Three Jacks and Fifteen Ladies

They’re back, thank goodness: the two most precious plants in my garden, Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) and yellow Lady’s Slippers (Cypripedium parviflorum). I had feared their demise because of our cold winter and their relatively late arrival, but the Jacks look as exotic as ever (though a bit shorter than usual) and the Lady Slippers are back with a vengeance: fifteen whereas last year there were only twelve. The garden is booming right now, despite some chilly nights–the night before last I think it was around 40 degrees. There are fewer bleeding hearts and Solomon’s seals, but those that survived are lovely, and the other ladies (mantle) are as vigorous as ever. I’ve had these slippers for over a decade now, and I’ve never seen any predators around them, but when I went out into the garden late last afternoon to take some more pictures (not quite satisfied with the first batch) there was a squirrel hovering dangerously close to them: he was up to something, I know it! I had the funny feeling that I had seen this scenario before, and I had, in a lovely illustration by the eighteenth-century British naturalist and illustrator Mark Catesby, who paired his yellow lady’s slipper with a black squirrel. My squirrel was the plain old garden variety gray kind, but just for a second, he appeared to be striking a similar pose.

Ladies 1

Ladies 006

Ladies 011

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Ladies 014

Catesby Lady Slipper and Squirrel

Jacks-in-the-Pulpit, Lady’s Slippers, Sweet Cicely, and Bleeding Hearts in my late May garden; page from Mark Catesby’s Natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands: containing the figures of birds, beasts, fishes, serpents, insects, and plants. Second Edition, Vol II. (1754), University of Wisconsin Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture

These late spring plants are so magical I actually develop a temporary tolerance for late Victorian “flower literature”, which I generally find a bit too sweet (and simple). Inspired by their sisters who celebrated “Shakespeare’s flowers” across the pond, a generation of American lady poets wrote odes to American wildflowers, the Jack-in-the-Pulpit and Lady’s Slippers prominently among them. When you’re surrounded by these almost-anthropomorphic plants, you do feel like you’re amidst a kingdom of sorts! Here’s Sarah J. Day on the elfin origins of Lady’s Slippers, from her 1900 collection Mayflowers to Mistletoe: a Year with the Flower Folk: When the fairy Cinderellas/Tripping it before their Queen/Startled by the stroke of Midnight/Fled in haste the moonlit scene/They their gold and broidered slippers/Left behind them on the green/Straightaway then the elfin pages/Sent to clear with care away/Gathering all the scattered slippers/Hang them up in neat array/Just within the shadowed woodland/”Where they grow”, dull mortals say.


7 responses to “Three Jacks and Fifteen Ladies

  • Mythoughts76

    Where did you get your Jack-In-The-Pulpits and lady’s slipper plants? Here in North Eastern Pennsylvania, they grow wild. Our JITPs were also very short stemmed and very few, and yours
    look domesticated or something, Your “Jack” is huge and white instead of dark reddish brown as ours are. Purple Trillium or “Nose Bleeds” as Grandma French called them bloom at the same time.. They also have the 3 leaves as the Jacks do. I have only seen Yellow Lady’s Slippers ONCE in the wild, I’d love to have some here, it grew on the edge of the forest facing a cemetery. We also have Dog Tooth Violets blooming at the same time as the others.

    • daseger

      I bought them–or rather a friend did for me–at a plant auction at Garden in the Woods in Framingham, MA about a decade ago. One plant each. I’ve seen the Jacks in the wild and it looks very similar to mine up here; I’ve never seen the yellow lady’s slippers in the woods, only the pink.

  • markd60

    Very interesting, especially the top one.

  • mcrosby12014

    Hi Donna,

    I started my blog this week!  I am still trying to learn all of the technology options and, I’m sure, will slowly get the hang of it!  You had mentioned some kind of linking with yours.  I’m not sure how all of that works. . . but here’s my link:

    If I can attach yours to mine too, please let me know how I should do that.  I am using, and the host of the site is bluehost.

    Thanks, and take care, Mark

    • daseger

      Great, Mark–I’ll put it on my blogroll asap–and look forward to checking in often: always trying to pursue the beautiful life wherever I am!

  • diannefallon

    Beautiful plants…Interesting variety of the Lady’s Slipper. Your garden is so lush that it looks tropical.

    • daseger

      This time of year it is pretty lush–but by July 4th, quite a bit more dried out. The challenge is to keep it as green as possible without spending/wasting a lot (on) water!

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