The January Garden

Auratums and pink lobelia

Auratums and pink lobelia

I don’t cut many flowers to bring indoors. It feels a bit like murdering them to sever them in their prime and bring them indoors to die. We were lucky that Mark’s parents had the foresight to plan the garden so there is a different view from every house window and we have plenty of flowers in sight all year round. The lilies are different. In summer I love to bring in huge stems to scent the house. They are big. They are bold. They are beautiful. Lilies define our summers.

You need quite a lot of lilies to justify cutting the entire stem off and, after many decades, we have a few. Mark’s father Felix started breeding auratums maybe four or five decades ago and Mark has continued. This was never for commercial reasons. It was to build up plants for the garden, to extend the colour range and the season and particularly to get outward facing blooms rather than the upward facing ones which are preferred in floristry. Constantly replenishing with newly raised plants is also a safeguard against the potential ravages of lily virus. Not that we have had a problem with lily virus and disease, but if we ever do, we are prepared.

The lily we scorned at Wisley

The lily we scorned at Wisley

We noticed a floriferous new lily at the Royal Horticultural Society Wisley Gardens last June. People were admiring it and but Mark took one look and said: “Gross. No good as a garden plant. Look at those upward facing blooms waiting to mark.” Not only are the upward facing blooms more vulnerable to weather damage, but the pollen falls internally and spoils it sooner. So I photographed it, but not for the same reason as the admirers. It was showy but we wouldn’t give it garden space.

Although you can to leave auratum lilies in the ground year after year, lifting and replanting deeper on a regular basis saves having to stake every stem. They work their way upwards over time. In our free draining soil, if I put them anything up to 20cm down, they are much better at holding themselves upright. The other technique to save forever staking (and then de-staking at the end of the season) is to grow them through shrubs which can act as supports. Apple trees and azaleas work well for us. When I do have to stake, I prefer to harvest my own bamboo lengths and leave the leaf axils in place to grip the flower stem. It saves tying to a smooth stake.

Just another unnamed seedling (or JAUS, as we call them here)

Just another unnamed seedling (or JAUS, as we call them here)


Auratum bulbs do not respond well to drying out, even in their dormant season. This is why they are usually sold in bags of sphagnum moss or sawdust. Always try and buy them as soon as they come into garden centres in early winter and get them into the ground as soon as possible.
Orange tiger lilies growing through the espaliered apple trees

Orange tiger lilies growing through the espaliered apple trees

Our lily season starts with what we call the Christmas lily, or Lilium regale from China. It even Others sometimes refer to L. longiflorum as the Christmas lily. It is typically pure white and hails from Japan whereas L. regale has deep pink petal backs fading out to white. The orange tiger lilies with their reflexed petals follow soon after. They lack scent but they are a showy addition to the summer garden and very easy to grow. Next we get the aurelians – scented trumpet lilies in pretty gold and apricot shades. Most of ours have been raised from seed. They have a lovely elegance to them both in the garden and as a cut flower. You will notice their trumpets face outwards and downwards.
Aforementioned JAUS

Aforementioned JAUS

These are all but an overture to the main event – the glory of the auratums which take us through January and well into February. There is nothing subtle or understated about the flower power. Their common name is the “golden rayed lily of Japan”. How lovely is that?

???????????????????????????????First published in the New Zealand Gardener and reprinted here with their permission.

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