Plant Collector: The golden-rayed lily of Japan (Lilium auratum)

The wonderfully fragrant auratum lily hybrids - hybridising and raising from seed keeps the plants healthy and reduces problems with virus

The wonderfully fragrant auratum lily hybrids - hybridising and raising from seed keeps the plants healthy and reduces problems with virus

The golden-rayed lily of Japan – what a beautifully evocative common name. We grow quite a few lilies here but it is the auratum hybrids that are the mainstay of our summer garden. These are the results of decades of breeding, first by Felix Jury and now by Mark. This particular pink one is a pleasing new selection from that breeding programme. There is no commercial gain in breeding these auratums. The aim is to extend the colour range and vigour so they perform better as plants in our own garden as well as keeping them free of virus, which is common. We also prefer outward facing flowers (rather than the upward facing blooms used in floristry) because that gives more protection from the weather.

The hybrids are bigger and showier than the species. This flower is over 30cm across so not for the shy or retiring gardener. The species are predominantly white with yellow or red streaks and crimson spotting. Hybridising extends that colour range into pure whites, white with dominant yellow markings, reds and pinks. We also want strong growing plants that can hold themselves up without needing to be staked every year and which will keep performing under a regime of benign neglect (which means digging and dividing every decade, not every second year). We grow them both in sun and on the woodland margins – wherever there are reasonable light levels, good drainage and soil rich in humus.

Auratums are offered for sale as dormant bulbs from time to time but they don’t like being dried out and dessicated so try and find ones which are plump and firm.

Saving the best for last: oh, the fragrance. The auratum lilies are one of the flowers I cut to bring indoors. A single stem has multiple blooms and can scent a large room all by itself. I remove the pollen which will stain everything it falls upon.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

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