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Gardening: Lovely lilies

April 20, 2014


Glorious Madonna lilies
Glorious Madonna lilies
Star Gazer lilies
Star Gazer lilies
Day lilies
Day lilies

With lots of Lillium in bloom right now, or coming into bloom very shortly, I’m sure there will be many gardeners wanting to cultivate these glorious flowers next season. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the basic requirements of this gorgeous family of plants so that those without previous experience — along with those having cultivation problems — can be well prepared for next time around.

Imported Lillium bulbs, usually either Lillium Asiatica or Lillium Orientalis, are available in garden supply stores anytime from mid-November through to the end of December. At the same time, if you happen to get lucky, you will find indigenously produced ones being sold at much lower prices than the freshly imported ones. Soon after they have finished flowering or when long-established, over-crowded bulbs are dug up and divided during September/October and put up for sale.

The imported ones, generally of Dutch origin, can be quite costly, e.g. Rs650 upwards. Packed in plastic bags with a handful of peat, they begin to send up shoots in the ‘miniature greenhouse’ created by these enclosed conditions combined with the warm temperatures as compared to the winter cold of Europe. If you do decide to ‘invest’ in these, select only those with small, strong and growing shoots instead of the ones which have already outgrown their strength by zooming up — lanky and tall — in these ‘artificial’ conditions.

Asiatic lily varieties tend to have waxy, re-curved petals — rather like little turbans — with prominent stamens. These can be tracked down in a fairly wide variety of colours ranging from white/cream through to brilliant oranges, darkest reds and they may or may not be perfumed. Height varies from just 12 inches up to a towering 5ft or more depending on the variety, soil health and localised climatic conditions.

Oriental lilies, on the other hand, mainly boast of ‘trumpet’ shaped blooms; they are available in an incredible range of colours and heights with, again, perfumed and non-perfumed varieties to choose from.

Lily bulbs are much softer, slightly ‘scaly’, easily damaged affairs and quite different from, for instance, the ‘hard’ tulip, nargis, hyacinth and other bulbs that the gardeners are used to handling. Lily bulbs must be handled with care so as not to break off any section of the soft scales from the centre of which the growing shoot emerges.

Like our indigenous climbing lily Gloriosa superba — this is just one of a number of indigenous lilies found in the hills and mountains from Islamabad northwards — Oriental and Asiatic lilies thrive in the cool, dappled shade of trees and do best in organic soil that is rich in natural material such as fallen leaves. Whilst enjoying a certain degree of cool humidity, they do, however, prefer to be in a well-drained location because water standing for any length of time, rots the bulbs quite rapidly. Lily bulbs are poisonous and are left alone by most insects but, be warned, birds, beetles and some other ‘bugs’ have a bad habit of munching away on the stunning petals — especially those of perfumed varieties such as the startlingly white Madonna or Easter Lily, as it is known, as well as the outstanding, overpoweringly fragrant petals of Star Gazer Lilies which are dark pink, edged with white and spotted with brown.

Perfumed lilies, by the way, release their fragrance from around sunset and continue to ‘romance’ the darkness until just after the dawn of the following day: Some species of Lilies bloom longer than others but much depends on the intensity of daytime temperatures during their flowering season.

Other types of lilies — ones that are much easier to cultivate and far less costly than those mentioned above — include the following:

Hemerocallis — better known as Day Lilies — are very decorative and easily grown, perennial plants and a magnificent, rainbow hued, colour range of these edible plants is available in the market. Simple to grow either directly in the ground or in large pots — they should be multiplied by root division after flowering when they get overcrowded. Day Lilies provide a wonderful palette of colours to liven up partially shaded areas of gardens and are climatically suitable across the length and breadth of this climatically diverse country. Enjoying humus/organic compost rich soil, requiring regular water yet good drainage, these completely edible — roots, leaves and flowers — plants can be either once or repeat blooming varieties so please make your selection wisely. Some species, the regular orange flowered one being a prime example, can reach four to five feet in height so are back of the border plants. Others are dwarf — perhaps just 12 inches tall — and yet others are of medium height, 18 to 36 inches tall on average. Both single and double flowering varieties are now found too.

Hymenocallis or Spider Lilies are very popular, clump forming, sun or shade loving plants with ‘raggedy’ white flowers. Agapanthus or Football Lilies provide an eye-catching display of large, multi-flowered, heads in blues, white and purples.

Lilies, of all kinds, are perennial bulbs and tubers which deserve to be more widely grown and I hope that you will give them a try.

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