It’s time to plant lily bulbs that will show up next summer as the stars of your garden.
IF YOU WANT to feel like a wizard of a gardener, simply stick a few lily bulbs in the ground this fall. By next summer those wizened brown lumps will send up majestic stalks topped with flowers so stunning you’ll bask in gardening prowess. Those inauspicious-looking bulbs contain everything needed to produce what are arguably the most sumptuous flowers ever known. Garden alchemy has never been so easy as it is with lilies.
From late June through August, lilies are the stars of my garden, pushing their way up through perennials and shrubs to waft their intense and sultry perfume around the garden. Unlike dahlias, most are richly fragrant, and they’re all easier to care for than roses. Sunflowers might be equally tall and showy, but lilies are dependably perennial. This past summer, the lilies survived the drought just fine, although their flowers came on earlier and didn’t last as long. I had to bump my annual lily viewing party up a couple of weeks. Small price to pay to sit outside in the evening inhaling sweet, spicy lily fragrance that intensifies to downright tropical as the sun goes down.
It’s time to order lilies. The bulbs should go into the ground in late October or even into November. Be sure to plant lily bulbs in well-draining soil, and unless you’re growing martagons, in full sun. If your soil is heavy, plant lilies on a slope, in pots or raised beds. I have a stand of ‘Golden Angel’ trumpet lilies consorting with feathery bronze fennel, oregano, chives and rosemary in one colorful and productive raised garden bed. Lilies are great mixers, but can also carry an entire garden scene on their own. Never plant lilies singly, and never, ever plant them in rows; plant in groups with each bulb 12 to 18 inches apart.
Know your lilies
• Asiatics start the season’s lily parade, flowering in June in a tantalizingly wide range of colors. Sadly, Asiatics aren’t fragrant.
• Trumpet lilies grow very tall, sometimes to 8 feet or so. They bloom in July with a heavy perfume and old-fashioned lily looks.
• Orientals are the most classic of lilies, with spicy fragrance and large, exotic-looking flowers.
• Orienpets are hybrids between Oriental and Trumpet lilies. They’re fragrant, sturdy (they rarely need staking) and late-blooming.
• Species lilies are the forerunners of all modern lilies. They are smaller, wildly varied, and native to climates/situations around the world from, Japan to Greece.
• Martagons are ideal for naturalistic and woodland gardens. These European natives are smaller, daintier, more refined, and can take some shade.
As you peruse the possibilities, do yourself a favor and look beyond the oh-so-typical white ‘Casablanca’ lilies and the all-too-pink ‘Stargazers’. There’s a whole world of lilies out there beyond these familiar showboats, including ones in deep or hot colors, with freckles and sweptback petals, and even lilies that thrive in woodland conditions.
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If you’re a seasoned lily grower, there are always new temptations. There’s the new ‘Black Eye’, a white Asiatic lily with black-purple centers that flowers in June, and the creamy, fragrant ‘Santini’, a 4-foot-tall Orienpet type that blooms in late July. (Both are from B&D Lilies in Port Townsend).