July 8, 2008

Summer Lilies

The week after Independence Day is the traditional weekend for Lily Show's in the North East. When I was a kid, I would grow true lilies for exhibition at our local Horticultural Society - The Worcester County Horticultural Society, now relocated from it's more austere location from Horticultural Hall in the City, to what is now, Tower Hill Botanic Garden, in Boylston, Massachusetts. Many new comers to gardening confuse Daylilies, which are Hemerocallis and which have their own show in two weeks when most Daylilies peak, with true lilys ( those plants which grow from bulbs, and have Lilium as their genus).

Lilies are classified into many categories by growers, and this is the time to order your bulbs, since they are shipped in the late autumn. A local Lily show is one of the best places to see these stunning flowers, since most garden centers focus on selling older varieties, or shorter, more manageable Asiatics, which are more prone to a recently introduced pest, the Lily Beetle.

When we think of lilies, we may think of Daylilies(Hemerocallis), or Tiger Lilies ( Lilium tigrinum), or even florist types such as the Easter Lily ( Lilium longiflorum) or the fragrant Casa Blanca Lily ( Lilium auratum hybrids). But there are so many more.
I like to arrange a single variety ( here, the species form of Lilium regale, native to Shichuan,China. These are young seedlings planted out last autumn. I prefer to never pull the pollen sacks of, as many people like to do. Sure, it can cause staining on linens, but in July, who uses linens? One only risks a stained nose if one is not careful. The fragrance is intoxicating, a strange a beautiful mixture of heavy cream and toothpaste, I think! I love it - it brings me back to my high school years, when I worked as a gardener at the estate of Helen Stoddard in Worcester, MA - a Fletcher Steele garden, where Lilium regale where planted in drifts, and I would pedal home on my bicycle with the 6 foot long stems, since the Stoddards would undoubtedly be at their summer home in New Brunswick, Canada for the month, and I felt bad that there was no one there to enjoy them!

The down facing Asiatics are plagued by Lily Beetle, but this year we have bee rather lucky, and have also been studious at hand-picking them off every morning.

Last autumn, after seeing how well the trumpet lilies have matured in the new rock garden our front, I decided to invest in a few dozen bulbs of each variety. With stems over 6 feet tall, I think I found my Lilium sweet spot. This year, one of the trumpets is nearly 8 feet tall. The old stem is still next to it, and I can see that it is two feet higher, and still growing. Last year, there was 7 blossoms, this year, nearly 15. Next year.....?

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