In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
June, 2005
Regional Report

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1796

These 'Sumatra' lilies from the San Francisco Flower Market smell as good as they look!

Lilies

I came home from a recent "Henry's Garden" shoot at the Flower Market with a bouquet of 'Sumatra' lilies. They were tight buds when they were presented to me and remained that way for several days. The last time I brought home lilies they were 'Stargazer', and the buds stayed tightly closed for about 4 days, sucking up water from the vase like drunken sailors until, all of a sudden, they burst forth into a full and magnificent bloom.

Both the 'Sumatra' and 'Stargazer' lilies are classified as Oriental hybrids, which have blooms up to 9 inches across and an amazing fragrance that fills a room with sweet perfume. They make excellent cut flowers and are fairly easy to grow here along the coast. Lilies bloom during the summer months and will hold on to their blossoms for two to four weeks. You can extend the bloom season over several months by planting several different varieties. Remove the faded flowers to keep the bulb strong by preventing the seeds from maturing and robbing vigor from the plant.

Lilies are an impressive sight in the garden, standing tall and proudly displaying their brilliant hues for all to see. On first glance, they resemble exotic butterflies hovering in the breeze. I like to plant them among green shrubs so that they unexpectedly appear in a blaze of color.

The Asiatic lilies are the easiest variety to grow. The common orange tiger lily is an example of an Asiatic variety. I have a beauty that is several years old in my garden, but when it comes into bud, somebody always comes along and steals the flowers. Compared to the Orientals, the Asiatic flowers are smaller in size and have no scent. Plant either variety in well-drained soil rich in organic matter in an area protected from the wind, and you will be amazed at how hardy they are.

Myth has it that lily bulbs more a thousand years old have been found in China that are vigorous to this day. But lily legends abound. While Juno, queen of the Roman gods, was nursing her son, Hercules, a few drops of mother's milk dropped to earth and gave birth to the lily. Early Christians linked the flower to purity, and Biblical legend says the lily flower grew from Eve's tears when she was banished from Eden. Both legends are heaven sent, and so, it appears, is the lily.

There are a few tricks to growing lilies in your garden. They prefer flood irrigation to overhead watering. The bulbs never really go into deep dormancy, so they need to be kept moist throughout the year. Keep in mind that gophers think lilies are a delicacy, so plant the bulbs in heavy-gauge wire baskets if you have a gopher problem.

If you can't plant new lily bulbs right away, keep them moist in damp moss or paper towels until they go into the ground. Lilies grow very well in deep containers if you don't have space in your garden.

Until the first time I brought home the 'Stargazer' lilies, I didn't know that I had a favorite flower. I am now a lily convert and welcome them into my home. It delights me to watch them drink their fill of water, then drink some more. It seems as if the water level drops by inches, even as I watch. The flowers certainly have personality. A friend came by while they were still in the bud stage and exclaimed, "Oh my, what weird flowers!" Little did she know what was to come....


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