You know a plant is wonderful when you see a football playing jock carefully harvesting the blooms of lilies because “They look pretty good.” And with that direct approach, a large armload of flowers trucked off to an unnamed university town somewhere in Ontario to grace a student apartment.
While it is too late to plant lilies for blooms this year, there will be boxes of them at your favorite garden center this fall. It is important to recognize a few differences between the more than 100 species and 7000 registered varieties available on the horticultural market. While those are the ultimate choices, a garden center is likely to carry the four major groups: Asiatics, Orientals, Longiflorums, and LA hybrids with a choice of varieties in each of the groups.
And I do have to admit that the garden, now minus a few blooms, was spectacularly lovely with its display of lily blossoms and didn’t miss that armfull.
Asiatic lilies have medium height stems with a massive display of brightly colored flowers and make the best cut flowers of any of the lilies on the market.
Their flowers vary in shape from simple bowl-shaped to fantastically recurved petal shapes so do examine the photographs on the packaging to ensure you like the flower you are planting. Not only shapes vary with the Asiatics but also the color range goes from the softest pastel shades of the French watercolorists to the most dramatic and fiery reds and oranges imaginable in a flower.
Asiatics normally produce five flower clusters per stem and they are usually the cheapest of lily bulbs. With this economy, you can buy enough to give you massive displays that will be the envy of the neighborhood.
The only negative with Asiatic lilies is they are not fragrant.
Oriental lilies, on the other hand, are prized for both their large flowers and the heady fragrance. These are flowers the way flowers are meant to be! Recurved petals gracefully roll away from the main flower body, the flower is one of the largest of the lilies, the colors are flamboyant, the long stamens mark them as different and the center markings down the throat of the blossom are quite distinctive.
These are show-stopping plants both in the gardens and in floral arrangements. They are also the most expensive of the lily bulbs. This is the story of my gardening life; it seems I always want the most expensive of plants. I console myself with the fact that plants are cheaper than bingo or booze.
I’ve written about Madonna lilies or Lilium longiflorum before. This will be the first lily I’ll replant in my new garden. Fragrant, a wonderful cut flower (although I resist and resent anybody who would cut one of my Madonna lilies) and a classic white flower shape and form make this one of the longest cultivated flowers in world history.
Remember they throw an evergreen rosette in the fall that resembles a weed and in my younger gardening days, I actually tried to weed this rosette out of lily patch. It was not one of my finer horticultural moments.
LA hybrids are a modern introduction and are a mating of longiflorum (L) and Asiatic (A) lilies and not the city of Los Angeles as is sometimes suggested. These are wonderful general use lilies but do check the packaging to ensure you get the growing habits you want. As you might imagine, some are fragrant while you could spend all afternoon with your nose stuck up others and still not smell anything. They are, however, excellent garden performers and make superb cut flowers.
If you have lilies in the garden and you want to cut them for flowers or you want to buy a few stems, let me suggest a few simple techniques to make them last longer.
- Cut or purchase the lilies with buds that are just about to open but showing a bit of color.
- A flower or two being open is OK but resist those whose stems are covered with open flowers.
- When you get the stems home, recut the bottom of the stem taking about one-half an inch off and immediately put the stem into a vase of water.
- Do use a floral food but cut back the amount by half. Lily blooms are light feeders in the cut flower world.
- And know that a cut flower arrangement featuring lilies can last upwards of two weeks if you change the water every few days.
How To Deal With Lily Pollen
One drawback to lilies is their sticky pollen. This yellow sticky stuff can indeed stain upholstery or other fabrics if untreated. The International Flower Bulb Centre passes along these tips for dealing with lily pollen.
- Do not brush the pollen off the fabric with your hands. Oils from your skin will set the pollen into a stain as will the use of water or a wet cloth. Instead, let the pollen “dry” for a bit and then carefully brush it away with a soft tissue or brush.
- Sticky tape also works really well. Gently dab bits of tape on the pollen to pick it up.
- Use this magical trick if some pollen remains on the fabric after this cleaning; put the fabric in direct sunlight for a few hours and the pollen should disappear. Don’t ask me where it goes, I’m as intrigued as you are.
- And last but not least, the solution of choice for cleaning gardening clothes is to use one of the enzymatic detergent pre-cleaners.
I note that using or growing the first pollen-free lily ‘Tiara’ will solve all these problems.
The only problem it won’t solve is how to shoehorn yet another lily into the garden. But that is a problem for another day.