For the Love of Lily
Story and Photography by L. Beth Bonifant. Reprinted from Summer 2018
From the elegant and exotic Oriental lily to the pretty, perky, easygoing Asiatic, gardeners will discover there are plenty of options to fall for. If you would like to add long-lasting and legendary beauty to your outdoor oasis, consider the lilies.
The cultivation of lilies dates to the earliest beginnings and ancient empires; during Roman times the flowers served as sacred symbols offered to the goddesses. This religious association passed to Christian churches where the large, white, open, trumpet-shaped flowers were connected with heavenly purity. All flowers represent the fragility of life and the swift passage of time from beautiful beginning to end.
There are numerous references to lilies throughout the “good book.” Both Luke and Matthew have similar passages that sound more like beautiful poetry than Bible scripture. “Consider the lilies of the field …” is spiritual incentive that has become inspiration for pop culture in music and movies. Some might recall the 1963 film starring Sidney Poitier, “Lilies of the Field.” It tells the story of an itinerant worker who rather reluctantly constructs a new chapel for a group of East German nuns. He never stood a chance! Then there is the moving hymn, “Consider the Lilies;” actually, there are three different songs all with the same title, written and composed generations apart in 1890, 1977 and another in the 1980s. Last year, Lily was the 14th most popular name for girls, and the 13th most used name for female pets.
The word “lily” is used in the common names of many plants, including daylilies. But don’t be fooled. “True lilies” are grown from scaly, plump, onion-shaped bulbs. Unlike tulips, these tender, fleshy bulbs have no covering and dry out quickly, so plant promptly after purchase.
Planting the Perennials
In general, the best depth to plant most bulbs is three times the height of the bulb. For Oriental lilies, 6 inches is a good depth. Asiatics can be planted 4 to 5 inches deep. To root properly, bulbs should be planted in the cool soil of early spring or late fall. Plants are perennial, possessing erect stems cloaked in narrow leaves. Stems may be crowned with large clusters of multiple blooms or a single flower at the top. The amount of blooms increases each year.
Possessing lovely and lasting, legendary beauty, lilies provide a graceful presence in any setting. Oriental lilies bloom mid to late summer and can tower over 6 feet depending on the selection. All lilies grow in full sun, but Oriental varieties enjoy a little late afternoon respite. Planted near the back of the border, neighboring plants help cover their legs and shade their feet keeping roots cool. Flowers might become top heavy; locating in a mixed border, where plants can lean on each other for support, may help eliminate or delay the need for staking.
Oriental hybrids produce a pleasant, sometimes heady fragrance that intensifies after dark. Sensitive types will find their perfume too overbearing for inside use, but how could anyone object to such sweet scent mingled with fresh outdoor air? Take three steps back if you’re still overcome or just choose the unscented Asiatic varieties.
Asiatic lilies are stout by comparison and tend to tolerate more adverse conditions. Plants grow 3 to 5 feet tall, blooming in late spring to early summer. Locate closer to the front of the border; these flowers should start to fade just as the Oriental lilies are beginning to bloom.
The Best Bloom for Your Buck
Asiatic flower colors are stronger with a heavier bloom count. But regardless, you’ll get a lot of bloom for your buck. Most lilies stay in flower for about 2 to 3 weeks at a time. Flowers on Oriental lilies face out or down, while Asiatic blooms look up.
Long lasting in the field and in a vase, lilies are outstanding cut flowers. Clip only the length you’ll need for the container and always remove all leaves from submerged portions.
Harvesting while flowers are still in bud allows them to last longer and open one by one. While flowers unfold, remove the rubbery stamens from each center.
As stamens age their orange pollen granules can stain flowers and fabrics. Many brides have learned this the hard way on their wedding day! Use a tissue to pinch off stamens during this stage.
Do not rub or use water to remove stains, try using a piece of sticky tape to lift pollen from fabric. Don’t despair; laundry items will come clean with a spritz of prewash.
After flowering, treat plants like other bulbs. Remove faded flowers to prevent seed formation that robs energy from the bulb. Allow stems with leaves intact to yellow and wither before cutting to the ground. Clumps can be left undisturbed for years.
With good year-round drainage and adequate moisture in summer, these plants should continue to thrive in your garden. If you’re undecided where to plant them, lilies perform great growing in containers, too. •