Consider the Lilies

Consider the lilies of the field – and those of the home garden. Heralds of summer and heat, they are trumpets of abundance, turk’s caps of beauty. Abundant in color, size and blooms. You can press your face into theirs to drink the fragrance and come up not caring a bit about your pollen-tattooed nose. They are centerpieces in summer’s bridal bouquets and starlit dinner parties. PHOTO: Creamy white trumpet lily, paired with a climbing white rose, blooms along a fence in Wendy Brown’s generous garden in late June.

PHOTOS ABOVE AND BELOW: California native Humboldt lily in the home garden of Carolyn Melf of Paradise.

And they are ready to be planted right now in the North State, according to North State gardener Wendy Brown whose summer-long succession of lilies inspired this topic. However, she cautions, “It is not early days for fall bulb season – pay attention to how old and/or dry your bulbs are if buying them in person from a local source – you can get some good sales and deals right now, but you want your bulbs firm and fresh.” If you buy them and are not able to plant them right away, she goes on to say that “lilies don’t really go dormant fully; one can keep them in a refrigerator for a long time as long as they don’t dry all out.”

The lily family – Liliaceae – is a big one – including some 300 genera and upwards of 4600 species. While many plants referred to as lilies are in the Lily family, for instance fawn lilies, trout lilies, toad lilies and lilies of the valley, the group I am discussing this week are those from the genus Lilium, which includes around 100 bulbous perennial species from woodland and scrub areas of Europe, Asia and North America. PHOTO: A 4 foot stand of clear white and speckled face pink lilies frame the entrance from one part of Wendy’s garden to another.

PHOTO: California native Washington lily in the wild.

We Californians have a nice range of native lilies suitable for the garden or just to be enjoyed in the field.

PHOTO: The Oriental hybrid ‘Casablanca’ lily in the North State home garden.

Some of today’s best -loved garden varieties are hybrids or strains developed since the early 1920s.

PHOTO: A majestic Asiatic hybrid, ‘Leslie Woodfriff’ in Wendy Brown’s garden.
While the famed biblical quote says consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they toil not, neither do they spin, the reality is that lilies are not only stately long-lived beauties in the garden, they are rugged and very hard working. In the heat of the Valley, they prefer some shade, to be sure. When planting, Wendy tells us “they especially want drainage and good circulation–raised beds or hillsides are great–and not a ton of water,” especially in their partial dormancy of winter. The Lily Garden catalog recommends finding the first place in your garden to dry out after a rain or in spring. Most sources recommend amending your soil with organic matter when first planting, and fertilizing with a lowish nitrogen feed that includes trace minerals when they break dormancy in spring. Plant about 1 and half times deeper than the size of the bulb.

Other things to keep in mind – spacing your bulbs so the mature plants will get enough air circulation will help you to avoid fungal issues, to which lilies can be prone. Furthermore, lilies can be well-loved by gophers as well as by gardeners. If you have a gopher issue, you might also consider planting your bulbs in gopher cages.

PHOTO: A lovely white Oriental hybrid lily marked with a distinctive pink star, L. ‘Bonbini’.
One of the great things about lilies, concludes Wendy, “is that they come in a sequence – the early summer starting off with the the Asiatics and LA hybrids. These are followed by the trumpets, Aurelians, and then the ‘Orienpet’ hybrids.” The summer draws to a dramatic and fragrant finale “with the Orientals, which can bloom through September.”


All summer-long, lilies make great cut flowers for special or everyday occasions. Whole stalks can be cut for tall, dramatic displays, single blossoms can be cut for little accents with big presence. On open blooms, it’s easy to take a tissue and cover the stamens completely, enclosing the staining pollen-filled anthers, and gently pull them off all at once. In cut flower displays, you can continue to do this as closed buds open, and to clip past blooms as they fade on a stem that still has other nice blooms open.

PHOTO: A tall creamy yellow lily L. ‘Opulent’ in Wendy Brown’s garden.

Lilies can be as diminutive as 18 inches and as attention-seeking as 10 feet high, they can be pure white, red, yellow, orange, purple and near black. So while our ground is still workable, and bulb season still has some good offerings, consider the lilies.

PHOTO: A deep maroon lily in Wendy Brown’s garden lifting its face to the viewer.Wendy Brown recommends a few catalogs and and on-line sources for ordering lilies:

John Scheepers bulbs is the retail arm of Van Engelen bulbs wholesale for larger quantities.

Pacific Northwest Lily Club offers discount-to-members-sales throughout the year.

The Lily Garden, another name for the Columbia Platte lily Co., has an A+ catalog for beautiful photos.”

Old House Gardens – heirloom bulbs of the highest quality.

PHOTO: A sweetly-scented pendant beauty in Wendy Brown’s garden
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In a North State Garden is a weekly Northstate Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum – Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell – all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday mornings at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time. Podcasts of past shows are available here.

Jennifer Jewell
In a North State Garden is a bi-weekly North State Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum - Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell - all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday morning at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time, two times a month.
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4 Responses

  1. Oh, Jennifer, thank you for another thoroughly informative column. I'm a Stargazer lily fan, and just cannot get enough of their scent. I may just have to plant my own. 🙂

  2. Avatar pmarshall says:

    No doubt about it, they are truly beautiful!

  3. Avatar KarenC says:

    I used to have a lot of lillies, Cassablanca was one of my faves. They all disappeared. Are you supposed to dig the bulbs up every year?