Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Secret Life of Lilies

I'm convinced that bulbs of the genus Lilium have a secret life underground  which we are not generally privileged to see. Why do lilies send up little oval green leaves off season? Why do the stems not always come straight up from where you were sure you planted the bulb? How does the bulb determine when it is time to divide into two bulbs? What are they doing under there in the dark, soft earth?

Dazzle, my favorite yellow LA lily.

In my garden, lilies bloom generally in the following order: Asiatics, Longiflorum-Asiatics, Orienpets, then Orientals and Trumpets. They bloom earlier than the bloom times given by growers and gardeners from farther north. The emerging shoots can be distinguished from each other. Asiatic lilies have smaller shoots. Oriental lilies look like rocket ships emerging, with the leaves tightly lapped toward the end. Trumpet lilies look somewhat like 'Cousin It' with a frill of thin leaves at the top of the shoot.

Longiflorum lilies are the Easter lilies sold around the holiday. In the garden, Longiflorums bloom in summer. I prefer to grow the Longiflorum/Asiatic hybrids, call LA lilies.

'Algarve' and 'Elodie were 2 of three pink lilies new to my garden last year. The third, a species lily, had a decidely orange hue and will be moved to a different location this spring.

This Orienpet is called "Orania" -- Derived from Greek ουρανιος (ouranios) meaning "heavenly". In Greek mythology Ourania was the goddess of astronomy and astrology. My Greek friend whose child has this name rolls the 'r' when she pronounces it: Orrrra knee uh.

'Orania' is my favorite Orienpet hybrid. Orienpets are crosses between Oriental and trumpet lilies. They tend to be huge fragrant flowers in a wide array of colors and color combinations.

'Stargazer' Oriental lily. According to some lists of flower meanings, pink stargazer lilies represent wealth and prosperity. They also are said to be a sign of aspiration. I aspire to more lilies, which I would consider a symbol of garden riches.

'Muscadet' is one of my favorite Oriental hybrids.

A 'Fair Tale Pink' daylily and a Regal Lily.  Regals are a Trumpet lily.
Daylilies are not true lilies; hemerocallis grow from tuberous roots.

Regal lilies were my mother's favorite. They have the best fragrance.

'African Queen' trumpet lily has a heady fragrance.

A Calla Lily is not a lily at all, it's an Aroid.
This one was greenhouse grown, hence the early bloom date.

Tulips and Fritillaries are in the same family as Lilies, another of their secrets I recently learned.

I'm hoping that Janie will continue her posts on propagation in the garden by posting about propagating bulbs by slicing them into sections. Doesn't that sound scary? I generally take little bulblets off the underground stems of Asiatic and LA lilies, move the bigger Orientals and trumpets when they self-divide and sometimes take some of the outer scales with a bit of basal plate, from which to grow new plants.

I look forward to seeing new sprouts as soon as the weather warms. Sometimes sprouts show themselves before the last frost here and need a bit of mulch to protect the tender shoot else the bloom be damaged. Lilies are quite hardy, persisting to the coldest of zones, where they know not to let themselves be tricked by a sudden warm spell. I hope they are all under the mulch growing fatter bulbs and preparing wonderful stalks full of blossoms for summer bloom.


  1. My wife and I picked Stargazers to be the main flower at our wedding. The aroma was almost too much, but whenever I catch a whiff of them now, I am taken back in time.

  2. 'Orania' is just beautiful, Nell Jean. I love the Orienpets and Martagons - two of my favorite lilies. I think I could have a garden made entirely of lilies, and never grow tired of them. I recently learned that tulips are in the lily family, too, but I was not aware that Fritillaries are as well. Thank you for teaching me something new today!

  3. Those are gorgeous. Lilies are simply divine.

    I've been following your posts for awhile now through Reader (not blotanicals until recently). You live in such a pretty place! Thanks for sharing!

  4. The Regal is one of my favorites too. The underworld life of lilies ... at least here in my garden where I have planted hundreds over the years and now only a good clump of Journey's End survive... is endangered by the voles that love to devour the bulbs. You are lucky not not to have that problem Nell Jean... maybe your doggie keeps them at bay! Lovely post of all your lilies. Carol

  5. I think I need some lilies in my garden. They are beautiful! I love the color of the Orania. This is why I love looking at gardening blogs!

  6. I am a big fan of the fragrant Stargazer and Casa Blanca lilies...unfortunately they are both excellent vole food.

  7. Les, someone left Stargazer bouquets in our little church one Saturday. Sunday morning the fragrance was so heady, DH of the sensitive, allergic nose, had to leave the building! I don't bring many fragrant flowers in the house.

    I hope everybody finds some lily bulbs at the nurseries soon, plants them and has a wonderful summer garden. The season lasts if there are a variety of types of lilies. I didn't mention Phillipine lilies, the last to bloom. I see them frequently in gardens here.

    Voles are best managed by a cat and a digging dog. I'm planning to plant Castor Beans everywhere the dog dug this winter, hoping to repel the voles. They've not eaten my lilies nearly as much as they ate tulips, another vole fav.

  8. I had started to lose interest in lilies due to the damage the lilybettles were doing but I havw now started to plant them in the border instead of in pots and they seem to be doing better so I may must start to like them again

  9. Hello Nell,

    Your lilies are beautiful. I have only grown daylilies and that was some time ago. Your Stargazer Lily is my favorite :-)

  10. I didn't get lilies ordered last year and most of my lilies have disappeared. Maybe due to the very excessive rains we had?.

    Orania is my favorite of all of the lilies. That soft yellow is just gorgeous.

  11. I enjoyed your photos and explanations of the different kinds of lilies. I just have a few that I got on sale a couple years ago, and that seemed to do OK in my east bed this summer.

  12. Thank you for the lovely photos, Nell! I am planning to plant a new lily bed to flank an arch which I inherited from a dear friend who died recently, and have been over at a lily nursery happily dithering about which ones to choose as her memorial. I had my eye on Orania too!

  13. Nell Jean, what a treat to see all your beautiful lilies after looking at snow all day. Your photos and descriptions of the lilies warms me on this very cold night.
    You have so many beauties. It's interesting to note the differences. I have Asiatics and one Oriental, but I don't have any trumpets or Orienpets and would like to add them to my garden. Perhaps this next growing season. Something to look forward to :)

  14. Nell, I think the lovely "Muscadet" is my favorite. Thank you for sharing some lily "secrets". Pamela

  15. My favorite is LA Algarve. My daughter likes it too, as her favorite color is pink (is there any other color?...) I'm going to look for it!

  16. An interesting and informative post, Jean! I really must try out some lilies here. Lilium formosanum is naturalised and in fact officially an invader.(A fact I ignore gleefully as many more pernicious but not so obvious invaders are ignored.) Therefor, despite or bulb digging moles, porcupines and bush pigs, I should have success. My mom grew several with ease in her Johannesburg climate, less kind than this one... You inspire me!

  17. I never would have thought I could grow lilies in the mountains but they ended up being a stronghold in my garden. THanks for this informative post, I loved all your photos.


  18. Love all of your lilies! Wish I could grow more in the land of deer and bunnies. I have a relative of Stargazer ("Starfighter") in the cottage garden tucked in with azaleas.

    My callas are planted in the stream and waterfall where they survive all winter long. I usually cut the tops off in winter, but since I've been sick, I didn't get out there (same with my gingers -- they are piles of dead leaves right now). I am ruthless with dividing both the callas and the ginger with a sharp knife!


  19. I favor the white ones for some reason. I think because of the beautiful form.

  20. Ah, wonderful, Nell Jean! We have a real weakness when it comes to lilies, yours are exquisite. The LAs have proven to be excellent, ours are Royal Fantasy and have mulitplied nicely, by bulbil and underground. The regales are very easy to start from seed planted when the pods open. The trumpets are so fragrant and tall, it is impossible to choose a favorite though. Well done.

  21. Your lilies are so lovely. I learned alot from reading your post. I didn't know that tulips were from the lily family. Very interesting fact. I don't know which one I liked the best because you have grown such beauties.

  22. Wow! You've such an awesome collection here, Nell! They're such a treat. The spotted-pink Stargazer is the star attraction for me - hadn't come across this in our country so far.
    Have a blessed New Year with good health and much joy in your garden and blogging!


I look forward to comments and questions and lively discussion of gardening and related ideas.

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