that Trycirtis hirta grows very well in dark full shade. I have ‘Sinonome’, which is a T. hirta hybrid, in a narrow space between a London plane tree and a calycanthus with a large hosta on one side and a kousa dogwood on the other. It gets no direct sun. I have T. hirta ‘Miyazaki’ in a small space overhung by a Japanese maple and surrounded on all sides by my house, a stone wall, a dense redbud, and winterberry holly. It gets no direct sun. Both plants are thriving. If you would like more information on toad-lilies, the best source is the Chicago Botanic Garden Plant Evaluation Notes for Tricyrtis. Carolyn

  15. Debbie Lewis Says:

    I’m so excited that you are blogging. I was especially happy to see the toad lillies. I have some in my garden and wasn’t sure what they were. They are blooming beautifully.

    Do you have any suggestions for late blooming shade plants which would be attractive to honeybees?


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