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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!