Plant Collector – auratum lilies

Auratum lily Flossie - one of Felix Jury's hybrids

Auratum lily Flossie - one of Felix Jury's hybrids

I don’t cut flowers to bring indoors very often. When every window of the house looks out to a garden, it doesn’t seem necessary. But as soon as the auratum lilies start to open, I reach for the kitchen scissors and head out. They are just the perfect cut flower – one stem can have up to ten flowers (sometimes even more) and put in a tall, slender vase they not only look superb, they can spread their delicious scent through an entire room.

Auratums are known as the golden-rayed lily of Japan – how lovely does that sound? The flowers are the largest of the lily family, often more than 20cm across, and they are a mainstay of our January garden. Felix Jury adored them (probably for all the same reasons that we do) and dabbled with breeding them, naming several selections. This one is the very large flowered Flossie. The upshot is that we have a lot of auratums in the garden and generally they are quite happy with benign neglect, growing in both full sun and semi shade. They prefer soils with good drainage and plenty of humus but not too rich.

The bulbs are large – fist-sized even – and we tried to get around all the plants last winter to dig and divide them. They haven’t had any attention for many, many years but when the clumps get too congested, the tops tend to fall over if they are not staked. The freshly divided patches are mostly standing up like little soldiers without any assistance. Some of the taller ones can get over 2m high and they need some support though often I will intertwine them through neighbouring plants.

You can sometimes find lily bulbs for sale in garden centres in winter. Make sure you avoid any dry, shrivelled specimens – they do not like to be dried out completely even when dormant. You may be lucky and find some auratums but they are not widely offered on the NZ market despite their spectacular summer display.