by Rob Sproule
Few flowers are as universally adored as the lily. It appears as a sacred symbol throughout the Bible, was revered by ancient Greek, Roman, and Minoan cultures, and the Elizabethans endowed it with magical healing powers.
The Lilium genus is native to the northern hemisphere and it 100 or so species wrap from Asia to Europe to North America. Intensive hybridization over centuries has yielded almost 10,000 cultivars which have become staples in perennial beds across the world.
Lilies tend to bloom in the early summer, often alongside roses. You can easily grow them in containers and transplant the bulb into the flower bed for the winter once they’re finished blooming. They last for a week or more as cut flowers; longer if you remove the pollen filled anthers.
Let lilies bask in 6-8 hours of sunlight daily. In our scorching summers, some afternoon protection is fine but too much shade and the stems will start to stretch, eventually toppling the plant.
Try to keep the bulb as cool, even as the plant sunbathes. Lower growing plants and/or wood mulch will ensure that hot afternoons don’t parch the roots. Pull wet mulch back from the stem to reduce risk of fungus.
Keep a wary eye out aphids and/or brown spots on the leaves. The latter indicates botrytis, or grey mold, a nasty fungus that takes hold when the leaves are left wet during cool nights. To avoid this, don’t water in evenings and provide ample air circulation.
During cool, wet weather spells, keep the area around your lilies clear of old leaves and other organic matter where fungus thrives. If botrytis does break out, use a rose dust.
The most popular lily to grow in Alberta, Asiatics offer a tempting fusion of vibrant colour and reliable hardiness. If properly cared for the bulbs will grow over time, bringing a bigger blast of colour every year.
There’s an impressive array of colours available, all tending to bloom in tight flower bunches. They bloom slightly earlier than Orientals so you could use both and stagger your colour.
If you have good soil, and add a couple inches of compost to your beds annually, your lilies will need little or no fertilizer. With poor soil, fertilize monthly with an all-purpose feed and/ or add some compost or other rich loam.
After blooming, the stem will wither to brown. If you want to cut it off, wait until it’s fully browned to do so. Cutting it early may be aesthetically astute, but it will deprive the bulb from pulling vital nutrients back down.
These garden show-stoppers include canonical varieties like “Stargazer” and “Casa Blanca”, trumpeting their beauty for all to see from wide, operatic flowers. Add one to any perennial bed and it will quickly take center stage and relegate all other flowers to the chorus line.
Oriental lilies are easier to find in garden centers than they used to be, but Asiatics still dominate. If you have Orientals, be prepared to give them an extra heaping of snow cover in the winter and try to plant them in a protected area. Even so, don’t be surprised if your prima-donna struggles in harsh winters.
While Asiatics boast a broader variety of colours and tend to spread rapidly, all varieties of Orientals were hybridized from only a few Japanese species. Even with a limited colour range, their intense spicy fragrance and massive flowers make them favourites. If you have a sensitive sniffer, or are prone to nasal headaches, you may find the cut flowers’ fragrance overpowering in the home.