There’s something very special about the charming little rain lily (Zephyranthes grandiflora), which makes it a pass-along, or heirloom, in many families. In the recent Old House Gardens Heirloom Bulbs catalog, owner Scott Kunst tells of a Wisconsin family who has had them for more than 100 years
It has been about that long that these tender bulbs have been in the family of Ken and Georgia Hottell of Indianapolis, who are gardeners at the President Benjamin Harrison Home.
Ken Hottell’s grandmother grew them, as did his mother, who shared the bulbs with him more than 40 years ago. “We have given each of our three children a pot of their great-grandmother’s bulbs,” he said.
Last summer, the Hottells, both Marion County Master Gardeners, shared some of the bulbs with me.
Sometimes called fairy lilies, plant several bulbs just below the soil surface in a pot with drainage. Water well. Apply a water-soluble fertilizer according to the label directions.
Native to Central America, rain lilies do best in full sun, but tolerate part shade. With adequate moisture, you’ll have large, star-shaped, slightly fragrant pink flowers on six-inch stems with, thin glossy green foliage, all summer. However, they tolerate long periods of drought, which earns them one of their common names — in nature, the lilies bloom after a rain.
Before a hard freeze in fall, move the pot to the basement or other area where the bulbs will not freeze or be too warm to sprout. Leave the foliage attached so it can ripen, and allow the bulbs to go dormant. In a few weeks, you’ve got a pot of what looks like dead plants. Do not water.
In spring, place the pot in a bright window, water and fertilize. Move the pot outdoors after all danger of frost has past for a summer of blooms, rain or shine.
The University of Minnesota Extension Service’s Storing Tender Bulbs and Bulblike Structures might be helpful, too.