Frank N. Barker
By Assistant Education Coordinator
Adjacent to the kitchen yard herb garden at Gunston Hall is a beautiful row of naked ladies. Their appearance is fleeting, but they will surely be here at least a week.
These fragrant blossoms are the flowers of the Amaryllis belladonna. Native to the Western Cape of South Africa, they were probably spread by slave traders and colonialists to other parts of the world. They came to America in the late 18th century, probably coming through Jamaica or the West Indies. It is unknown if George Mason actually had these in his garden, but Thomas Jefferson was sent belladonna lily bulbs by noted nurseryman Bernard M’Mahon in 1812. M’Mahon recommended they be planted in pots of good, rich mellow soil and be kept in the greenhouse.
In South Africa, the plant is known as the March Lily as it blooms in the Southern Hemisphere in March. Elsewhere, it is also known as the Surprise Lily, Resurrection Lily, and Magic Lily.
All these common names describes the plant’s habit of sending up foliage in the spring (around late March or early April here on Mason’s Neck) which dies back and withers away. Then in August, the plant sends up tall spikes which bloom quickly with large, lily-like flowers. They come up so quickly that one can almost watch them grow.
Our Resurrecting-Surprise-Magic-Naked Ladies are planted in a row near the herb garden except for a couple of plants that apparently grew feet and moved over to the herb garden. Right now, they are blooming in all their glory, and unlike much of the flora on the plantation, these plants are deer resistant. In fact, even though they are unrelated to Atropa Belladonna, also called Deadly Nightshade, all parts of this plant are poisonous if ingested.
So come visit Gunston Hall and our row of beautiful naked ladies. But just look and smell. Don’t snack on them.
Loewer, H. Peter. "Jefferson's Garden." Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Aug. 2014.
"Naked Lady." Recent Changes RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Aug. 2014. http://daviswiki.org/naked_lady