Name: Triplet lily is also known by the common name of grass nut, wild hyacinth, Ithuriel’s spear, mountain lily and pretty face. Very often, having so many common names, is an indication of an attractive plant. The triplet name indicates there are three petals on each flower, where in fact there are six – but there are three inner petals and three outer petals.

The grass nut refers to the nut-like corms that are about the size of a hazelnut. The name wild hyacinth is an obvious linkage to the true hyacinths, especially because of the waterblue colour of the flowers. Ithuriel’s spear is a reference to an angel of that name.

Mountain lily is a reference to the habitat in which it is found in its native western United States. Pretty face is simply descriptive, as is cluster lily.

Botanical name: The botanical name of the triplet lily is triteleia, a name derived from the Greek word for triplicate and telios is Greek for perfect.

There are several species, notably triteleia laxa. The word laxus is Latin for lax or loose, which is a reference to the loose, often floppy, open heads of flowers, which can hold up to 20 individual flowers. The other common species is given as triteleia ixioides, a name that means ‘the triplicated, perfect flower that looks like Ixia’. Not only does it not look much like ixia, but ixia is native to South Africa and is a member of the iris family, while triteleia is considered to be a member of the asparagus family.

Family: The triteleia genus has been classified in various ways, including being placed in the similar genus brodiaea but now generally resides within the asparagus family, the asparagaceae. Formerly it was part of the greater lily family, along with notable garden flowers, including lilies, day lilies, hyacinths and bluebells.

Garden value

The triplet lily is a very desirable late spring bulbous flower. The flowers are star-shaped and of a striking deep blue, very like the colour of bluebells. Hybrids and named varieties can vary in colour, offering lighter forms with strong markings of dark blue down the centre of the petals.

The variety shown in the photograph is called ‘Rudy,’ with blue markings and brownish colouring of the buds.

Triplet lily corms.

The flowers are carried in loose clusters, quite like the flower heads of agapanthus, but the heads are looser and have a tendency to fall forward, which does not take away from their beauty. Each flower opens from a brownish bud, a feature that gives the flowers a longer flowering period. This also makes the flowers very suitable for cutting for indoor use, as they last well in water.

The leaves are long and narrow, again quite like small versions of agapanthus. Although flowering can start in late March, it can last into early summer.

The leaves are still present if it is the case that flowers are produced in spring, but they have usually withered by the time late flowers are produced. With its somewhat floppy habits, the height of the plant, its flowers and leaves can vary but is usually around 20cm to 30cm.

Growing Triteleia

The triplet lily is easy to grow but does require particular conditions. Being native to western North America, it needs summer heat and good drainage. It can be grown in a rock garden, or a scree bed, where it’s colouring goes well with gravel or rock.

The small corms are planted like other spring bulbs in autumn and are kept free of weeds and competing garden plants.

Given good drainage and a warm summer to ripen the corms, it is practically frost-proof. However, in a very frost-prone locality, it can be grown in pots in a greenhouse.

Thinning vegetables

While some vegetables are sown at their final spacing, many kinds have to be thinned out when they have made some growth. For example, broad beans, French beans, garlic, peas, onion sets, shallots and potatoes are planted at their correct final spacing. All of these have large seeds. Other kinds – eg carrots, parsnips, lettuce, pak choi, summer turnips, radish, beetroot, Swiss chard, bulb fennel and Swede turnips – that have small seeds are initially sown a little more densely to ensure a filled row of seedlings and are then thinned to their final spacing. These are generally root vegetables which do not tolerate root disturbance well. Weed seedlings should be removed at the same time.

For those vegetables that need thinning, this should be done in two phases about a fortnight apart. The first thinning reduces the numbers of seedlings to allow the remainder to develop. This should be carried out when the seedlings are showing their first true leaf, which is the leaf that develops between the two seed-leaves. The second thinning should leave the thinning-needing kinds at their appropriate final spacing, which is given on the packet for each variety.

Lettuce seedlings sown in the seedbed,showing one true leaf and ready for first thinning to 5 to 8cm apart

Vegetable seedlings raised under cover will be spaced in the cell trays or small pots in which they are sown and, when they are set out, can be planted at final spacing. For instance, pumpkin plants, raised in pots close together, could be 1.5 metres apart when planted out. This group includes sweetcorn, courgettes, butternut squash, pumpkins and runner beans.

Some crops, such as cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, green broccoli, sprouting broccoli and leeks, are raised in a seedbed outdoors. These are sown more thickly than they would be if raised under cover in cell trays or pots. Germinated in a seedbed, the excess seedlings are removed by thinning to allow room for the remainder to develop. For instance, cabbage seedlings might be thinned in one or two thinnings to be 10 cm apart and develop into strong seedlings for transplanting to final spacing of 40 to 60 cm.

This week

Fruit, vegetables and herbs

With a dry February and a wet March we’ve had some very mixed weather. As soon as the weather and soil conditions permit, the sowing of most kinds of vegetables should go ahead. Herbs can be planted from pots, but sowing of herb seeds can wait for a few weeks.

Trees, shrubs and roses

Roses should be pruned, if not already done. Bud-burst has been late this spring because of low temperatures, along with both dry and wet weather. So it is now really too late for bare-root planting of deciduous trees or moving deciduous trees or shrubs. At this time, plant only trees and shrubs from pots.


Plant perennial flowers and continue dividing over-grown plants or those in need of controlling width. Tidy up between flowers and remove flower stalks that are now beginning to disintegrate. Seeds of summer bedding can be sown for the fast developers such as nicotiana and cosmos.

Greenhouse and house plants

The greenhouse plants are in active growth and all plants should be fed and watered, with the only exceptions being those that are still a bit slow to get started. Check for pests. If strawberries in a tunnel are in flower, shake the plants each day to pollinate them.


The lawn should have been mowed a few times already. Many lawns took on a brownish or purplish look, some went yellow too, especially on wet ground. Apply some lawn fertiliser or poultry manure pellets to get grass moving again. Bacteria-based moss killer can be applied, if required.

Read more

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Spring forward: time to sow main crop vegetables and look at laurustinus