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Friday, October 12, 2012

Lily Delirium continued - Late bloomers

Oriental lily hybrid

Around here, it’s the height of the Oriental hybrid season—the largest and most deeply scented of all lilies can be had for a dollar a stem—and a stem will scent the whole house.

 The way a lily scent works is not that you necessarily notice the scent  up close—the scent floats on invisible air currents. You’ll smell lilies a floor below through an open window, or catch a spicy/sweet breath passing a door. There is something teasing, non-tangible, coquettish in the ways an oriental lily launches its scent. 

This is a typical hybrid with a dusting of pink freckles, and curved petals with an amazing texture like a ginger grater or a cat’s tongue  (barbellate) the purpose of which is collecting pollen from passing bees.

Accidental intelligence: if you get lily pollen on your shirt or sweater, don’t rub it! You’ll wipe in a stain. Rather, get a toothbrush or a small nailbrush and flick the pollen off, pretending--- in Method acting mode--- you are a passing bee. The pollen will come off without leaving a mark.


If you look closely at the freckled pink  hybrid, you’ll see a faint gold stripe toward the throat. Somewhere in its parentage was the Japanese Gold-Banded lily, notably fragrant, fall blooming, tough (once had one survive for years with no care at all) and one of the earliest to be “discovered” by the Victorian plant hunters. The most celebrated of the late blooming lilies and one with many hybrids.


                                             Gold Banded Lily (lilium auratum=mountain lily)

Gold Band made its fragrant way into cultivation, probably*[i] due to William Kerr, who was, like so many of the great plants men, a Scot, who wandered far and wide in search of new plants.

                                   Hawick, Scotland where Kerr was born

                   Colombo, Ceylon, ( 17th c.) center of the spice trade where Kerr ran the Royal Botanical garden

Kerr worked as a gardener at Kew. He caught the attention of Joseph Banks (Remember him? Banks sent Capt. Bligh off to Tahiti.)  Banks recommended Kerr be sent to the Orient in search of plants.

Kerr went in 1804 to China, Japan, Luzon and the Philippines. He sent back 238 plants new to the West, among them this most successful parent, floriferous progenitor, Gold Band. He also sent back the seeds of another great favorite—The Tiger Lily, about which more below.

Kerr’s work was so well appreciated at the time; he was sent to superintend the opening of the royal Botanical Garden at Colombo, Ceylon and stayed there in charge of the Garden. This was a great honor at the time for a gardener who was not “a gentleman born.”

 However, Ceylon proved too intoxicating for Kerr, who died there in 1805 of opium addiction. as reported at the time," due to a lack of experience with the drug."

Another of the wildly fragrant, "ravishing" Autumn flowering hybrid that grows easily around here is Casa Blanca:
Casa Blanca is a hybrid Oriental, blooms usually a little earlier than the Gold Band hybrids. Easy to grow. Can grow to be 4" across. Great in large pots, in shaded areas.  It’s perhaps not as"persistent" in So Cal as the Japanese based hybrids. but planted in dappled shade with excellent drainage it should do well. It’s vigorous, and takes very moderate watering. (Most lilies need a lot of mulch to keep their roots cool, but a modest amount of water.) 


Stargazer is grown commercially around here. It's one of the world's most popular lilies, smells wonderful and grows most happily in dappled shade, or under 50% shade cloth.This is one try if you've never grown a lily before. It's easy and undemanding. each stem contains several lilies.

This is another late beauty called Baruta

You can see its resemblance to Casa Blanca but the unusual cool yellow is refreshing in the late summer . Like all Orientals, it smells good. 

Passing observation: if you're allergic to scent, stick to the Asiatic, early blooming lilies. 

Striking a very different note in the garden are the next group, the Tiger Lilies. A neighbor has a magnificent muddle of a cottage garden  with tiger lilies growing 6-8 feet tall (an eastern exposure with roots shielded by a gigantic lace cap hydrangea)

Fortune in the center
From R. Fortune's "A Residence Among the Chinese", published in 1857). (See Google data)

The  plant collector extraordinaire, Robert Fortune, another doughty Scot, disguised himself as Chinese to penetrate NW China after the Opium Wars. (The Chinese had small use for British plant collectors for many years after that series of events)

 How did he get away with it? He spoke Chinese and had a flair....Fortune gets official credit discovery of the Tiger lily, though it’s probable that Kerr also sent back bulbs or seeds to Kew.

The Tiger lily was an enormous commercial success in Britain as it’s easy to grow there. Here in So Cal, Tiger lily and its hybrids don’t mind the alkaline soil; again give it good drainage, and dappled shade.

Peach Lace
                                                          hybrid from

Silver Scheherazade
also from Lily Gardens

Tiger lily hybrids

Lily bulb merchants begin shipping in October; this is a good time to order. You needn't plant the bulbs until after the New Year in this climate. Lilies don't appreciate being planted in warm soil. Let the ground cool off after the first heavy rain before you plant them.

 Bartram listed Tiger lily in  his plant catalogue  by 1814 because it was spectacular," hardy, easy to propagate". Still is

Note: my discerning readers will noticed the absence of the Trumpet lilies.They bloom in mid-summer.More about them later.Having never grown them before, am planting them this winter to see how they'll do in this climate.---a hybrid variety called Flugel Horn. Who could resist?

  Lilium longafolium, the Easter lily, does well and is a commercial lily in So Cal..Reported by the Pacific Bulb Society as doing well as far south as Long Beach, planted in the ground under a tree. 

[i] No one seems absolutely clear who collected the first bulbs or seeds—could have been either Kerr or Robert Fortune, but Kerr is the most likely. Besides it’s a remarkable story!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Lilies - Part I ---Early bloomers

                                                                    Anonymous  hybrid

                                                  Anon.  beauty from Big Box   "Maud"

Lily  Delirium. Got totally carried away with lilies this year when a bag of 10 lilies for $9.99 from one of the big box stores turned out to be amazingly easy to grow. Now have been bitten by the lily passion, which is possibly incurable. Fortunatelyy Lilies are a commercial crop in this area which means they are not too demanding .

 It was the  lily with the wine-colored  (Maud) pattern that really hooked me--it smells both spicy and sweet like a poet's dream* of Ideal Woman. It got the sweet scent  from an Trumpet ancestor and the spicy from an Oriental.
Culture was very simple. All 10 are happily growing in a north facing raised bed which gets morning sun and a little weak late afternoon sun. Only thing I really knew about growing lilies was "keep the roots cool, but be sure they have good drainage "

Lilies were heavily mulched with rabbit litter from the admirable BoBo San . Ran a soaker hose around the lot. Watered rarely.

Soon punch drunk trying to sort out  lily types --- decided the only way to sort them out was by the blooming season.The species and hybrids are entangled beyond the reach of reason. Sooooo....

Early Bloomers- in So Cal depends a lot on the lily itself as some appear in 90 days, most take a little longer. Mine were planted late (Jan) and began blooming in late June

Asiatic lilies bloom first--generally.Plant them in the fall for earliest flowers.
 They look like this in  in all colors. Upward facing. Often scentless . Undemanding. These are the lilies to grow if you are allergic to scent.There's  a group called LA hybrids that bloom a little later.

Asiatic lilies

LA hybrid, Bright Diamond

Then comes the Turk's Cap lily (L. Martagon)  native to the Balkans, all the way to Russia. There's also a native Turk's Cap indigenous to Connecticut.
                                                                           Lilium Martagon

      Native -. Turk's Cap,  L. superbum
What's confusing about these lilies is that they so closely resemble the famous Tiger Lily (L. lanciflolium) which comes from the Far East.It however, blooms later.The native lily has a green throat.

Mid- Spring "Easter Lilies", Madonna lilies (L. candidum) is a lily whose artistic history may  outrun its performance in SoCal. . L. candidum is subject to virus.On the other hand, it's tough and drought resistant, but lacks the sumptuous quality of the later hybrids.. It was popular in paintings of the Virgin Mary during the High renaissance.

                                                           L. candidum

Sebastiano Mairardi 16th c.

Next to bloom* are hybrids between Asiatics and L longiflorum ..Asiatic lilies have been successfully hybridized and there are numberless hybrids. Lilies are not difficult to hybridize and can be grown from seed. **

 Trumpet lilies                              Lily longiflorum and it's hybrids

This is the one you see sold at Easter in pots at the grocery store. Bring one home and plant it. it'll do fine if you give it the right  conditions. They multiply easily. This lily is also called Bermuda Lily as it was once a big commercial crop on the island.  Longiflorum actually comes from the mountains of Japan  and was collected by "Chinese "  (E.H. ) Wilson c. 1904 and sent back to Kew. This lily and its hybrids are "florist's lilies" and grown in hothouses in other parts of the world. It can flower in 6 months from seed. Even in SoCal you'd have to start it indoors to accomplish that.It's "forced" for Easter

Trumpet lilies
Lilium regale
                              Wilson's L. regale
Wilson was another of the plant explorers whose determination and daring brought plant materials from China at a time when the Chinese were enraged  (after the Opium Wars) and not allowing foreigners to roam around in  China at all. Both Wilson and the legendary Robert Fortune disguised themselves as Chinese merchants in order to penetrate the country markets where each successfully obtained an astonishing variety of plant materials, lilies among them. What is most remarkable of all in this is neither man looked at all Asian--- both were Scots--- and the Chinese plant collectors they dealt with must have had a pretty good idea that neither man was Han. Perhaps they were taken for opium sellers? 

L. regale hybrid 

Another of Wilson's spectacular lily finds was L leucanhum from which a mind boggling number of hybrids have been bred. It can grow to 8 feet.                               

           Black Dragon L.leucanthum v. centifolia  (species, not a hybrid) This is an easy lily to grow in SoCal. Not necessarily "garden persistent" .

                                                          Wilson's drawing c. 1904

Copper Crown hybrid
Aurelean  Hybrids another huge category of trumpet  hybrids  crosses from l. henryi .which gives the gold color to its children

This one is African Queen

Flugel Horn Aurelean hybrids

Any of these lilies can be planted in the fall or winter of early spring  in SoCal..The earlier you plant,the sooner the lilies will come up? Maybe. Hybrid lilies have their own schedules..Bulb merchants begin shipping fresh bulbs in October.

Do not be confused between Asiatic and Oriental.In lily breeder speak the words do not mean the same thing. Orientals are covered next. They are the last group to bloom.

Coming up next: Lilies II- Mid season Lilies- Tiger lilies, and their kin and Orientals.


* Tennyson's Maud maybe?
** See Beverly Nichols wonderful account of growing lilies from seed in Merry Hall.   Re-issued in the 1935 facsimile edition

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Bougainvillea- - color galore- the vine with a past

Here are the nearly neon colors we see along the south coast combined which is the best way to handle them. These  vines have been pruned  heavily to keep them close against the iron fence. The close pruning keeps them blooming heavily. ( If you’re growing them in pots in a greenhouse, that’s a whole different story.)

As my well-versed readers probably already know, what we’re seeing is the brilliant bracts of the plant, not the flowers which are small and insignificant. Bouganvellia has been heavily hybridized, there are about 300 different varieties, some of them quite subtle.

                                                      This one is Hugh Evans

                                                 Aussie Gold

Jubilee Pink

Easter Parade

Bougainvillea also come in “carpet” varieties—they have been bred as ground covers. Since the vines are very drought resistant once established, they make a flamboyant slope covering. Pots also  suit them well.

Around here, growing them is extremely easy. The only trick is to realize they are very fussy about having their roots disturbed. Don’t try and take them out of their gallon or 5 gallon can. Cut the sides so the roots can get out easily, and plant the whole business. Water them occasionally to get them established. The paler hybrid  colors seem to need a little more water than the  old standbys, like these.

Barbara Karst

California Gold

Scarlet O'Hara

Bougainvillea is named for a truly gallant French admiral  Louis –Antoine, Comte de Bougainville who was the first Frenchman to circumnavigate the world, and carry a professional crew of scientists. This included the botanist Phillibert Commerçon  Royal Botanist and Naturalist,  to collect botanical specimens.

 It was Commerçon  who officially discovered the brilliant vine in Brazil and named it for the admiral.

                                            Louis –Antoine, Comte de Bougainville

 However, there’s more to the story. Commerçon was old and ill, and insisted on his assistant Jean Barré,  accompanying him on the voyage to do the grunt work, keep his files, specimens in order and attend to his bad health. Otherwise Commerçon said, he simply couldn't make the trip. De Bougainville agreed. Barré, was most probably the real discoverer of one of our favorite plants

 As it turned out, Barré was a woman, and Jeanne was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. , She was born an illegitimate peasant, managed to educate herself sufficiently to ably assist Commerçon. In  her old age  she was granted a pension by the French Navy .

                                                             Jeanne  Barré

Our brilliant Bougainvillea  vine is  deeply entwined with  history. 


De Bougainville went on to discover Tahiti ( to the western world ) and wrote  a book which suggested--- based on his experiences in Tahiti---  idea of “the noble savage” to Rousseau.

There’s more!  De Bougainville , as a French admiral, participated in a successful battle-the Battle of the Virginia Capes--- which helped turn the tide in our favor during in the American Revolution.

                                             The Battle of the Virginia Capes

 The French monarchy bankrupted itself backing our Revolution which led directly to their Revolution. It was not Marie Antoinette’s dress allowance that did it, but giving very expensive   French naval and military support to Washington’s army. They couldn't afford that and the clothes.

                                                           Marie Antoinette c. 1775

But the French could never resist an opportunity to strike a blow at the British.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Botanical Collages of Mary Delany

Note: all these collages are available at the British Museum
These exact and arresting images were created in the 18th c. by a little old lady.  (She was 72 when she started the project) out of paper she painted then cut and pasted to make a collage. Not only was she a remarkable artist she was altogether a remarkable human being.  There’s something about botany…

Mary Delaney was born into a noble but impoverished English family  in the 18th c.--- the family had made the wrong choice in backing the successor to King Charles II.[i] 

The Merry Monarch had left his younger brother as his heir. Mary’s family felt it was safest to back the designated heir, James, who was deposed.. And did so to their financial ruin since all offices and preferments  flowed from the king. Disaster.

 Mary’s father lost his income from offices he had occupied under Charles II. The family lost it’s footing at court, was forced to retire to the country . 

Mary at 6  was sent to live with an aunt in London who provided her with an excellent education, including cut work in paper, embroidery, water color painting, music, etiquette, dancing lessons--- all to make Mary suitable for a position at court. Mary grew up lively, spirited and artistically talented. She designed and embroidered striking and fashionable clothes for court, and went on hoping for a position as a Lady  in Waiting. This never materialized.

As it became clear Mary was not going to be able to obtain a position at court, the next move the family decided on was to marry her off to provide for her, and generally improve the family position. (This was the common practice. In the 18thc marriage for love was not a central concern, Georgette Heyer to the contrary.)

Another  of the family’s more  unfortunate decisions was to marry Mary at 19 to a 60 year old drunkard—he was rich, but his estates were in Cornwall, far from the court where Mary longed to be. However, if his estates passed to Mary, her male relatives would get control of his money.** which apparently  was her older brother’s plan all along. ( The older brother was legal “head of the family” even though he consistently did extremely stupid things ….)

And then the old drunken husband  died---- it didn’t do the family a bit of good as he neglected to redo his will in Mary’s favor. Foiled again!

 This misfortune doubtless rankled the brother, but turned out to be good fortune for Mary. She was left a modest but sufficient competence to return to London and the court. Mary had her own house and an independent life as an attractive and accomplished young widow. She reveled in it. Mary flirted with Lord Baltimore and was rather miffed that he never proposed. Missed being an American by a whisker....

                         Mary and some friends

She did not re-marry until she was in her 40’s and then for love to a man her family though far beneath her.(He was an Irish clergyman.)
She lived an extremely happy life in Ireland with her husband until he died when she was in her late 60’s.

These astonishing collages are how she dealt with her widowhood and grief, drawing on the paper cutting skills  and watercolor techniques  she had learned at her aunt’s behest  and exercised all her life.Though she never made it to the Court she  was part of a circle of Enlightenment intellectuals, musicians (Handel) and scientists, creating her own  “court”.* 

[i]James of York, the heir to Chas II, was an ardent, fanatical Roman Catholic who reminded the English all too  vividly of the Catholic queen, Bloody Mary and the burning of Protestants at Smithfield during her reign.. So,  Parliament rejected James and chose instead  the Protestant  Mary  and her husband William of Orange to rule.(Mary was a Protestant despite being another Stuart and James’ daughter. Go figure)

 If interested in this period, the BBC mini-series The First Churchills  lays it all out in an entertaining fashion!

2 Actually she lived 6 months of the years with the Duchess of Portsmouth, a great friend, whose magnificent conservatory at Bulstrode provided many of the “models” for the flower mosaics.

3 not until the 1850’s with the passage of the Married Woman’s Property Act did widows retain monetary control.

Books about Mary:
Mrs. Delany Her Life and her Flowers  by Ruth Hayden, British Museum Press

A Paper Garden by Molly Peacock, Penguin Books

And not to be overlooked is Mrs. Delaney and her Circle by Mark Laird  and Alicia Roberts. (Yale Center for British Art). I’m waiting for the paperback!

Had to change the template of the blog and give up the old background---alas!
Progress, whether we like it or not!