The Weekly Gardener 1

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Like the Lilies of the Field

Lilies

Oriental Lily

These lilies bloom for only a few days at the height of summer, and I often miss their splendid flowers altogether, busy with other things, but not on the day I took these pictures, a day when the morning garden got bathed in a light that looked simply surreal.

That being said, the most common lily varieties are almost as different between themselves as they are from the day lilies and Belladona lilies, and it is important to evaluate your expectations before planting a particular breed.

Asiatic lilies bloom early, are very cold hardy, and have a compact, well behaved growth with upward facing flowers in almost any color imaginable. Their flowers don't last very long, but, just like the daylilies, this lily variety is very prolific. Sadly, the flowers are not fragrant.

The Easter lily is a breed in and of itself. Its familiar long, trumpet shaped flowers dangle gracefully from sturdy stems; its flowers are very fragrant. It won't survive winter in the colder regions, which is why it's mostly grown commercially and, for this reason, more of a florist than a gardener's flower.

The Oriental lilies are the patricians of the garden. Their flowers are very large, upward facing and fragrant. They come in an array of colors and will do well in colder climates.

The Madonna lilies are my favorites. They have the wild, sinewy growth of the wild species and are blessed with the classic lily blooms you see in old fashioned flower prints. The flowers are not very large but they grow in heavy clusters, and are so fragrant that they turn the whole garden into summer heaven. Of course the hybrid varieties have much larger flowers, but they still maintain a lot of the original intense perfume. Their blooms are usually pure white, with their middles stained yellow from the abundant pollen the plant produces. They bloom late in summer and are reasonably cold hardy, although they will not survive extreme winters. If you are blessed to have one in your garden, they are a true prize; not as easy-going as one would think for a wild species.

The beauty in the picture is Triumphator, a hybrid of the Easter and Oriental lilies, and it inherited the better qualities of both parents. It will overwinter in the garden and it is fragrant, but, as I said, doesn't stay in bloom very long.

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The Gift of the Summer Garden

Casablanca Lily

Speaking of Oriental lilies, here is one that graced my garden for several years, and then died off. I'm not sure if it has a rather short lifespan, or if it was a very harsh winter that did them in, but they all disappeared a couple of years ago. I was very sad when they died, because for years, towards the end of summer, I looked forward to their beautiful flowers, whose intense fragrance has hints of vanilla. I finally planted a new lot this fall.

The Casablanca lily, which, despite the fact that it is an Oriental hybrid, has many of the traits of the wild lilies, is a staple for any perennial garden. Its long, slender stems wander or stand tall and upright, depending on their growing conditions, and produce a wealth of white flowers with orange-brown stamens. The flowers are very fragrant.

The problem with lilies in general is that their bulbs are delicious. You have to plant them deep, at least six or seven inches below the surface, otherwise they'll either be squirrel food or freeze during the winter. If they make it through the first year, they usually get well established in their location, and will grow from year to year.

Some gardeners say that lilies have a relatively short blooming life, and their flowers start tapering off after the third or fourth year, after which they don't have a lot to show in the garden anymore. I wouldn't know. Mine died after five or six years, when they were at the peak of their splendor. I can only hope that I gave the new ones the best start possible, so that their lives may expand beyond that range.

If there is any flower that I would regard as a gift from the garden, it would be the lily. You can care for them and give them the best growing conditions, it's really not that hard, they are bulbs after all, they don't need much, but whether they bloom for you or not, that's up to them and mother nature, and I am so very grateful for mine.