Tag Archives: auratum lilies

January bulbs for mid summer

Regular readers will know that we are very keen on bulbs here. As I surveyed the January ones, I figured that most bulbs are stars on their day. I guess because they are both seasonal and transient, they have to wow in their short time in the spotlight. A bulb in bloom can make you look in admiration, despite even the most unattractive location. We would not be without them.

The prized worsleya

The prized worsleya

Indubitably, the star this week is the unusual Empress of Brazil (Worsleya procera syn. rayneri) which does indeed hail from Brazil. It is an exotic showstopper. But the reason it is hardly ever seen is because it is rare in cultivation and requires a patient gardener. This particular specimen took 13 years from planting to bloom. There aren’t many gardeners willing to wait over a decade for a flower.

Scadoxus multiflorus ssp katherinae

Scadoxus multiflorus ssp katherinae

The Scadoxus multiflorus ssp katherinae are also big and showy but much easier to source, being very popular with Auckland landscapers. We have reached the point where they seed down and are naturalising themselves beneath trees where they have become a real feature in the summer shade garden. Some of those blooms are getting close to the size of human heads. We have South Africa and Zimbabwe to thank for these beauties.

Auratum lilies

Auratum lilies

In sunnier spots and on the margins, it is the lilies that astound. I wrote about the aurelians two weeks ago but it is now the time for the auratums (sometimes known as the golden-rayed lily of Japan). These can be sourced from garden centres in winter. Just make sure you never let the bulbs dry out, even when they appear dormant. If you give them lots of TLC for the first few years, you can increase numbers from the small offshoots as well as raising seed.

Gloriosa superba

Gloriosa superba

Gloriosa superba are often called climbing lilies, though they are only distant relatives at best. These are great plants for hot, dry conditions – the sort of spot many of us have under house eaves facing north. They flower for a long time in high summer and require absolutely no care at all beyond giving them something to cling to so they can climb rather than tumble.

Gladiolus

Gladiolus

Gladioli! Dahlias! We often take both families for granted but summer gardens would be poorer for their absence. We don’t have many of the Dame Edna hybrid gladdies. While there is a certain charm in their exuberant vulgarity, we are less enamoured of the rust that afflicts the foliage, making them unattractive plants. This white gladiolus is not a species, as far as we know, but it is somewhat further back up the breeding chain from the modern hybrids. Dahlias I tend to lump in with perennials though technically they are tubers, so within the bulb group.

Crinum moorei

Crinum moorei

The crinums are coming into flower and C. moorei is another shade garden option though it needs to be in a position where its rather large foliage can be ignored during the times when it is scruffy. These plants stand chest height, the fragrant flowers close to nose level so there is nothing small and dainty about them.

Add in the crocosmia featured last week, the tigridias in Plant Collector today, summer flowering ornithogalum, the yellow zephyranthes (‘rain lilies’), even the early Cyclamen hederafolium coming into flower. While January is not in any way peak bulb season, those in bloom add a great deal to the summer garden.

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

Summer is for lilies

Auratum lilies in the summer border

Auratum lilies in the summer border

Flowers mark the seasons for gardeners. To us, autumn means nerines. Winter is for camellias, late winter brings snowdrops, bluebells and magnolias. Spring means rhododendrons and cherry trees. And summer? Lilies are the flowers of summer.

Not roses. They look wonderful in late spring but by the time summer arrives, the roses are past their best. They tend to be happier in drier climates with low humidity, often with the advantage of cold winters to kill greeblies and fungi. To keep them looking good in warm, moist climates with high humidity requires a rigorous spray programme and good management. It can be done but we don’t do it.

But the lilies need no such fuss and they reward us with masses of blooms throughout the summer season, though to have a succession of them, you need to grow a range of different types. Fortunately there are plenty to choose from. There are well over 100 different species and that does not include the hybrids. Nor will I sidetrack onto plants that are referred to as lilies by name but are not lilies by nature – zantedeschia or arum lily, gloriosa or climbing lily, let alone daylilies and waterlilies.

We start with what we call the Christmas lily which is Lilium regale. It is a fragrant trumpet lily from China which is flushed deep red on the backs of the petals and is usually in flower for me to pick for the Christmas table. If you are thinking of a pure white Christmas lily (much favoured by florists), you are probably referring to Lilium longiflorum which hails from Japan. The renowned madonna lily, with its pure white trumpets, is yet another species (candidum) from southern Europe but it is distressingly prone to virus.

The Aurelian lilies are an earlier flowering favourite

The Aurelian lilies are an earlier flowering favourite

Dovetailing with the Christmas lily, we have some lovely, sweetly scented trumpet lilies of the Aurelian type. These are a personal favourite. I love the soft honey apricot and lemon colours of the ones we have here and they are easy to grow in a garden border. Like most lilies, they pick well.

The tiger lilies lack scent but are easy to grow

The tiger lilies lack scent but are easy to grow

The tiger lilies are pretty common and dead easy to grow but they lack scent, which can be a bit of a disappointment. If you can overlook that deficiency and you garden with orange tones, these lilies are perfect in mixed plantings. They rarely need staking and after flowering, the foliage dies down pretty quickly. The petals are described as reflex – in other words they curve backwards, not unlike a crown. There are a number of other lilies with this flower form (referred to as Turk’s cap lilies because they resemble a Turkish headpiece), but the tiger lily is in fact Lilium lancifolium, sometimes referred to as Lilium tigrinum. We don’t find the proper Turk’s caps (being L. martagon) anywhere near as easy to grow. If you know someone with tiger lilies, they produce masses of tiny bulbs (called bulbils) on the lower stem and these will reach flowering size in a couple of years.

All these lilies are but the prelude to the extended display we get from the astounding auratums. I wrote about these in Plant Collector over a month ago, the wonderful golden rayed lilies of Japan. They are still in full flight here and a major feature of the summer garden. They are big. They are beautiful. They are very fragrant. One might consider they are a bit over the top – but never vulgar. If planted by a path, they will need staking to stop every passerby being touched with golden pollen. Similarly, when a clump gets too congested, they will be inclined to fall over, unless staked. In garden borders or beds of tidy, compact little plants, the auratums will look out of place. But in big borders with big plants, they are superb. For us, they are the number one flower of summer.

The final flurry for the season comes from the late summer Lilium formasanum, which geographically inclined readers will understand means that these are indigenous to Taiwan. This is another scented trumpet type, predominantly white often flushed rosy pink on the petal backs, generally unfussy and commonly seen in gardens. Formasanum will seed down readily (too readily, some say, but we have never found it a problem) and grow even in semi shade and open woodland areas of the garden. It will flower in just its second year from seed. It makes a particularly good garden subject because its foliage is light and fine so it is not too intrusive in the dying down stages and it does not usually need staking.

I pick lilies to bring indoors. I love the way just one stem can scent an entire room for many days on end. Lilies produce the leaves and the flowering stem all on the same spike. It is important to remember when picking that you must leave sufficient stem and foliage for the bulb to continue photosynthesizing. This is how it builds up enough strength for it to flower again next year.

Lily pollen can stain badly. I am guessing florists carefully brush the pollen from each stamen, being careful not to allow any to fall and mark the petals. I nip off the pollen coated tips, leaving the central stamen. It seems a shame but I know from experience that I do not want to be trying to get pollen stains off carpet and upholstery. You have to keep doing it as buds open in the vase but it is a small price to pay for one of the very best cut flowers I can think of. (See comment below – rethinking these actions now.)

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

Auratum lilies with lobelias

Auratum lilies with lobelias

Tikorangi Notes: Friday 3 February, 2012

Our pregnant gecko, Glenys, is back in view

Our pregnant gecko, Glenys, is back in view

Latest posts: Friday 3 February, 2012

1) The battle with the water weeds in Abbie’s column this week.

2) One for the dendrologists in Plant Collector this week – Pinus montezumae. It takes a bit to convince most New Zealanders that any pine tree is capable of being special but garden visitors do single our specimen of P.montezumae as being a tree out of the ordinary realm of the common pine.

3) Grow it yourself – silver beet. Some people are even alleged to enjoy eating this iron-rich but utility vegetable.

4) Welcome back Glenys, our highly prized but rather shy resident gecko. We are terribly excited by the evidence that we have a population of gecko in our garden, though that excitement does not appear to have been widely shared by others! But in this country, the small skinks are a common sight whereas our native gecko is nocturnal, elusive and rarely seen.

5) Check out the lily photo album I am building on our Facebook garden page. If you feel inclined to “like” the whole Facebook page, it would be most gratifying. Our popularity on Facebook lags behind the visitor numbers to our websites, and even the subscribers. This may of course just indicate that gardeners are less inclined to use social networks.

The auratum lily season is late this year, but no less spectacular for its delay

The auratum lily season is late this year, but no less spectacular for its delay

Tikorangi Notes: Friday 3 February, 2012

Oh summer, where art thou? Even the auratum lilies seem to be waiting for some real summer heat before opening fully in all their glory. This may go down in history as one of the coolest summers in recent history. On the bright side, the garden is very lush and green and working conditions are not unpleasantly hot. In fact, for Lloyd and I cleaning out the ponds and stream in our park, working conditions have been very pleasant. I just like a little searing heat to justify the fact we have a swimming pool. It has had precious little use so far this year.

Mark is very excited to see the blandfordia coming into flower. I have tried to photograph it but even by our standards, it is still looking a little too modest to boast about. It may look more notable when additional buds open. The reason for our excitement is that it was planted in the rockery by Felix Jury and as Felix died in 1997, it means it has been there for quite a long time and not doing very much. In fact, in all those years, it has only flowered twice before. Its third flowering is cause to celebrate.

Our Lloyd makes a prettier sight than I do when it comes to weeding the pond

Our Lloyd makes a prettier sight than I do when it comes to weeding the pond

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.

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.